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Strategy for sustainable rice production in Latin America and the Caribbean - E.L. Pulver

Consultant, FLAR, CIAT, Cali, Colombia

OVERVIEW OF CURRENT SUPPLYAND DEMAND

Rice is grown in 26 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean region (LAC), which produce over 22 million tonnes (Mt) of paddy per year. Even at today’s historically low grain prices, rice production provides approximately US$4.5 billion of income to the thousands of rice growers in the region. An approximately equal amount of revenue is generated in rice processing, distribution and retail sales. While significant improvements have been witnessed in rice production in the LAC, regional demand still surpasses production. The region has a net deficit of nearly 1 Mt of milled rice annually, resulting in a net outflow of revenue from the region of over US$300 million a year. There are 14 countries or states in the Caribbean with little potential for domestic rice production and they will continue to be rice importers. However, there are another 14 countries which are deficit in rice but with the necessary natural resources to support rice production. It is these latter 14 countries that are of prime concern, and with an appropriate development strategy combined with assistance from the international donor community, they have the potential to increase production to satisfy national demand. Additionally, there are several countries in the LAC where production remains far below the national potential. Low yield, especially in the irrigated rice sector, is the primary limitation to more competitive production in several countries. In many of these countries, the yield gap is large and bridging the yield gap provides an opportunity for additional production.

This paper examines the current rice production situation across a range of production environments and countries in the LAC region. Based upon this analysis, strategies are presented for improving rice production that will contribute to greater on-farm incomes, increase access to inexpensive food and assist in the sustainable development of the region.

Latin America and the Caribbean region

Total rice production in the LAC, including Mexico, during the last cropping season was 14.381 Mt (milled basis). However, total demand exceeded production by approximately 1 Mt (Table 1). Total rice supply was 15.3 Mt resulting in an apparent consumption of approximately 30 kg/caput for the region’s 511 million inhabitants.

TABLE 1
Current (2001) supply, demand, trade and apparent per caput consumption of rice in the Latin America and Caribbean region

Region/area

Production

Imports

Total consumption

Population

Per caput consumption

(‘000 tonnes)

(millions)

(kg)

Latin America and Caribbean

14 381

947

15 328

511

29.9

Central American and Caribbean

1 545

1 549

3 094

170

18.2

South America

13 503

(307)

13 196

341

38.7

Note: All data adjusted to milled rice equivalent.

Source: Production data and population estimates extracted from FAOSTAT (2002). Import/export data extracted from FAOSTAT (2002) and updated or adjusted from USDA, Agricultural Services, country reports (May 2002).

Central America and the Caribbean are the main importers of rice and only about 50 percent of the total rice demand for the area is supplied by domestic production. In recent years, rice imports into Central America and the Caribbean have exceed 1.5 Mt annually. All countries in Central American and the Caribbean are rice importers, even though per caput consumption is low at approximately 18 kg/caput.

In contrast, South America is a net rice exporter with a surplus production of approximately 300 000 tonnes per year. However, there are several South American countries where demand exceeds national production and consumption is limited due to competition from other more inexpensive food sources. Average rice consumption in South America is in excess of 38 kg/caput (milled) or more than double the consumption level in Central America and the Caribbean.

Central America and the Caribbean

Although all countries in the Central American and Caribbean area are net importers of rice, much progress has been made in domestic production. Overall production in the last decade increased at an annual rate of 1.6 percent, due entirely to yield improvement (Table 2). However, average yield in the Central American and Caribbean area is only 3.75 t/ha. The Dominican Republic is the largest producer in the area with an annual production of approximately 540 000 tonnes. Yields are also respectable (approx. 4.7 t/ha), but the country is frequently a net importer of rice. All production in the Dominican Republic is irrigated and yields may easily be increased far above current levels.

TABLE 2
Annual growth rates in production, area and yield (rough rice) from 1990-2001 in Central America and Caribbean countries and current production status (3-year mean of 1999-2001) and recent trade data (2001/02)

Country

Annual growth rates (%)

Current status

Rice trade

Production

Area

Yield

Production

Area

Yield

(‘000 tonnes)

(‘000 tonnes)

(‘000 ha)

(t/ha)

Belize

9.2

13.1

-3.4

11.8

6.2

1.90

-1

Costa Rica

4.5

2.3

2.3

297.4

67.2

4.36

-45

Cuba

-0.5

-1.9

1.4

341.5

113.0

3.02

-450

Dominican Republic

3.1

3.7

-0.6

541.6

114.7

4.67

-9

El Salvador

-3.8

-6.8

3.2

47.3

8.5

5.67

-30

Guatemala

-1.1

-0.8

-0.3

43.2

14.8

3.12

-33

Haiti

-0.8

-1.4

0.5

111.0

51.1

2.17

-225

Honduras

-14.5

-13.6

-1.1

9.0

4.0

2.25

-45

Jamaica

-28.8

-21.8

-9.0

22.6

20

1.09

-79

Mexico

-0.5

-1.2

0.7

340.9

78.9

4.43

-500

Nicaragua

7.6

5.6

1.9

252.8

72.2

3.50

-48

Panama

2.3

-2.2

4.6

274.2

79.8

3.43

-22

Trinidad and Tobago

-9.5

-8.6

-1.0

7.2

2.45

2.92

-34

C. America and Caribbean

1.6

0.07

1.5

2 348

626

3.75

-1 521

Source: Annual growth rates, current production status extracted from FAOSTAT (2002). Trade (i.e. imports) data obtained from FAOSTAT (2002 - 1999 data) and updated or adjusted from USDA, Agricultural Services, country reports (May 2002).

Cuba is a major importer of rice and in the last few years annual rice imports have approached 500 000 tonnes of milled rice. Rice production in Cuba is limited due to water shortages and access to essential inputs and other technologies. Imports could soar if consumers had increased purchasing power. Overall production has been on the decline for several years with relatively low yields of 3 t/ha; suitable land and water availability limit expansion of the cultivation area. Recently the Cuban Government has permitted private production on formerly state-owned farms, but growers have limited access to essential inputs, such as fertilizer; consequently, yields remain low.

Mexico is also a major rice importer. The area cultivated to rice has decreased significantly during the last decade with an annual decrease in rice area of over 1 percent. Much of the lost rice area was semi-irrigated in the arid north. The decline in rice production in Mexico has been significantly affected by the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Inefficient production in government-managed irrigation schemes has been unable to compete with imported rice and other cheaper food products. Some of the rice area has been converted to more lucrative vegetable production. Vast areas in Mexico, particularly in the Yucatan Peninsula, are highly suited to irrigated rice production.

Haiti is the third largest importer of rice in the Caribbean. Haiti has a small irrigated rice area (approx. 50 000 ha), but water shortages, limited access to improved germplasm and use of rudimentary crop management practices mean that yields remain low at 2 t/ha. Haiti is a major recipient of United States rice provided via food assistance programmes. It is doubtful whether Haiti can significantly increase national production in order to compete with cheap and highly subsidized United States rice.

There are a host of Caribbean countries relying entirely on imports to satisfy national requirements (Table 3). Rice imports into the Caribbean totalled approximately 154 000 tonnes (milled) in 2000. All the countries listed in Table 3 have very limited potential for rice production due to lack of suitable land and water resources. Most have other industries, such as tourism, providing higher returns on water when compared to irrigated rice. However, these countries provide a market for other Latin American countries. The total value of imported rice in the Caribbean was estimated at US$67 million in 2000. Guyana is a major rice exporter to Jamaica and Trinidad Tobago.

TABLE 3
Rice imports into Caribbean countries that have limited potential for rice production

Country

Imports
(tonnes milled rice)

Estimated value
(‘000 US$)

Antigua and Barbuda

650

1 000

Bahamas

9 587

5 925

Barbados

5 240

3 112

Aruba

3 329

2 661

Cayman Islands

157

83

Dominica

1 003

731

Grenada

2 089

1 342

Jamaica

79 000

29 151

Montserrat

28

27

Netherlands Antilles

2 667

1 333

St Kitts and Nevis

1 793

847

St Lucia

3 483

3 070

St Vincent and the Genadines

11 104

4 714

Trinidad and Tobago

33 858

12 981

Total

153 988

66 977

Source: FAOSTAT, 2002 (Import data are 1999 figures).

South America

Rice is grown in all 13 countries in South America. During the 3-year period from 1999 to 2001, total annual production was approximately 21 Mt (paddy). Production increased at an annual rate of 2.9 percent during the last decade, although the area devoted to rice decreased at an annual rate of 1.1 percent. Over the same period, average yield grew at a rate of 4.1 percent per year, which more than compensated for the decrease in area. Yield advancement is a combination of the continued improvements in yields in the more favoured irrigated ecology and the decreased significance of the low-yielding upland sector, particularly in central Brazil (Table 4).

TABLE 4
Annual growth rates in production, area and yield from 1990-2001, current production status (3-year mean of 1999-2001) and recent trade data (2001/2002) in South American countries

Country

Annual growth rates (%)

Current status

Rice trade

Production

Area

Yield

Production

Area

Yield

(‘000 tonnes)

(‘000 tonnes)

(‘000 ha)

(t/ha)

Argentina

9.7

6.7

2.9

1 139.1

287.4

5.40

205

Bolivia

2.8

3.3

-0.5

281.0

162.3

1.75

-4

Brazil

1.3

-2.8

4.3

11 002.2

3 625.2

3.11

-618

Chile

-2.0

-3.2

1.2

85.7

19.8

4.80

-95

Colombia

1.8

-0.3

2.1

2 231.9

464.4

4.84

-162

Ecuador

3.3

2.3

1.1

1 340.5

374.0

3.58

-4

French Guiana

-1.8

2.7

-4.3

19.9

7.6

2.61

Na

Guyana

10.7

8.2

2.3

560.0

139.7

4.01

275

Paraguay

1.6

-3.5

5.4

110.5

27.0

4.08

-1

Peru

8.8

6.2

2.5

1 955.2

302.9

6.53

-63

Suriname

-2.8

-2.8

-0.1

169.7

44.3

3.83

54

Uruguay

10.5

6.6

3.7

1 189.2

183.7

6.49

650

Venezuela

2.2

0.1

2.2

720.3

139.6

5.03

70

South America

2.9

-1.1

4.1

20 775.0

5 129.0

3.71

307

Source: Annual growth rates, current production status extracted from FAOSTAT (2002). Trade (i.e. imports) data obtained from FAOSTAT (2002 - 1999 data) and updated or adjusted from USDA, Agricultural Services, country reports (May 2002).

Collectively, South America experienced surplus rice production during the 2001 cropping season; however, there are large discrepancies between countries. Uruguay, Guyana and Argentina are large exporters, while Brazil, Colombia and Chile have major rice deficits. Peru is nearly self-sufficient in rice but periodically requires minor imports to balance national demand. Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay are minor importers of rice.

TRENDS AND ADVANCES IN THE LAC

There has been much progress in rice production in the LAC during the last two decades. Since 1980, production increased from approximately 16 Mt (paddy) to over 21 Mt, even though the area cultivated to rice decreased from 7.7 Mha to less than 6 Mha (Table 5). The principal factor contributing to increased rice production in the region has been the increased role of irrigated rice and the demise of upland rice, particularly in Central America and Brazil. Since 1980, the average yield in the LAC has increased from 2.1 to 3.5 t/ha. During the last 5 years, yield improvement advanced at a rate of 3.4 percent a year. This is a major accomplishment given that growth in worldwide rice production fell to only 1 percent a year during the same period. In spite of the advancements in productivity, yields in the irrigated sector are still relatively low and far below the yield potential of currently available varieties.

TABLE 5
Rice production statistics for LAC during the last two decades, presented in 5-year increments

Period

Production (paddy)

Area

Yield

(‘000 tonnes)

Annual growth rate (%)

(‘000 ha)

Annual growth rate (%)

Average (t/ha)

Annual growth rate (%)

1980-1985

16 430

0.6

7 723

(3.4)

2.1

4.2

1985-1990

18 083

(0.1)

6 651

(1.8)

2.7

1.8

1990-1995

18 586

5.6

6 651

2.0

2.8

3.5

1995-2001

21 037

2.6

5 977

(0.8)

3.5

3.4

Source: FAOSTAT, 2002.

There has been little improvement in yield in the unfavoured upland sector for numerous years. Exposure of the low-yielding upland sector to competitive market forces in Central America and reduced government support for upland rice in the cerrado of Brazil were the primary factors contributing to the rapid decline in importance of upland production. However, there are still large areas in Central America and selected areas of central Brazil where upland production is important; however, much of this production is classified as the more favoured rainfed, upland rice, which is less subject to drought than traditional unfavoured upland.

Trends and advances in Central America and the Caribbean

The most significant trend in Central America and the Caribbean during the last two decades is the decline in area cultivated to rice; only the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua did not witness large declines in rice area (Table 6). After 1980, Honduras lost 70 percent of its rice area, Mexico 51%, El Salvador 35% and Cuba 23%. Overall, the area cultivated to rice in Central America and the Caribbean declined by 13 percent in the last two decades (equivalent of approx. 100 000 ha). Although rice area declined significantly in this 20-year period, overall production increased by 4 percent due to improved yields. On a regional basis, yields in Central America and the Caribbean increased by 19 percent, reflecting the transition from low-yielding, unfavoured upland production to the more productive and stable rainfed and irrigated systems.

TABLE 6
Changes in rice area and yield during the last two decades in selected Central American countries

Country

Areaa
(‘000 ha)

Yielda
(t/ha)

% change from
1980/82 - 1999/2001

1980/82

1990/92

1999/2001

1980/82

1990/92

1999/2001

Area

Yield

Costa Rica

72.3

59.6

67.2

2.8

3.6

4.4

-7

+58

Cuba

147.5

156.9

112.9

3.3

2.7

3.2

-23

-3

Dominican Republic

108.6

97.2

131.6

3.8

5.0

4.7

+21

+24

El Salvador

12.9

15.7

8.4

3.4

4.2

5.7

-35

+68

Guatemala

15.1

15.4

14.8

2.7

2.8

3.1

-2

+15

Honduras

13.6

17.4

4.0

1.7

2.5

2.2

-70

+29

Mexico

153.0

93.5

75.4

3.6

4.1

4.4

-51

+22

Nicaragua

38.9

47.6

72.2

3.8

2.8

3.5

+86

-8

Panama

95.8

95.2

79.8

1.8

2.2

3.4

-17

+89

C. America and Caribbean

720.0

648.0

626.0

3.1

3.2

3.7

-13

+19

a Area and yield data are 3-year means.
Source: FAOSTAT, 2002.

Trends and advances in South America

Rice production in South America during the last two decades saw a rapid decline in area planted to rice, accompanied by a steady increase in overall production. Following 1980, rice area decreased by 25 percent (a loss in absolute terms of almost 2 Mha) (Table 7). During the same period, total production increased from 14.4 to 22.8 Mt, representing a 59 percent increase in production. Yield advancement is the main factor permitting production to continue despite the removal of large areas from rice cultivation. In the 20-year period, the average yield in South America increased by 113 percent: from 1.9 to over 4 t/ha. The large decrease in the area of low-yielding upland rice in central Brazil, combined with yield improvement in irrigated rice in southern Brazil, contributed significantly to the rapid increase in average yield in South America.

TABLE 7
Changes in area in rice production and yield during the last two decades in selected South American countries

Country

Areaa
(‘000 ha)

Yielda
(t/ha)

% change from 1980/82 - 1999/2001

1980/82

1990/92

1999/2001

1980/82

1990/92

1999/2001

Area

Yield

Argentina

92.5

114.5

209.5

3.53

4.30

5.40

126

53

Bolivia

61.3

116.3

162.3

1.55

1.95

1.75

164

13

Brazil

6123

4252

3539

1.51

2.10

3.11

-42

106

Chile

36.4

41.4

19.8

3.02

4.10

4.80

-45

59

Colombia

442.3

459.9

453.4

4.29

4.05

4.84

3

13

Ecuador

129.9

287.6

373.9

3.08

3.14

3.50

188

14

Guyana

93.2

69.3

139.6

3.06

3.29

4.00

49

31

Paraguay

26.2

33.4

27.0

1.87

2.57

4.09

3

119

Peru

148.1

169.9

299.6

4.53

5.14

6.53

102

44

Suriname

69.4

60.3

44.3

4.03

3.79

3.83

-30

5

Uruguay

45.7

102.8

183.7

5.19

4.66

6.49

302

25

Venezuela

224.0

141.8

139.6

2.85

4.18

5.04

-38

77

South America

7 513.0

5 845.0

5 603.0

1.91

2.58

4.07

-25

113

a Area and yield data are 3-year means.
Source: FAOSTAT, 2002.

Although Brazil experienced a rapid decline in area, numerous other countries continued to increase rice production, mostly in the highly productive irrigated sector. The rice area in Uruguay expanded by 302%, Ecuador 188%, Bolivia 164%, Argentina 126% and Peru 102%. In most cases, the increased area under cultivation was accompanied by yield improvement. In Uruguay, national average yield grew at an annual rate of 3.7 percent during the 1990s (Table 4), and during the same period, national average yield grew by 2.9 percent per year in Argentina and by 2.5 percent per year in Peru.

Although, increases in national yields are the norm for most South American countries, not all countries are advancing at the same rate. Yield improvement in Bolivia was insignificant in the last 20 years, as a result of the concentration of production in the unstable upland sector. Yield improvement in Ecuador was also slow and the poor progress may be attributed to the lack of investment in irrigation management. National yields in Colombia also grew slowly over the last two decades. In the 1980s, Colombia was the country benefiting most from the introduction of high-yielding, semi-dwarf plant types, recording one of the highest national average yields in South America. However, Colombia failed to keep pace with other countries in terms of yield improvement and its average national yield is currently inferior to that in Uruguay, Peru and Argentina, as well as in the states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

Colombia represents an example of the rapid adoption of improved genetic material without accompanying high-yield agronomic practices. In addition to the slow growth in yield, Colombia has emerged as the highest cost rice producer in South America. Production costs in most of the irrigated areas in South America vary between US$800 and US$950 per ha, which are similar to Arkansas (USA) costs. Production costs in the major irrigated rice-growing areas of Colombia often exceed US$1 200/ha, much of which can be attributed to poor crop management practices, in particular abuse of pesticides, high weed control costs and low fertilizer efficiency.

DEFICIENCIES THAT CONTRIBUTE TO RICE DEFICITS

The previous sections demonstrate the transitions in rice production in the LAC during the 20-year period (1980-2000). The first period was the rapid spread of semi-dwarf plant types originating from ICA (Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario) and CIAT (International Centre for Tropical Agriculture) in Colombia. These varieties were introduced in the 1970s, and by the mid-1980s they covered most of the irrigated and rainfed production areas. In the late 1980s, many countries in the LAC experienced structural re-adjustment programmes and market liberalization policies. The demise of the non-competitive unfavoured upland system can largely be attributed to these new realities. Central America and central Brazil witnessed large decreases in area due to these forces. The third trend in rice production in the LAC, occurring throughout the 1990s, is the slow growth in yield, particularly in the more favoured production systems.

Production under irrigation and the highly favoured upland systems currently account for approximately 70 percent of all rice production in the LAC, and high-yielding genotypes occupy more than 90 percent of these areas. However, farmers’ yields remain far below the potential of the available varieties. The average yield of irrigated rice is approximately 5 t/ha, but there is high variability between and within production zones. Even within a relatively homogenous area with the same variety, farm yields are highly variable. In many production zones, progressive farmers routinely obtain yields of 7 t/ha. Furthermore, yields from on-farm demonstration plots are often 50 percent greater than surrounding farmer yields.

In late 1999 and early 2000, FAO commissioned a study to explain the discrepancy between farmers’ yields and readily obtainable yield (Pulver et al., 2000). The difference between readily obtainable yield and average farm yield is referred to as the “yield gap”. The study reported that the yield gap in 12 major rice-producing countries ranges from 1 to 3 t/ha and averages 1.3 t/ha. The yield gap is apparent in all irrigated rice production areas. The FAO-commissioned study concluded that the yield gap is the primary constraint to increased growth in rice production in both tropical and temperate areas; bridging the yield gap represents the most immediate opportunity for increasing rice production in the LAC.

Yield gap in tropical areas

The tropical zone in the LAC comprises the whole of Central America, tropical South America and parts of southern Brazil. The FAO-commissioned study focused on seven countries: Colombia and Venezuela in South America; Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama in Central America; and Cuba in the Caribbean. The average yield from all production systems was estimated at 4 t/ha (paddy), but yields in much of Central America are below 3 t/ha. In the more productive areas comprising irrigated and favoured rainfed, yield potential was estimated at between 5 and 6 t/ha. Overall, the study estimated that the yield gap in the tropical region was 1.2 t/ha (Table 8). Bridging the yield gap would increase total production by more than 900 000 tonnes a year. This represents a 30 percent increase in total rice output with a commercial value at the farmgate level of approximately US$135 million.

TABLE 8
Current and potential yield and production of irrigated rice of FLAR member countries located in the tropical region

Country

Area

Actual

Potential

Potential increase

(‘000 ha)

Yield

Production

Yield

Production

Yield

Production

(t/ha)

(‘000 tonnes)

(t/ha)

(‘000 tonnes)

(t/ha)

(‘000 tonnes)

Colombia

272

5.4

1 460

6.3

1 706

0.9

246

Venezuela

150

4.4

665

5.9

882

1.5

217

Costa Ricaa

65

3.5

228

6.0

309

2.5

81

Guatemalaa

13

2.9

38

5.0

52

2.1

14

Nicaraguaa

72

2.9

143

5.0

284

2.1

75

Panamaa

57

2.5

143

6.0

242

3.5

99

Cubab

160

2.4

384

6.0

564

3.6

180

Total/mean for tropical region

789

4.0

3 127

6.0

4 039

1.2

912

a Countries have a combination of upland and irrigated rice; study focused on 50% of current area, where water does not limit productivity.

b Water deficits limit improvements for entire 160 000 ha under cultivation; study focused on 50 000 ha with adequate water resources.

Source: Pulver et al., 2000.

Yield gap in temperate regions

The yield gap was assessed in four countries in the Southern Cone of South America that have predominately irrigated rice: Argentina, two states of southern Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. The temperate region of South America has high yield potential due to favourable climatic factors and abundant water and land resources suitable for irrigated rice production. However, the average yield across the five countries analysed is only 5 t/ha. The yield potential for the region is estimated at 6.5 t/ha, resulting in a regional yield gap of 1.5 t/ha (Table 9).

TABLE 9
Current and potential yield and production of irrigated rice in four countries in the southern cone of South America

Country

Area
(‘000 ha)

Actual

Potential

Potential increase

Yield
(t/ha)

Production
(‘000 tonnes)

Yield
(t/ha)

Production
(‘000 tonnes)

Yield
(t/ha)

Production
(‘000 tonnes)

Brazil








- RS

779

5.2

4 075

6.5

5 044

1.3

969

- SC

116

5.7

660

6.9

797

1.2

137

Argentina

217

5.0

1 085

7.0

1 519

2.0

427

Chile

27

4.0

108

6.0

162

2.0

54

Uruguay

164

5.7

935

7.0

1 148

1.3

213

Total/mean for temperate region

1 303

5.3

6 863

6.6

8 670

1.3

1 800

Source: Pulver et al., 2000.

There are currently approximately 1.3 Mha of irrigated rice in the four countries with a combined annual production of 6.9 Mt. In the short term, simply bridging the readily apparent yield gap would increase production to 8.7 Mt, which represents a 26 percent increase in production.

Causes of the yield gap

The yield gap in irrigated rice is the result of numerous deficiencies, in particular inadequate crop management practices to permit expression of the yield potential in high-yielding genotypes. The yield gap is most striking in countries planting new, high-yielding varieties with multiple disease and insect resistance, tolerance to lodging and exceptional plant types. Improved crop management technology permitting high-yielding varieties to express more of their yield potential is available but has not been introduced, tested and modified to suit local conditions. These technologies include land preparation techniques, use of high quality seeds, more appropriate planting systems, efficient doses and timely fertilizer applications, effective and efficient weed control practices, integrated pest management, rational water management and timely harvesting. Limited use of available technologies restricts yields, resulting in less competitive production.

Deficiencies in crop management are the result of inadequate technology transfer, mainly due to the rapid changes occurring in the agricultural sector throughout the LAC region. The decline in public-sector-supported research and technology transfer activities has severely restricted field activities, especially in crop management. During the late 1980s, numerous Latin American countries suffered structural re-adjustment programmes that reduced government investment in agriculture. Table 10 illustrates the sharp decline in public sector support to irrigated rice. As recently as 1990, the public sector accounted for more than 90 percent of all irrigated rice research and extension in 10 of the 12 major rice-producing countries in the LAC. By the end of the decade, seven of the ten countries that had major investments in rice development completely abandoned support to rice; in the remaining three, public sector investments declined to less than 20 percent. Only Colombia and southern Brazil had significant investments from the private sector at the beginning of the decade and this support continued to grow.

TABLE 10
Transformation of support to research and technology transfer in irrigated rice from public funding to private-sector farmer grower associations

Region/country

% of research & extension activities

Public sector

Grower associations

1990

1997

1990

1997

Temperate:





- Argentina

90

10

10

90

- Bolivia

90

30

10

70

- Brazil

30

20

70

80

- Chile

100

50

0

50

- Uruguay

100

10

0

90

Tropical:





- Colombia

50

10

50

90

- Costa Rica

100

25

0

75

- Cuba

100

100

0

0

- Guatemala

100

30

0

70

- Nicaragua

100

10

0

90

- Panama

100

70

0

30

- Venezuela

80

20

20

80

Weighted mean

43

26

57

74

Source: FLAR, 1999.

In addition to the decline in public-sector support at national level, there has also been a significant decrease in international assistance in rice research and technology transfer in the LAC. CIAT was the major source of elite germplasm, technical assistance and training in irrigated rice for most LAC countries, but in 1990, it severely reduced its irrigated rice research programme. Similarly, IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) discontinued the introduction of genetic material into LAC national programmes via its international variety-testing programme.

Variety improvement

Rice production in the LAC witnessed the first quantum leap in yield during the 1970s and 1980s, thanks to the identification and rapid adoption of improved, high-yielding genotypes. New varieties rapidly spread throughout the irrigated and favoured upland ecologies, resulting in annual growth rates in yield of 3.3 percent during the 1980s. During the 1990s, further improvements were made, but most of the advancements concerned the incorporation of more disease and insect resistance and grain quality characteristics. The history of variety improvement in the LAC is discussed by Sanint et al. (1998) and the economic impact of improved varieties has been documented by Scobie and Posada (1977).

Most of the genetic improvement witnessed during the 1970s and 1980s originated from the CIAT rice breeding programme. Approximately 40 percent of all improved irrigated rice varieties released in the LAC originate directly from CIAT germplasm, and a large percentage of the material released from national programmes was derived from crosses utilizing progenitors from the CIAT programme (Sanint et al., 1998). Following the restructuring of CIAT’s rice programme in the late 1980s, irrigated rice was de-emphasized and increased attention was directed to improving upland rice. This decision created a vacuum in irrigated rice and as a consequence only a few national breeding programmes were capable of providing improved genetic material to the rice producers - in Brazil (Rio Grande do Sul), Uruguay and Colombia. Rice research in Rio Grande do Sul is managed by IRGA(Instituto Rio Grandense do Arroz); in Colombia, Fedearroz (Fedeeracion Nacional de Arroceros) is the main entity responsible for rice research. Both of these programmes are grower associations supported by production check-off funds. In Uruguay, the public sector research organization (INIA - Instituto Nacional de Investigacion Agropecuaria) is responsible for rice improvement but operates with joint funding from the national rice producer association and public sector. Countries with weak national rice research organizations and without strong grower associations were unable to continually provide improved genetic material to growers in the absence of germplasm from CIAT. Unfortunately this included all countries in Central America, most rice-producing countries of the Caribbean and the majority of countries in South America. Consequently, much of the genetic material currently used in many countries is over 15 years old and devoid of many new genetic traits. For example, an extremely important trait is tolerance to delayed harvesting, permitting growers to harvest rice at lower moisture content while obtaining high head rice yields (Berrio et al., 2002). New genetic material is also more resistant to rice blast disease. Finally, there is considerable evidence that new material has much higher yield potential. These are highly desirable genetic traits but only a few countries are actually evaluating the new material.

Some countries realized the deficits of available genetic material and pooled resources and created FLAR (Latin American Fund for Irrigated Rice), which largely replaced the former CIAT irrigated rice-breeding programme. During the last 7 years, FLAR has made major strides in variety improvement and currently large amounts of improved material are available with enhanced disease resistance, high grain quality and other favourable traits combined with high yield potential. However, this material can only be accessed via FLAR, and countries that have not joined FLAR continue to experience a severe deficit in terms of genetic material.

Genetic needs are variable and largely follow ecological conditions and environmental factors. Variety needs can largely be segmented into tropical and temperate zones. The priority constraints for the tropical zone are blast, hoja blanca virus, planthopper (Tagosodes oryzicolus) and grain quality. In addition, high yield potential is being recognized as an increasingly important trait. There is a plethora of new genetic material possessing all of the above traits currently being tested in several tropical countries in the LAC.

In the temperate regions - southern Brazil, Uruguay, parts of Argentina and Chile - variety problems are more diverse. Southern Brazil and Uruguay and Chile have severe cold stress that adversely affects yields during various phases of crop development. Identification of cold tolerance during germination will permit growers to plant earlier, exposing the crop to more favourable climatic conditions during the reproductive phase resulting in higher yield potential. Another avenue being pursued is cold tolerance during the reproductive stage, which will reduce yield losses from late plantings. In addition, much of the area in Rio Grande do Sul is affected by high soil concentrations of iron; genetic tolerance to excessive levels of iron has been shown to be an effective means of addressing this problem. Blast is also a major constraint in Rio Grande do Sul and is being increasingly recognized as a major problem. Blast does not appear to be a serious problem in much of Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. However, blast can be a devastating disease and caution should be exercised in promoting highly susceptible genetic material in any environment in the LAC.

IRGA in Brazil and INIA in Uruguay, in collaboration with FLAR, have recently established a collaborative breeding programme for cold tolerance, with the potential to make a significant impact on production in the Southern Cone. Argentina has a localized problem of straight head disorder, but new germplasm with high tolerance has recently been identified. Chile has particular problems with irrigation management greatly restricting the yield expression of high-yielding varieties. Varieties currently grown in Chile have high tolerance to cold but poor grain quality and limited yield potential. Chile could benefit enormously from the cooperative cold tolerance programme developed by IRGA, INIA and FLAR.

To summarize, variety improvement is the driving force behind rice development in the LAC. CIAT has been the main contributor to this advancement but genetic material from CIAT is no longer available. This has created a void in variety improvement in much of the LAC. Small countries with weak national programmes are not able to provide the genetic material required by its growers. Countries with large breeding programmes, such as IRGA in Brazil and Fedearroz in Colombia, are more capable of addressing the needs of the growers. Consequently, it is pertinent that small countries with limited resources combine forces with the more financially progressive countries in order to gain access to elite germplasm.

Addressing sustainability of research and extension

Improving crop management will have major impacts on production but there are still several countries that do not have adequate varieties or access to improved germplasm. In addition, there are countries that have access to elite germplasm but lack the means to evaluate genetic material. Furthermore, few countries have established technology transfer programmes. Most of the small countries in Central America, as well as Guyana and the Dominican Republic, are deficient in all of the above. These countries have limited human and financial resources for rice research and development and it would be cost-ineffective for them to work independently. The solution is collective action in which countries join forces and share the costs of rice research and development.

FLAR was established with the objective of providing germplasm to member countries and it provides a mechanism for small countries to share in the development costs for elite germplasm and gain access to improved crop production technologies. However, the countries that can benefit most from FLAR have not developed the means for securing the finances for maintaining their membership, independent of public financing.

In almost all LAC countries, public sector support for rice research and development has proven to be unsustainable. This is particularly true in most countries in Central America where there are more pressing problems: education, health and elementary infrastructure development. The rice growers cannot depend upon the public sector to allocate sufficient resources to address their needs. Colombia and Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil have a rice production check-off system that has sustained rice research and development for numerous decades without public sector funding and this model can be employed in other countries. Implementation of production check-off provides adequate and secure finances to support the needs of the industry. Proceeds from a production check-off will permit small countries to gain access to technologies and also support national germplasm evaluation efforts and crop management activities.

DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY FOR IMPROVED RICE PRODUCTION

It is apparent that immediate production gains can be obtained by bridging the yield gap in irrigated rice. The yield gap is significant in all countries and is mainly a function of inadequate crop management. Bridging the yield gap requires an effective technology transfer programme. Variety improvement is also important, especially in countries that have weak national programmes and limited access to improved germplasm. CIAT was the traditional source of germplasm for the irrigated ecology, but it discontinued providing germplasm to LAC countries several years ago. Consequently, most of the varieties currently grown or being tested originate from CIAT’s programme during the late 1980s or early 1990s.

To address the deficit in rice breeding, national rice grower associations from Colombia, Brazil (Rio Grande do Sul) and Venezuela pooled their resources to establish a central research programme to address the needs of the rice industry in their respective countries. In 1995, irrigated rice grower associations from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela joined FLAR. FLAR provides a mechanism whereby countries with weak national breeding programmes can obtain access to improved germplasm.

The objective of FLAR is to fortify the sustainable development of irrigated rice production in the LAC by addressing production limitations that are of interest to all members. Initially, FLAR focused on germplasm development and exchange between member countries, largely replacing the former CIAT rice breeding programme. More recently, attention is being directed to assisting member countries in improving crop management practices.

Strengthening national grower associations

FLAR is a new concept but most countries recognized the potential benefits from collective action that would permit small countries to have access to elite germplasm and production technologies at a nominal cost. Many of these countries secured the funds for joining FLAR in an ad hoc manner that later proved to be not sustainable. Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua and Panama are examples. Most of these countries have a small rice industry but that can benefit most from collective action that has a cost-sharing mechanism for rice research and development. Consequently, immediate attention is required to assist these countries to develop a sustainable means of finance. Establishing a production check-off system is the most convenient means of doing this. In addition to the above countries, there are others (Peru, Ecuador, Dominican Republic and Guyana) that have not recognized the advantages of FLAR and have not joined. More effort is required to convince rice growers in these countries of the merits of shared development costs.

Developing national priorities

Most of the smaller countries that joined FLAR in the early stages did not have their own research staff and developed cooperative programmes with the public sector for evaluating introduced germplasm. Such a procedure could be productive, provided that the research priorities are consistent with the growers’ needs. However, most frequently the public sector entities continued with their already established research agendas with only minor participation from the growers. In most cases, this non-participatory approach has proven ineffective. Amore productive procedure is for the grower association to establish the research agenda and remain active in the development process. If the public sector wishes to participate, they must address the problems established by the growers.

Many of the small grower associations do not have the expertise required for establishing research and development priorities and require assistance in this process; FLAR is the most appropriate agency, but it lacks the necessary resources. External financial assistance to FLAR will enable it to assist the smaller grower associations to develop a research and development agenda. Such an approach will not only strengthen national efforts but will facilitate the integration of the national grower associations into a unified research and development effort.

Investment opportunities

The benefits from collective action in rice research and development are numerous, especially for small, resource-deficient countries. FLAR represents the opportunity for small countries to have access to germplasm and other technologies that they cannot secure or develop individually. FLAR also represents an equitable access to technologies, since small countries and small growers have the same access to germplasm and improved production practices as large grower associations or large growers. Unfortunately, small countries or countries with numerous small growers have not established grower associations with secure financing that would enable them to gain access to technologies on a sustainable basis. This is a most immediate problem and it must be resolved. Production check-off represents the most convenient means for grower associations to generate revenue to support the industry.

Secondly, most grower associations have not articulated clear research and development agendas and in many cases have developed cooperative programmes with the public sector research programme essentially delegating the research responsibility. There is a misconception in many grower associations that public sector research personnel have a better understanding of the production problems than the growers do. Consequently, following the development of a procedure for securing a sustainable means of finance, many national grower associations require assistance to develop clear research and development agendas.

The third opportunity for investment is the strengthening of technical expertise within the national grower associations or affiliated organizations. Many countries do not have expertise for evaluating introduced germplasm. Few have access to expertise in crop management and almost all suffer from deficiencies in technology transfer. Strengthening the technical capabilities within grower associations supported by a production check-off would provide a means of sustaining assistance to the member growers. FLAR is the most appropriate organization for developing training programmes and workshops utilizing the expertise within its member countries. For example, more experienced breeders from Colombia or southern Brazil could assist inexperienced breeders in Nicaragua. Similarly, experts in irrigation management from Brazil could be invaluable in Chile and Bolivia. However, funds are required to develop such collaborative programmes among the national grower associations. These activities could be sustained using FLAR member contribution funds, provided membership in FLAR reaches a critical mass that could enable the organization to undertake such programmes.

National grower associations also need to explore additional alliances within the rice industry. Quality rice seeds are an integral component of efficient rice production but grower associations do not have a comparative advantage in producing certified seeds. Most countries in the LAC have private sector seed companies but few produce rice seeds. National grower associations need to consider establishing cooperative programmes with private seed firms in which the grower associations maintain rights to new varieties but permit local seed companies to produce seeds and receive a royalty in return. Such a system provides additional resources for the association while making available quality seeds of improved varieties.

SUMMARYAND CONCLUSIONS

Rice is an important crop in the LAC. It is grown in 26 countries within the region with an annual production in excess of 22 Mt (paddy) generating approximately US$4.5 billion of income for the thousands of rice growers in the LAC. There is a more or less equal amount of revenue generated in rice processing, distribution and retail sales. Although significant improvements have been witnessed in rice production in the LAC, regional demand surpasses production. The region has a net deficit of nearly 1 Mt of milled rice annually, resulting in an annual net outflow of revenue from the region of over US$300 million. Central America and the Caribbean are the main importers of rice since domestic production satisfies only about 50 percent of the total rice demand. In recent years, annual rice imports into Central America and the Caribbean have exceeded 1.5 Mt. All countries in Central American and the Caribbean are rice importers. On a regional basis, South America is a net rice exporter with a surplus production of approximately 300 000 tonnes a year. However, several South American countries are net rice importers. Average rice consumption in South America is over 38 kg/caput (milled) and approximately 18 kg/caput in Central America and the Caribbean.

Most Central American and Caribbean countries experienced large declines in rice area during the last two decades. Only the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua have not followed this trend. On a regional basis, overall rice production increased by 4 percent during the last two decades (1980-2000) despite large reductions in area due to improved yields. Yield in Central America and the Caribbean increased by 19 percent in the same period, reflecting the transition from low-yielding, unfavoured upland production to the more productive and stable rainfed and irrigated systems.

The most important trends in rice production in South America are the rapid decline in area planted to rice and the steady increase in overall production. Since 1980, rice area has decreased by 25 percent but total production has increased by 59 percent. Yield advancement has allowed production to continue to increase despite the removal of large areas from rice cultivation. During the last 20 years, the average yield in South America increased by 113 percent from 1.9 to over 4 t/ha. The large reduction in area of low-yielding upland rice in central Brazil combined with yield improvement in irrigated rice in southern Brazil and other areas contributed significantly to the rapid increase in average yield in South America.

Production under irrigation and the highly favoured upland systems currently account for approximately 70 percent of all rice production in the LAC, and high-yielding genotypes currently occupy more than 90 percent of the area. However, farmers’ yields remain far below the potential of available varieties. The difference between readily obtainable yield and average farm yield is referred to as the “yield gap.” The yield gap is apparent in all irrigated rice production areas and bridging the yield gap represents the most immediate opportunity for increasing rice production in the LAC.

In most countries the yield gap is the result of inadequate crop management. Improving crop management will have a major impact on production; however, there are still several countries which do not have adequate varieties or access to improved germplasm. These countries have limited human and financial resources for rice research and development and it is cost-ineffective for them to work independently.

Public sector support to rice research and development has declined significantly in most countries in the LAC. In several LAC countries, grower associations have been established and are assuming a major role in rice research and development. However, in many of the smaller rice-producing countries, especially in Central America and the Caribbean, the national grower associations are weak and lack funding. Stabilizing the national associations with a secure source of revenue based upon a production check-off would allow the associations to combine resources with other countries and gain access to technologies and technical assistance. Funds generated from this mechanism will permit the associations to pool resources via FLAR and gain access to improved genetic material and assistance in crop management.

FLAR provides a mechanism for collective action in which countries join forces and share the costs of rice research and development. This is essential for most countries in the LAC since few have adequate resources and personnel to support the required effort in rice research and development. However, the countries in a position to benefit most from FLAR have not developed the means for securing finances to maintain their participation in FLAR. This immediate problem must be resolved. The subsequent step will be to assist the grower associations in developing clear research and development agendas. Finally, most associations require assistance in strengthening their technical expertise within the national association or affiliated organizations. FLAR is the most suitable organization for addressing the needs of the rice-producing countries of the LAC, particularly the small, resource-deficient countries. External assistance to FLAR from the international donor community is required to enable the organization to provide the previously described assistance to its member countries. These activities can subsequently be sustained through membership fees. National associations can sustain their membership via revenues generated by a production check-off and other innovative means of finance, such as the sale of germplasm.

REFERENCES

Berrio, L.E., Jennings, P.R. & Torres, E.A. 2002. Breeding rice in Colombia for tolerance to delayed harvesting. In Proceedings of the Twenty-ninth Session of the Rice Technical Working Group, Little Rock, Arkansas. (In press) FAOSTAT. 2002. Agriculture Statistical Database, available at www.fao.org.

Pereira Arraes, P.A., Guimaraes, E.P. & da Silva Martins, J.F. 1998. Rice production in Brazil: achievements and policies. In Proceedings of the Nineteenth Session of the International Rice Commission, Cairo, Egypt. Rome, Italy, FAO.

Pulver, E.L. & Nguyen, V.N. 1998. Sustainable rice production issues for the third millennium. In Proceedings of the Nineteenth Session of the International Rice Commission, Cairo, Egypt. Rome, Italy, FAO.

Pulver, E.L., Tran, D.V. & Nguyen, V.N. 2000. Yield gap in irrigated rice in Latin American and Caribbean. In Proceedings of the Expert Consultation on Yield Gap and Productivity Decline in Rice Production, FAO, Rome, Italy.

Sanint, L.R., Correa-Victoria, F.J. & Izquierdo, J. 1998. The current situation and issues on rice production in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Proceedings of the Nineteenth Session of the International Rice Commission, Cairo, Egypt. Rome, Italy, FAO.

Scobie, G.M. & Posada, R. 1977. The impact of high-yielding rice varieties in Latin America. Cali, Colombia, CIAT.


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