Agenda Item 10


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 not a major food crop in Europe. However, rice consumption has steadily increased during the last decade. The cost of rice production in Europe remains relatively high making competition with imported rice difficult. In addition, concern over the negative effects of rice production on the environment and biodiversity has continued to increase. However, the rice-based production systems in Europe have a number of opportunities for sustainable development.



3. During the period from 1992 to 2002, the harvested area for rice in the European Union increased from 350,000 ha in 1992 to about 420,000 ha in 1996, after which it decreased slightly in 1998 and then remained unchanged at about 400,000 ha until 2002. The changes in the harvested area were pronounced between 1992 and 1997, with a significant increase in Spain and Greece. Thereafter, the rice area declined in many Western European countries, while it remained stable in Spain. The introduction of national rice base areas in 1997/98 in the EU contributed greatly to the stability of production in the EU.
4. The rice harvested area in other parts of Europe declined rapidly from about 370,000 ha in 1992 to around 250,000 ha in 1996, mainly caused by significant reductions in the Russian Federation and Romania. Since 1997 it remained stable at around 240,000 ha.

Table 1: Paddy rice harvested area, yield and production in Europe in 2002

  Harvested Area (ha) Yield (kg/ha) Production (tons)

European Union ( 15)

Italy 218,676 6,270 1,371,100
Spain 112,900 7,225 815,700
France 18,490 5,691 105,227
Greece 22,413 7,526 168,682
Portugal 25,198 5,786 145,801

Rest of Europe

Russian Federation 130,100 3,713 483,000
Turkey 70,000 5,143 360,000
Ukraine 25,000 3,000 75,000
Hungary 2,104 4,643 9,768
Bulgaria 4,166 4,310 17,955
Romania 1,600 937 1,500
TFYR of Macedonia 1,870 4,738 8,860
Europe, total 628,351 5,670 3,562,593

Source: (FAOSTAT, 2004)

5. In 2002, the European Union produced 2.6 million tons of paddy rice and preliminary estimates indicate the same level of output for 2003. The rest of Europe produced only 0.96 million tons in 2002 and a lower output is estimated for 2003 (Table 1). The three top rice producers were Italy, Spain and the Russian Federation. Together they contributed about 75 percent of total rice production in Europe. Little changes in production were reported for the 2003 season.
6. In general, rice yields in Western Europe were much higher than in Eastern Europe. Within the EU, yields were highest in Greece and Spain while in the rest of Europe yields were highest in Turkey and TFYR of Macedonia. The average rice yield in the EU increased steadily from 6.0 tons/ha in the early 1990s to about 6.5 tons/ha in 2002. In Eastern Europe, average rice yield remained at around 3.0 tons/ha during the period from 1992 to 1999, increasing to about 3.5 tons/ha as of 2000.


7. The European rice market consists of long-grain indica rice and round to medium-grain japonica rice. Traditionally Europeans consumed mostly japonica rice, but consumption of indica rice has increased in recent years. Demand in Northern European countries is almost entirely for indica type grains. Consumption of indica rice has surpassed japonica rice consumption since 1999/2000.

8. Rice demand for human consumption (85 percent) has grown since 1995, while use for animal feed (7 percent) has remained stable, and industrial use (3 percent) has fallen. Overall rice consumption (industrial uses included) in the European Union reached almost 2 million tons in 2001. Between 1990 and 2002, per capita rice consumption has increased from 4.0 kg to 5.2 kg and this upward trend continues.

9. Rice produced in southern Europe is processed by the local food industry for home consumption and for export to northern Europe. In addition to imports from southern Europe, the food processing industry in the north imports indica husked rice from India, Pakistan, Thailand and the USA. Imports have increased since 1994/95 as a consequence of tariff cuts following the implementation of the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture and the subsequent concession to Pakistan and India of a tariff abatement of US $ 250 per ton on husked basmati rice and the implementation of preferential regimes. Imports to the EU have remained stable over the last years at around 700 000 tons, while rice purchases by the Russian Federation are forecast to rise to 470 000 tons in 2004. From 1995 to 2000 exports fell by 11 percent. Since then, they have stagnated, and food aid operations have at least partially replaced commercial exports. However, according to data collected between 1997/98 and 1999/2000, the volume of rice traded among member countries was twice that of external trade. Italy was the main provider (about 300,000 tons of milled rice equivalent), followed by Spain (with about 150,000 tons).

10. Under the “Everything but Arms” (EBA) programme, the EU committed in February 2001 to give unrestricted and free of duty access to rice imports originating from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) as of 2009 (Table 2). Until then, the free-of-duty imports will be subject to quantitative ceilings, set at relatively small volumes. Imports from LDCs exceeding the quota will progressively benefit from tariff reductions.

Table 2: EC Rice Concessions under the EBA Preferential Access Scheme









Duty-Free Quota (tonnes)

3 329

3 829

4 403

5 063

5 823

6 696

Free Access

Duty Reductions








Source: EU Commission

11. European consumers show a growing interest in special rice varieties such as organic rice, waxy rice, Jasmine-type rice, wild rice, and coloured rice (red, black pericap). At present, demand for these products only accounts for a small share of the market, with the exception of organic rice whose share is expected to increase at least in the short to medium-term. However, the yield obtained in organic rice systems is usually 25-30 percent lower than that obtained through cultivation using standard technologies, mainly because of the great difficulty in controlling weed infestations.


12. The most significant constraints to rice production in the Mediterranean climate areas include low temperature, water scarcity, biotic stresses, unsatisfactory grain quality, high production costs and population's concern on the harmful effect of rice production on the environment.

a) Low Temperature

13. As rice plants originate from sub-tropical and tropical zones, they are easily damaged by low temperatures at any growth stage from germination to ripening. The cool weather and strong winds during stand establishment in Mediterranean climate areas may cause partial stand loss and seedling drift, which lead to poor crop establishment. In many temperate areas, emergence rate quite often does not exceed 30-40 percent of the planted seeds.

14. This low rate of crop emergence is due primarily to the effect of anaerobic conditions during germination that occurs under low temperatures. To avoid low temperatures during crop establishment stage, therefore, some growers end up with delays in crop planting. However, a delay in crop establishment leads to the occurrence of reproductive stages of the crop during periods of low temperatures during the autumn that causes the death of pollen cells at the meiosis stage and subsequent grain sterility. Damage to rice yield caused by spikelet sterility could be one of the most severe in some years.

b) Water Scarcity

15. Water consumption in agriculture represents about 40 percent of the total water consumption in Europe, and rice is more water consuming than many other crops: in continuous flooding cultivation it takes about six times the water required by wheat. The conflicting demand for water for industrial activities, sanitation and safe drinking water will most likely increase. Governments will be compelled to place severe limitations on the use of water resources, particularly in agriculture.

16. Many water problems are related to its uneven distribution. Other related problems include pesticide pollution, soil erosion and deforestation, water-logging in heavy soils, and increasing irrigation cost. All these constraints are forcing agronomists to develop management strategies to reduce water consumption and increase the efficiency of irrigation systems.

17. New rice varieties suitable to a reduced use of water are needed in irrigated systems. The availability of short-cycle and high-yielding rice could successfully lower the amount of irrigation water used in continuously flooded cultivation. A more consistent reduction of water consumption could be obtained by developing profitable varieties suitable to discontinuous irrigation in all climate conditions. These conditions of water management will also contribute to the alleviation of methane emissions from rice. Non-flooded conditions, however, can lead to increased competition from weeds and increased soil salinity. The constraints on rice yield caused by weed growth and soil salinity must also be addressed as new varieties are developed.

c) Biotic Stresses

18. Losses in rice production, caused by diseases, pests and weeds account for about 50 percent of the crop potential, despite current crop protection. In European rice paddies, failure to control weeds may potentially result in the complete loss of the rice yield. Diseases, pests and weeds are usually controlled with pesticides and herbicides. The use of these products may, however, result in the appearance of resistant species, cause environmental pollution and risk disrupting the precarious balance of the natural enemies to pests.

d) Grain Quality

19. The quality definitions of rice depend on a combination of subjective and objective factors, largely related to the consumer and the intended end use of the grain. Consumer demand for better quality has notably increased, giving rice producers the opportunity to also increase the total economic value of rice. Quality traits are also related to the taste of the several ethnic groups that make up European society. Main key components of rice quality are:

20. Since rice is consumed in the grain form, the physical dimensions of grain shape and weight are considered among the first criteria of rice quality. Grain type categories are based upon three physical traits: length, width and weight. Only length and width and their ratio are formally considered according to EC regulations. In the USA however, grain weight is also taken into consideration (Table 3). Long slender grains usually have greater breakage than short grains and consequently result in a lower milling yield.

Table 3: Range of grain size among typical European and USA long, medium and short grain rice

Type EC Regulation USA Regulation
Long Long A >6.0 >2.0 <3.0 7.0 – 7.5 2.0 - 2.1 16 – 20
Long B >6.0 ≥3.0
Medium >5.2 <3.0 5.9 – 6.1 2.5 - 2.8 18 – 22
Short <5.2 <2.0 5.4 – 5.5 2.8 - 3.0 22 – 24

21. The demand for long grain varieties increased significantly in the most recent years as a result of food diversification and immigration. To meet this demand many long-grain indica varieties have been introduced in European countries. The EU contributed to their dissemination through the allocation of subsidies to rice growers who planted indica type rice. Subsidies were originally given to compensate for lower paddy and milling yields. The variety was often recorded in comparison to japonica varieties. Both indica and japonica rice varieties are suited to temperate climatic conditions even if they are sometimes damaged by the low night temperatures, which occur particularly during the flowering period.

22. Grain shape is usually associated with specific cooking characteristics. Cooked long-grain indica rice is fluffy and firm, while medium and short-grain japonica rice is soft, moist and sticky in texture. The demand among consumers in Europe is higher for long grain rice.

23. Grain fissuring is often due to overexposure of mature paddy to fluctuating temperature and moisture conditions. Cracks in the kernel are the most common cause of rice breakage during milling. Milling degree is influenced by grain hardness, size and shape, depth of surface ridges, bran thickness and mill efficiency. Whole grain milling yield is the percentage of intact kernels to broken kernels after milling and separation. Producers are paid less for broken kernels than for whole.

24. Other specific quality traits are usually required for the production of processed rice such as parboiled, quick cooking or pre-cooked rice and rice flour. Rice parboiled for consumption as table rice, is generally a long grain variety. Medium grain rice is also parboiled, but it is more commonly ground into flour for use as an ingredient in food products (baked crackers, fried snacks).

25. Aroma is an important qualitative trait in specific varieties (Basmati-type). Rice of this type has generally a long grain with a high quality maintaining a moderately firm texture after cooking. The demand for aromatic rice varieties has shown a significant increase since the early 1990s, primarily in the UK and other European countries, also with a significant presence of Asian communities. It seems reasonable to expect a further increase in aromatic rice consumption in the years to come, throughout Europe, because of the increase in people migrating from countries of the far east and the growing interest in ethnic cuisine. European consumption of Basmati rice is met entirely by imports from India and Pakistan. For this reason, specific research programmes need to be set up in order to develop aromatic varieties suited to European climatic conditions.

e) High Production Cost

26. The cost of rice production in Western Europe is generally much higher than in most Asian countries, with the exception of Japan. The production cost/ton of paddy rice in Europe is also higher than in the United States. The cost of production in this country ranges from 104 to 180 US$/ton while in Italy it is of the order of 200 €/ton. The high production cost in Europe largely reflects high operating expenses, including fertilizer, seed, crop protection, fuel and labour.

f) Environmental Concerns

27. In the past, mosquitoes and the possible spread of malaria were a major constraint to the development of rice production in Europe. Recently, concern related to negative effects on the environment, especially the emission of methane gases which cause global warming, and the harmful effect of pesticide application on the agricultural biodiversity in rice-based production systems has been increasing. These environmental concerns may lead to further restriction of rice production in Europe. Therefore, integrated management systems need to be promoted with efficient input utilization, including the use of water.


28. Under a growing market demand, the potentials for rice in Europe lie in overcoming the major constraints in production, including:


29. A sustainable increase in rice production in Europe requires strategies that must focus on the following:

30. Also, the implementation of the International Year of Rice as declared by the United Nations General Assembly would contribute to an increased awareness of the importance of rice for rural income diversification and food security in the Region.


31. 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 the UN General Assembly, which declared 2004 as the IYR. FAO was invited to facilitate the IYR implementation, in collaboration with governments and other relevant organizations.

32. 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 one 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.

33. 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.

34. 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 the 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.


35. 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.


36. 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.


37. 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:

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

39. 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.

1 Components of rice quality considered by the EC Regulation 1785/2003.