The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declared 2004 the International Year of Rice (IYR). The dedication of an International Year to rice, a single crop, is unprecedented in the UNGA's history. It reflects the fact that rice is not only a fundamental commodity and primary food source for more than half the world population, but also a focus within a complex rice-based ecosystem that influences issues of global concern, such as food security, poverty alleviation, preservation of cultural heritage and sustainable development. The UNGA's recognition of the importance of rice, besides commemorating the ongoing work of the International Rice Commission (IRC), is a unique opportunity for the engagement of civil society and governments in strengthening their commitment to sustainable rice production.
The fundamental objective of IYR is to promote and provide guidance for the efficient and sustainable development of rice-based production systems, now and in the medium and long term. IYR is envisioned as a platform for addressing the increasingly complex political, economic, social, technical and environmental challenges facing rice, by engaging the entire community of interests ranging from the governments of rice-producing and rice-consuming countries to farmers, consumers, research centres, non-governmental organizations, UN agencies, environmentalists, civil societies and the private sector. The slogan of the Year is "Rice is Life", as its broad meaning encompasses the entire scope of the IYR vision of rice as a way of life, the source of livelihoods and an essential element in the environment, supporting the web of life and biodiversity.
The Secretariat of the IRC has taken many steps along the planning and preparatory process in order to assure that the observance of IYR will become a true success and that its impact will extend well beyond 2004. FAO has been assigned a lead agency for the Year and the Organization has already committed substantial energy and resources to facilitate its implementation. An Informal International Working Group for IYR representing all major stakeholders and an FAO Steering Committee have been established to provide guidance for the coordination of the IYR global campaign. The IYR Secretariat has also been established within FAO to facilitate and coordinate various IYR 2004 activities including enhancing communication and public awareness.
This special issue of the IRC Newsletter aims to provide the relevant information on the background, history, strategy and planned activities for the observance of this extraordinary Year. I am certain that your interest, contribution and involvement in IYR activities will contribute to the global effort to improve awareness of rice and rice-based production systems leading to a renewed global commitment to sustainable rural development.
Chairperson of the Steering Committee of the
International Rice Commission
Director, Plant Production and Protection Division,