Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 11 Mar 2014 -- Faced with growing threats to rice production, countries in Asia and the Pacific are engaging in a Regional Rice Strategy, initiated by FAO last year at the request of member States, and further discussed during a side event at the Organization’s 32nd Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific, held 10 -14 March.
“Rice is life,” said Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “More than 90 percent of all rice in the world is produced in this region and 90 percent of rice is consumed in this region,” Konuma pointed out.
Rice dominates much of the region’s landscape and is an important source of livelihood for 140 million rice-farming households, and for millions of rural poor who work on rice farms as additional hired labour. “Rice is part of the agricultural landscape, livelihoods, history and traditions,” of the region, Konuma added.
Rice is therefore a strategic commodity, closely connected with the overall economic growth and political stability of the region, dependent on an adequate, affordable and stable supply of this staple crop.
With the world’s population projected to exceed nine billion by 2050, FAO has warned that food production will need to increase by 60 per cent to meet the demands of a future hungry planet. In developing countries, that figure jumps to 77 per cent. Therefore, increased production of rice could help feed the world. But there are challenges to overcome.
Water scarcity, limited capacity
According to the Regional Rice Strategy there is cause for concern about the feasibility of dramatically increasing rice production because of a lack of water and/or arable land in many countries of the region. Existing rice farms are also blamed for producing greenhouse gas emissions and degrading natural resources. Rice production is “threatened by a decline in rice biodiversity, a loss of rice heritage, global climate change and the changing composition of labour in rural areas,” the strategy explains.
A brighter future may lie in improving rice itself
There is, however, cause for cautious optimism. The Regional Rice Strategy notes that several new opportunities exist. In the drive to end hunger, rice could play an important role in ensuring food security by reducing hunger, malnutrition and poverty. That’s a strong incentive leading to developments in science and technology which are helping the sector “making it possible to increase rice productivity in a sustainable manner, add nutritive value to rice, reduce losses from drought and flood, reduce the environmental footprint of rice production and make the rice production system climate-smart.”
A vision for the rice sector
The Strategy’s vision for the rice sector is that of “food-secure, better-nourished and prosperous rice farmers and consumers in the Asia-Pacific region who benefit equitably from a vibrant, innovative and transformed rice sector that is more productive, efficient and environmentally sustainable by 2030.”
“The main objective of the strategy,” according to Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, “is to provide evidence-based strategic guidelines and options for FAO member states in the region to help them develop and adjust their own national rice policy strategies in the light of broader regional and global trends as well as national priorities.”
The strategy contains six key objectives:
- Sustainably increase productivity and nutrition value of rice;
- Enhance the rice value chain by improving food quality, diversity and food safety while reducing post-harvest losses;
- Improve rice farming’s capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change and improve farmers’ capacity to cope with risk;
- Minimize the environmental footprint of rice production and enhance the ecosystems functions of rice landscapes, including the protection and promotion of rice heritage and culture;
- Improve the efficiency, reliability and fairness of domestic and international rice markets for stabilizing rice price and supply, ensuring equitable access by the poor and promoting regional collaboration;
- Enhance the well-being and livelihoods of smallholders, women and the new generation of rice producers by improving adjustments to long-term changes in demography, farm size and labour supply.
The Regional Rice Strategy also calls for increased investment in research and development “to further technological innovations in all stages of the rice value chain for productivity and efficiency gains, better quality and nutritional value, greater resilience and environmental protection.” It recognizes that policy and institutional innovations are needed to promote rural income growth, the rapid spread of improved technologies, and to develop a robust food security system that is stable and accessible to all. And, it urges rice producing countries to invest more in rural infrastructure that would reduce post-harvest rice losses.
The FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific (APRC) brings together ministers of agriculture and high-level officials of Member States across the region. Convening every two years, it examines the opportunities and challenges in the region and sets priority areas of work to improve food security and nutrition, increase agricultural productivity, raise the standard of living in rural populations and contribute to sustainable development.
For more information about this topic and the APRC, please visit the Conference Website: www.fao.org/about/meetings/aprc32/en/