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Mixing tradition and innovation for food security, poverty alleviation and improved natural resources management
- L.O. Fresco, FAO

Official Launch of the International Year of Rice 2004

by Dr. Jacques Diouf
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

United Nations, New York
Friday, 31 October 2003

Mr. Chairman,
Honourable Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a privilege for me today to be among you - the many individuals and representatives of countries and organizations dedicated to sustainable rice production - to launch the International Year of Rice 2004.

This is a singular event. The dedication of an international year to rice, a single crop, is unique in the history of the United Nations.

But first, why rice?

Rice is grown on all the continents of the world, except Antarctica. As a global food, it has a large influence on human nutrition and food security all over the world. It is the staple food for over half of the world’s population. In Asia alone, more than 2 billion people obtain 60 to 70 percent of their caloric intake from rice and its derived products. Rice is the most rapidly growing food source in Africa.

Almost a billion households in Asia, Africa and the Americas depend on rice systems for their main source of employment and livelihood. 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.

Rice is also both a symbol of cultural identity and global unity. The number of festivals, rituals, celebrations, and recipes that are centered around this crop is noteworthy.

For all of these reasons, Rice is Life.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 1963, imminent food shortages and the threat of famine, especially in Asia, led to the FAO’s Freedom from Hunger Campaign. A major contributor to the campaign’s success was the release of the high-yielding rice variety, IR 8, by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in 1966. This resulted in the Green Revolution in many rice producing countries in the three decades that followed. More food was produced and hunger and poverty were reduced. All this was made possible through the able leadership and guidance of the late Dr. Robert F. Chandler, Jr., who was Director of the International Rice Research Institute at that time. I would like to take this opportunity to pay special tribute to Dr. Chandler and his team and trust that IRRI, the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA) and other CGIAR centres will carry on his good work. I would especially like to mention the breakthrough obtained with NERICA rice which was developed by WARDA in the early 1990s, and which combines special traits from Asian and African varieties. Currently available varieties of NERICA are promising for rice production with low input management in upland ecosystems in West Africa.

Such work must continue, for today there are still 840 million people suffering from chronic hunger, over fifty percent of whom live in areas dependent on rice production for food, income and employment. Sustainable increases in rice production are necessary; however, rice production is facing serious constraints. The world population continues 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 leveling off. It is therefore time 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 of the countries in this room today. These include the recommendations of the 1992 Rio Summit, which were elaborated in Agenda 21’s chapter on Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD); the 1996 Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action, the Millennium Declaration in 2000, the recent World Conference on Sustainable Development, and the World Food Summit: five years later, at which governments reaffirmed their goal to eradicate world hunger. I see the International Year of Rice 2004 as a powerful opportunity for the global community to implement these initiatives.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The strategy for the International Year of Rice is simple, yet ambitious. By promoting the establishment of national committees for rice development, the Year will act as a catalyst for country-driven programmes throughout the world. The aim is 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 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.

At the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, we will build on the lessons of the Telefood Campaign, whose objectives are closely in line with the International Year of Rice in terms of raising global awareness for increased food security. The Organization’s Special Programmes for Food Security, being implemented in many low income food deficit countries, will complement and strengthen the International Year of Rice campaign.

The Year has already begun to gain momentum, and the spirit of collaboration has graced every preparatory action and implementation plan. Today, I am pleased to announce that the Year will hold Global Contests on Rice. Contest winners will be internationally acknowledged on the Rice 2004 website, and I take this opportunity to invite all countries to participate in this exciting event.

Just as the rice-based ecosystem includes innumerable, individual components, so too the International Year of Rice has come about because of the painstaking efforts of many women and men. I thank all those who have already contributed so much time, energy and thought to make the International Year of Rice a reality.

In particular, I wish to thank the Government of the Philippines for its original proposal to designate an International Year to Rice and the 43 additional countries that co sponsored the initiative. The endorsement of the Year from all regions of the world gives me great hope that the International Year of Rice can meet its goals.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The International Year of Rice presents a unique opportunity for farmers, consumers, environmentalists, government ministries, international agencies and stakeholders from civil society to work together for a shared goal. The need for a sustainable increase in rice production affects everyone. We are all connected to the rice system, and by spreading awareness now we can ensure that the work of the International Year of Rice will reach far beyond 2004.

Therefore, I invite all of you to join me today in committing ourselves to the battle against hunger and the effort to improve the livelihoods of the world’s poor. I invite your continued commitment to the sound management of our natural resources and the preservation of biodiversity.

This Year is our chance to improve food security, alleviate poverty and preserve the environment for the billions of people for whom Rice is Life.

I thank you for your kind attention.