RICE IS LIFE
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United Nations launches International Year of Rice: "Symbol of cultural identity and global unity"

UNITED NATIONS, New York, 31 October 2003 -- The United Nations today launched a major international drive to increase the production of rice.

Launching the International Year of Rice 2004, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Dr. Jacques Diouf, said that rice "is the staple food for over half of the world's population" but warned that "its production is facing serious constraints."

Dr Diouf pointed out that the world population was continuing to grow, but land and water resources for rice production are diminishing.

"While the Green Revolution of the 1970s greatly alleviated the global burden of hunger in some parts of the world, these benefits have been levelling off," he warned.

FAO figures show that, by 2030, total demand for rice will be 3 percent higher than the annual amounts produced between 1997 and 1999. Rice is the most rapidly growing food source in Africa and has a major influence on human nutrition and food security all over the world. Sustainable rice-based production systems can help the eradication of world hunger and achieving the UN Millennium Goals. "Almost a billion households in Asia, Africa and the Americas depend on rice systems for their main source of employment and livelihood," Dr Diouf told UN delegates. "About four-fifths of the world's rice is produced by small-scale farmers and is consumed locally. Rice systems support a wide variety of plants and animals, which also help supplement rural diets and incomes. Rice is therefore on the frontline in the fight against world hunger and poverty."

He said that rice production and consumption is a pivot of many cultures around the world. Calling rice "a symbol of cultural identity and global unity," Dr. Diouf said it shapes religious observances, festivals, customs, cuisine and celebrations. Hence the UN decision to take a unique step in its history and dedicate a year to this single crop - rice. FAO will lead a number of international agricultural organizations in organising a campaign under the motto Rice is Life.

The campaign was sparked by a proposal last year from 44 UN member countries, citing a 'pending crisis' in rice production. Since the early 1990s, the proposal stated, scientists had been warning that growth in rice yields were falling and were lower than population growth.

Rapid acceleration of rice production in the last three decades had been a primary contributor to improvements in world food security, the proposal continued. But of the 840 million people still suffering from chronic hunger, over fifty-percent lived in areas dependent on rice production for food, income and employment.

"It's time," Dr Diouf urged, "for the global community to work together to increase rice production in a sustainable way that will benefit farmers, women, children and especially the poor. Global initiatives aimed at promoting sustainable agricultural development have been established over the years by many countries. I see the International Year of Rice 2004 as a powerful opportunity for the global community to implement these initiatives."

"The Year of Rice will act as a catalyst for country-driven programmes throughout the world," announced the FAO Director-General. "We aim to engage the entire community of stakeholders, from rural farmers to the scientific institutions that mapped the rice genome, in the mission to increase rice production in a manner that promotes sustainability and equity. Many member countries have already formed National Committees for the International Year of Rice and they will serve as the dynamic link between our international vision and the practical realities in local people's lives."

This strategy has been successful in the past, according to FAO. Just after World War II, rapid population growth coupled with slow rice production had led experts to predict starvation in Asia. On its own, FAO had declared 1966 the Year of Rice. Numerous countries took measures to improve production, marketing, milling and nutrition. Conferences were organised and scientific research stimulated.

The 2004 campaign will similarly seek to propel increased research and application of improved methodologies. A scientific contest will be held, along with regional and international conferences. Details can be found at www.rice2004.org.

  • Read Dr Diouf's full speech here


    Contact: Michael Hage
    Regional Information Officer
    FAO Liaison Office for North America
    michael.hage@fao.org (+1) 202 468-8800
    FAO Newsroom: http://www.fao.org/english/newsroom/