India, November 8, 2004 (ENS): International
rice prices have jumped this year by 40 percent, and
scientists warn that this hike, brought on by shortages
in some countries, is a grim reminder that Asia's ability
to feed itself cannot be taken for granted.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) announced
that an "international effort" has been launched
to renew focus on the development of sustainable strategies
to feed the half of the world's population that depends
This emerged at the four day World Rice Research Conference
held in Tokyo and Tsukuba, Japan which ended Sunday.
The event is the culmination of the International Year
of Rice 2004, which the United Nations declared to focus
international attention on the enormous challenges facing
global rice production.
One of the greatest challenges is guaranteeing the
food security of three billion rice consumers despite
the erosion of such vital agricultural resources as
land, labor and water.
Rice covers almost 150 million hectares worldwide. As
one of the most widely planted crops, it has a profound
impact on the environment and natural resources.
One big challenge facing Asia, say scientists, is for
nations to meet their national and household food security
needs with an ever declining natural resource base,
especially water and land.
The current annual rice production of 545 million tons
needs to be increased to 700 million tons to feed an
additional 650 million rice consumers by 2025, using
less water and less land, which is a big challenge delegates
to the rice research conference agreed.
In addition, rice is seen as crucial in meeting a prominent
UN Millennium Development Goal - the eradication of
extreme poverty and hunger.
Says the IRRI, "Rice is so central to the lives
of most Asians that any solution to global poverty and
hunger must include research that helps poor Asian farmers
reduce their risks and earn a decent profit while growing
rice that is still affordable to poor consumers."
The IRRI announced details of a new Environmental Agenda
at the conference. The institute, based in Los Baños,
Philippines, listed seven key challenges to producing
rice for the world, and doing so sustainably.
These are - poverty and the environment, farm chemicals
and residues, land use and degradation, water use and
quality, biodiversity, climate change and the use of
"Each of these issues is crucial to rice production
and efforts to ensure that the 800 million rice consumers
who are trapped in poverty in Asia can get access to
the rice they need to feed themselves and their families,"
said IRRI Director General Ronald Cantrell.
Cantrell said, "As international rice prices jumped
this year by a surprising 40 percent because of shortages
in some countries, we are reminded that we cannot take
Asia's ability to feed itself for granted. If we do,
millions will suffer because of our complacency."
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been
warned that it faces challenges in vitally important
areas such as the looming impact of global warming,
and inadequately trained and increasingly scarce human
Since the start of the Green Revolution - which began
in Asia with IRRI's release in 1966 of IR8, the first
modern, high yielding semidwarf rice variety - supporters
of this technology based drive say global rice harvest
has more than doubled, racing slightly ahead of population
IRRI says around 1,000 modern varieties - approximately
half the number released in South and Southeast Asia
over the last 38 years - are linked to varieties developed
by the institute and its partners.
Increased availability of rice has pushed down world
market rice prices by 80 percent over the last 20 years,
greatly benefiting poor rice consumers, urban slum dwellers
and landless farm workers alike, claim supporters of
the Green Revolution. Farmers have also benefited as
improved efficiency has lowered unit cost and increased
profit, they say.
But critics of the Green Revolution contend that its
policies have adversely affected the ecology, agriculture,
politics, and social relations in the developing world.
IRRI, a leading global rice research and training institute,
has offices in 10 countries in addition to its headquarters
in the Philippines. It is one of 15 centers funded through
the Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research, an association of public and private donor
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All