Distinguished experts and participants,
On behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and on my own behalf, I am pleased to welcome you all to Bangkok for the Regional meeting on weedy rice management.
Last month FAO commemorated World Food Day, highlighting the plight of 923 million undernourished people in the world. Latest data from FAO recognize that progress towards the World Food Summit goal of reducing hunger numbers by half by 2015 was already stalled.
Moreover, during the last three years, soaring food and energy prices adversely affected food security with the number of hungry people increased by another 75 million during 2007.
Within the context of the current food crisis, FAO stresses that high food prices are also an opportunity for small farmers to increase production – but they need help. One example is rice, the most important staple for many economies in South and South East Asia as almost half of the world’s population subsists wholly or partially on it.
Rice, as any other crop, has various constraints to its production and productivity, among them several pests and diseases – most of which nowadays can be well managed, including by implementing Integrated Pest Management. Weeds are also a serious problem, with one particular weed problem affecting rice fields since several decades. It is the case of weedy rice, a weedy form of cultivated rice (Oryza sativa) that competes aggressively with the crop, reducing yields and contaminating harvests. As a result, weedy rice has been identified as one of the most problematic weeds in the 21st century which seriously affects rice yields.
Weedy rice tends to prevail mainly in direct-seeded areas, a practice very common in the Western Hemisphere or in transplanted areas with bad water management. The problem was rare in Asia until the onset of rural to urban migration.
Weedy rice is now affecting rice areas of various countries in Asia, including India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. South Korea also has problems with this weed, while China is facing the problem in sites with bad water management.
Thailand has more than 2 million ha seriously affected by this weed, while more than 500 000 ha are infested in the Mekong Delta River in Viet Nam.
In some areas of the region the weed infestations are so high that rice crop has to be replaced for a while by another crop, a solution that is not everywhere effective and feasible.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is distressful to note that the estimated area invaded by weedy rice in Asia has already exceeded 4 million ha, and continues to grow. This means enormous losses, and the problem should be tackled head on to avoid compromising rice production and its consequent impact on food availability.
Countries affected by weedy rice have no other choice than adopting integrated strategies for its control, which is not an easy task and compels the use of several control strategies integrated in the crop cycle.
Since 1998, FAO has assisted countries in improving weedy rice control methods. The first activity was a global workshop with the participation of 21 countries, where only one Asian country, Viet Nam, participated. However, over a period of 10 years, the problem has increased significantly in Asia. In view of the seriousness and priority of the problem, FAO jointly with the Plant Protection Research and Development Office, Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture, Thailand, decided to organize this regional meeting.
The meeting aims at full identification of the weedy rice problems in affected countries in terms of total infested areas, methods currently used by farmers for its control, and other alternatives under development.
The most important activity of this meeting is to formulate a regional strategy to manage the problem, in particular enhancing farmers’ capacity for weedy rice prevention and control through farmers training programmes. The programme will serve as a starting point of collaboration of the countries concerned in finding viable solutions for effective weedy rice management.
I would like to encourage each participant to decide to what extent your government may contribute to the programme, specify priority areas of collaboration on the topic in the region, and to identify clearly needs of technical assistance from outside the region. Importantly, the participants may also wish to discuss necessary changes in policies at the national level as well as strategies which could effectively contribute to addressing the weedy rice problem. I should note that you are all challenged that at present, it is important for countries in Asia to further increase rice yields as one of the ways to reach rice self sufficiency.
In concluding, I wish you constructive dialogue and discussions as well as fruitful exchange of ideas and experience which will bring about effective and efficient weedy rice control measures and closer collaboration among the participating countries in dealing with the problem.
Finally, I wish you all a pleasant stay in Bangkok.