Twenty-seventh FAO Regional Conference for the Near East

Doha, Qatar, 13 - 17 March 2004

The International Year of Rice 2004

Table of Contents





1. On 16 December 2002, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2004 the International Year of Rice to focus the world’s attention on the role that rice can play in providing food security and poverty alleviation. Rice is life for major populations of the world and is deeply embedded in the cultural heritage of societies. It is the staple food for more than half of the world population. Rice-based production systems and their associated post-harvest operations employ nearly a billion people in rural areas in developing countries. About four-fifths of the world’s rice production is grown by small-scale farmers in low-income and developing countries.

2. Rice is the most rapidly growing food source in the Near East. Current rice demand has exceeded the Region’s annual rice production capacity. Regional rice imports are high and costly. The implementation of the International Year of Rice is an opportunity to raise support for sustainable development of rice-based production systems for food security and poverty alleviation at the global level in general and in the Near East Region, in particular. This paper discusses the importance of rice in the Near East and the potential and constraints for a sustainable production increase in the region. It also discusses the background of the International Year of Rice, the different facets of rice-based production systems, the challenges and opportunities of the year at the global level and its implementation framework.


A. Current Situation of Rice Production and Consumption in the Near East Region

3. Rice is the third largest crop in the Near East region in terms of area sawn after wheat and cotton, with Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Morocco, Iraq, Turkey, Mauritania and Sudan are the main producing countries in the region. It plays a significant role in the strategy to overcome food shortages occupying annually, about 3.5 million hectares. The total production is about 12.7 million tons of rice with an average regional productivity of 4.7 t/ha.

With the exception of Egypt and Pakistan which have exportable surplus of 0.5 and 1.8 million tons respectively, the rest of the countries in the region are net rice importers. It is estimated that approximately half of the total consumed rice in the Near East countries has to be imported every year. In 2001, the total amount of milled rice exported from the Near East region was only 0.93 million tons, while the imported amounts were about 4.5 million tons (FAOSTAT, 2003).

4. Entirely irrigated, the agro-ecology of the region is the most favourable for very high yields. However, high variability exists in rice yields among countries in the region. The average national yield is 9.4 tons/ha in Egypt, compared to only 1.30 tons/ha in Sudan. This type of yield gap is due to differences mainly in socio-economic factors, crop management, and access to use of knowledge and technologies and to a lesser extend the biophysical factors (climate, length of growing season, soil, water, pest pressure, etc). The low rate of adoption of productive varieties and improved crop management technologies, which are due to the weak research and extension systems appear to be the reason for practically low yield situations in many rice producing countries of the region.

B. Constraints of Sustainable Rice Production in the Near East Region

5. There are various factors currently affecting rice production and yield gap in some countries of the Region which include:

C. Potentials for Rice Production in the Near East Region

6. In spite of the above mentioned constraints, rice productivity could be increased in the Near East Region mainly through the following:

i. Use of improved rice varieties

Recently, there are newly developed released high yielding varieties in the Region which could achieve yields as high as 10 tons/ha.

ii. Developing hybrid rice technology

Hybrid rice has become a reality in Egypt and Pakistan with the possibility that Turkey and Morocco would do the same.

iii. Integrated nutrient management

Nitrogen is the nutrient that most frequently limits rice production in sandy soils. There should be approaches to regulate the timing of N application based on needs of the rice plant to increase efficiency of the plant's use of the applied nitrogen. Many rice farmers use very little of it, primarily due to non-availability, lack of cash to buy it, and due to poor yield response or high risk. In addition to chemical fertilizers there are good avenues in the Region to apply organic manure to rice fields.

iv. Water and irrigation

Because of water scarcity in the Region, the major challenges in growing rice is to develop farm water reservoirs for water harvesting, as well as selection of drought tolerant varieties, good land levelling, subsoiling, which are requisites for proper irrigation scheduling to increase water use efficiency.

v. Policy Support to increase production

This could be done through having appropriate policies and socio-economic adjustments which include pricing and institutional support, to address the needs of the farmers.

vi. Credit

Credit facilities and loans to small and resource-poor farmers ought to be provided

vii. Input availability

Governments should ensure the availability of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, machinery for different farm operations and make maintenance services accessible to farmers.

viii. Good quality seeds
The use of good quality seeds is the most important factor for achieving high yields. Governments and private sectors should play an important role in establishing programmes for good quality seeds from the released varieties and hybrids. Governments are encouraged to come up with proper legislation for seed multiplication and certification.

ix. Reduction of post harvest losses

Introduction of more efficient technologies for handling, drying, storage and milling rice is essential to reduce post production losses.

x. Technology transfer

Knowledge on improved varieties and agronomic practices should be disseminated through extension and technology transfer programmes.

D. Proposed Elements of the Strategy for Sustainable Development of Rice-based Systems in the Region

7. Generally speaking the sustainable increase in rice production in the Near East Region requires strategies for overcoming the constraints that limit the growth of the rice industry. The strategies must focus on the following: the formulation of appropriate government policies to support the development of rice production programmes; increasing rice yield through development and dissemination of hybrid rice and rice integrated crop management systems (the Rice checks); improving post-harvest technology through research and extension; and the provision of infrastructure and accessibility to inputs.

8. The implementation of the International Year of Rice as declared by the United Nations General Assembly would increase awareness on the importance of rice for food security and reducing poverty in the Near East. It would also raise support and commitment to sustainable rice production in the region.


9. The initiative for the International year of rice came in 1999, when the International Rice Research Institute - responding to its members' growing concerns over the serious issues facing rice development - requested FAO's collaboration in declaring an International Year for Rice (IYR). This led to Resolution 2/2001 of the Thirty-First FAO Conference, which requested the United Nations General Assembly to declare the IYR. On 16 December 2002, the Philippines, co-sponsored by 43 countries, submitted this request to the Fifty-Seventh Session of UN, which declared 2004 as the IYR. The dedication of an International Year to a single crop was unprecedented in the history of UN. FAO was invited to facilitate the IYR implementation, in collaboration with governments and other relevant organizations.

10. The theme of the IYR - "Rice is Life"- reflects the importance of rice as a primary food source, and is drawn from an understanding that rice-based systems are essential for food security, poverty alleviation and improved livelihoods. Rice is the staple food of over half of the world's population. In Asia alone, more than 2 billion people obtain 60 to 70 percent of their energy intake from rice and its derivatives. It is the most rapidly growing food source in Africa and is of significant importance to food security in an increasing number of low-income food-deficit countries. Rice-based production systems and their associated post-harvest operations employ nearly 1 billion people in rural areas of developing countries. About four-fifths of the world's rice is grown by small-scale farmers in low-income countries. Efficient and productive rice-based systems are therefore essential to economic development and improved quality of life, particularly in rural areas.

11. There are still about 840 million undernourished people, including more than 200 million children in developing countries. Improving the productivity of rice systems would contribute to eradicating this unacceptable level of hunger. However, rice production is facing serious constraints, including declining yield growth rates, natural resource depletion, labour shortages, gender issues, institutional limitations and environmental pollution. Enhancing the sustainability and productivity of rice-based production systems, while protecting and conserving the environment, will require the commitment of many parts of civil society, as well as governmental and inter-governmental action.

12. Many countries attach great importance to sustainable rice development, and there are a growing number of global initiatives aimed at promoting it. These include the Agenda 21-chapter on Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) approved by 1992 Rio Summit; the 2002 World Conference on Sustainable Development; the 1996 Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action; and the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000. Among the inter-governmental regulatory instruments that are of key importance for rice are those related to: food quality (Codex Alimentarius); climate change; trade and non-tariff trade barriers; biological diversity and the safe movement of modified living organisms; and ensuring equal access to and benefit sharing from plant genetic resources. Together with the IYR, these initiatives recognize that, in a world of increasingly interlinked institutions, societies and economies; it is essential that efforts are coordinated, responsibilities shared and participation included at all levels, from the local to the international.

A. "Rice is Life": Aspects of Rice-based Systems

13. The IYR envisages rice as the focal point through which the interdependent relationships among agriculture, food security, nutrition, agro-biodiversity, the environment, culture, economics, science, gender and employment can be clearly viewed.

B. Challenges and Opportunities for the IYR

14. The IYR offers an important opportunity to use a collective approach towards resolving the increasingly complex issues that affect the sustainable development of rice and rice-based production systems. This has important technical, political, economic and social dimensions, including enhancing the role of rice in meeting human needs.

C. A Conceptual Framework for the IYR Implementation

15. The fundamental aim of IYR implementation is to promote and guide the sustainable development of rice and rice-based production systems, now and in the future. In order to meet this overarching goal, the IYR strategy focuses on the following intermediary objectives:

In achieving its objectives, the IYR is committed to the following guiding principles:

16. This IYR framework will consist of an organized system of UN General Assembly nominated partners at the global, regional, national and local levels. As the nominated lead organization, FAO has established an IYR Coordination and Implementation Unit to coordinate the activities at all levels.