NEW DELHI, 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 on rice.
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
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 biotechnology.
"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 resources.
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 agencies.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights Reserved.