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Executive summary

Asia-Pacific's rice-based systems: their importance for rural livelihoods

This document reviews the role of Asia's rice-based systems in sustaining human livelihood and food security. It identifies a vision, goals, and livelihood-oriented programmes for key activities in rice-system production and products utilization - for rice, non-rice crops and livestock - and in institutional supports. It highlights how progress towards the Year-2015 food-security and poverty-alleviation targets has been less than required, and suggests that this disappointing progress is in part the result of the substantial decline in global assistance to developing-world agriculture during 1989-99.

The document's purpose is to engender within a knowledgeable and influential readership a heightened awareness of the key features, global importance, and pressing needs of these systems. The document recognizes that rice-family livelihoods depend not on food supply alone, but on interactions of social, economic, and natural-resource endowments. It correspondingly acknowledges that those pressing needs of the riceland systems might best be addressed through multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary endeavours.

The Asia-Pacific ricelands extend from the Solomon Islands and Japan in the east to Pakistan and Iran in the west. They have an annual rice-harvest area of about 140 million hectares (Mha); they nurture 200 million bovine livestock, and rather fewer small ruminants. They are tended by nearly 300 million persons, and support 3 billion rice consumers: one-half of the world's population, and more than one-half of its hungry. The aggregation and contiguity of the systems is globally unique. During 5 000 years, the bunded, terraced ricefields have allowed a sustainable use of land and of high-intensity rainfall.

For several countries within the contiguous belt rice has cultural and political dimensions. In dietary terms, as in social, economic and ecological terms, the contributions of non-rice crops and of livestock are in the major rice-growing countries dwarfed by those of rice.

There are responsible forecasts for the increasing requirements for rice during 2003-2030, and responsible expectations that widespread adoption of current and emerging best-practice production procedures can meet those requirements, and can do so with diminishing demand on biophysical and human resources. The resources spared from rice production shall allow diversification of rice-based farming systems and of income-generating enterprises.

The ricelands and their rice-buffer stocks shall during 2003-2030 have a year-on-year increasing requirement to supply about 600 Mt rice/annum. If during a succession of years the supply should be inadequate, and with a rest-of-the-world rice production of only 60 Mt/ann, the task of substituting any substantial shortfall by alternative foods shall be immense. Indeed, global food security is to large extent determined by the rice security of Asia, and by the products of its rice-based systems. A system that is so large and so pro-poor as the rice system has major potential to impact - favourably or adversely - on the world's food security and on its politico-economic stability.

Other extensive food-and-livelihoods systems in East and South Asia are the upland and the highland mixed farming systems. They, like the rice systems, are home to many poor persons, and contribute to those persons' food security. Appropriate programmes are needed for these upland systems. However, and without gainsaying the needs of other Asian farming systems, this document addresses only the rice-based farming systems, with their rice and non-rice crops, their livestock and fish, and their value-adding employment-creating enterprises, and their submerged-soil ecological regimes, bio-diversity, and environmental challenges.

The rice systems helped lessen hunger and poverty, and to sustain livelihoods. Thus, in East-plus-South Asia, adequately nourished persons increased in number from 1.12 B (billion) in 1970 to 2.56 B in 1996. Incomes doubled during 1970-2000; the number of non-poor persons increased from 1.80 B in 1970 to 2.37 B in 1998. However, hunger and poverty still persist in Asian rice growing countries.

Quantifying poverty: in East Asia at 1990, poor persons comprised 28 percent of the total population, but at 1998 only 15 percent. Correspondingly for South Asia: 44 and 40 percent. Nonetheless, in East-plus-South Asia there are still 800 million poor persons: two-thirds of the world's poor.

For human nourishment: at 1996 there were in East-plus-South Asia no fewer than 2 560 million adequately nourished persons (83 percent of the total population). Conversely, the number of undernourished, 524 millions, is almost two-thirds of the 791 million total, and is intolerably high.

Rice systems are characterized by water regime: irrigated, rainfed lowland, floodprone, and rainfed upland. Irrigated land constitutes 56 percent of the total area: it generates more than 75 percent of total rice production. Because irrigated-land production is more stable year-to-year than non-irrigated-land production, it has higher benefit for food security.

Among various rice-based cropping sequences, rice-rice-based and rice-wheat-based farming are prominent among FAO's generic farming systems. Within each generic system, there is sufficient commonality of conditions that system-wide strategies for livelihoods-enhancing interventions can be formulated, and appraisals made among candidate strategies to lessen hunger and poverty.

Within the Asian ricelands, seventeen countries annually harvest at least 0.6 Mha of rice. They have an aggregate population of 3.2 billion persons; they comprise: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, DPRKorea, RoKorea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam. No fewer than eleven of them are classified as low-income food-deficit. Twelve of them fall within the two most severe categories of prevalence-plus-depth of hunger. Ten of them have at least 10 percent of their riceland as rainfed lowland, and/or rainfed floodprone (deepwater), and/or rainfed upland.

For fifteen of the seventeen countries, rice supplies more than one-third of dietary energy and protein; and among that fifteen, for eight of them more than one-half, and for four of those eight, about three-fourths. With five exceptions, average values for k-calories/ are for the seventeen countries sufficient to satisfy national dietary energy supply. However, seven countries have very high rates of moderate to severe infant undernourishment.

Rice production per person ranges from 40 kg/person.ann (Iran, Pakistan) to 390 kg/person.ann for the major rice exporters. Maize, oil-crops, fruits, and vegetables are in most rice producing countries increasing in production more quickly than rice and than human populations. The maize and oil-crops are meeting increasing demands both for human food and for livestock feed. Most of the countries import appreciable quantities of wheat products.

Several of the rice-growing communities and countries are substantial producers of livestock products. In some rice-based systems there is a small but valuable contribution of protein and income from fish.

Among rice-system inputs, mechanization is furthest developed in the extreme east and in the extreme west. In some countries, (mineral) fertilizer application rate is sufficiently high that there is risk of adverse environmental impacts; in others, so low as to limit rice and non-rice crop production. Rice-land environmental concerns relate particularly to water and to agro-chemicals. The abstraction of groundwater for irrigation depletes aquifers. Misapplication of pesticides results in damage to non-target organisms.

Smallholdings, including rice holdings, contribute substantially to food security. National economics, trade, and policy impact on rice-family livelihoods. The ratio of agricultural employment to total employment is for all countries substantially higher than the ratio of agricultural GDP to total GDP. There is thus need to redirect resources, investments, and policies if rural impoverishment and underemployment are to be lessened.

Thailand, Viet Nam, India and Pakistan - in that order - are the major consistent rice exporters. Rice imports into rice-growing countries respond to individual years' circumstances. Inception of the World Trade Organization was followed, for most rice-growing countries, by an increased share of international agricultural trade. However, for most of those countries, imports increased more than exports.

For rural livelihoods, some analyses suggest that national structural adjustment programmes worsened the food security of poor rural families. Other analyses suggest that integration into the world economy has resulted in higher growth in incomes, longer life expectancy and better schooling.

Regional and sub-regional trends and projections

The global developing-country demand for rice shall progress as 540, 665, and 765 Mt/ann (million tonnes per annum) at 1996, 2015, and 2030. This increased demand for rice (and rice-system products) is driven by population growth and moderated by dietary changes; for many countries, the rice/person.ann requirement shall stabilize at Year-2000 values. Nonetheless, average rice yield shall need to increase from 3.5 to 4.6 t/ha during 1996 - 2030: implying growth rates during 1996-2015 and 2015-2030 as 1.2 and 0.6 %/ann, compared to 2.3 %/ann achieved during 1975-95. Indeed, past achievement has lessened the requirement for high annual growth in food energy per person. There shall in fact be a strong deceleration in the need for increased food production; but a much-increased demand for livestock feeds and livestock products.

Correspondingly, the challenges to the productive capability of the rice-based food systems shall be less severe than the challenges that were overcome during the past thirty years. In addressing those challenges, the dominant source of growth in production in East and in South Asia shall be increased yields. Fortunately, the available bio-physical, human, technological and economic resources are greater than heretofore.

Thus, although rice area per person decreased during 1961 - 98 from 0.12 to 0.07 ha/person, and may continue to decrease, increased productivity and income per unit of land shall compensate for that decrease. Irrigated-area shall increase during 1996-2030, and efficiency of irrigation-water distribution and allocation shall increase also.

Global applications to rice of manufactured nutrients at 1996, 2015 and 2030 are estimated as 22.2, 26.3 and 27.6 Mt/ann. N-applications to Asian rice shall increase substantially. Against rice-system pests and adverse soil-and-climate constraints, technological developments should be able to contain losses. In all rice systems, post-harvest crop losses can be substantial. Notably, investments in non-irrigated lowland-rice systems may contribute both to cost-effective increase in rice production and to a lessening of poverty and environmental degradation. For genetic resources, current rice-yield surveys report definitively that "on 75 Mha of irrigated rice farms there is no evidence of rice-yield decline". However, from new analyses using six-year time segments there are concerns that rice-yield growth rate may have slackened more than was previously realized. For long-term research-experiment rice yields, the suspicion of yield declines for irrigated rice-rice and rice-wheat sequences has been dispelled by a competent analysis for thirty sites in nine countries. Yield potential per day for irrigated rice in tropical zones has increased and this must continue to meet the future food requirements.

Encouragingly, for rice, the new plant type for irrigated systems has a yield potential per season in tropical Asia of 12 t/ha - compared to 10 t/ha for the cultivars grown at 1998-2000. In farmers' fields, this increased potential should result in Asian average irrigated-rice yield progressing from 5 to 6 t/ha. By 2010, cultivars shall combine new plant type attributes with those of (indica) hybrid rice, giving a yield potential of 14 t/ha. For rainfed-lowland-rice systems, the new plant type is expected to have a yield potential in tropical regions of 5 - 6 t/ha.

For livestock in rice-producing countries, annual growth rate shall be double the growth rates for crops. However, rates of increase in animal populations and in meat production shall slacken during 2002-2030. But livestock shall become a larger component within rice-farm enterprises; and maize and oilseed shall feature more strongly in the cropping, although livestock systems shall impose increasing pressures on the environments.

Ricefield fish may in the future be grown and harvested to the same extent as at 2000-2002.

For the rural natural resources, rural population increase shall impose increasing pressures. There are substantial challenges in implementing policies that simultaneously and harmoniously address the goals of poverty reduction, rural growth, and sustainable natural-resource management.

Pesticide applications pose threats to environments and to farm operatives. Promoting IPM and judicious pesticide use may be encouraged through programmes of taxation, training and labelling.

Increased temperature (from climate change) may in sub-tropical ecozones increase the fungal and viral diseases and the insect pests. Fortunately, most insect pests, weeds, and some bacterial, fungal and viral diseases can be managed effectively. For the Indo-Gangetic plains, there shall be adverse consequence for post-rice wheat.

For low-lying coastal ricelands, anthropogenic sea-level rise shall increase salinity and decrease yields. At mid latitudes, decreased precipitation shall have adverse effect on rainfed-rice systems.

For rice-system income and livelihoods, and for eliminating child undernourishment, concerned development agencies suggest three requisite foundations: broad-based economic growth; growth in agricultural production; and investment in education and health. For rural Asia, they emphasize that "Heavy biases against rural people in acquiring human assets are inefficient as well as unjust, and in most cases are not diminishing" and that "The cost of a rural workplace is substantially less than the cost of an urban workplace."

Fortunately, recent forecasts suggest that by Year 2003 overall economic growth may reach or exceed 5.0 percent per year in most rice-growing countries, which should be helpful in reducing hunger and poverty. Hunger and poverty are each higher in rice-growing countries that depend on non-irrigated rice systems for their food production. Under such settings, off-farm employment and income, and public safety nets are particularly important.

Of global significance, at 1996 there resided within the four most populous rice-producing countries (China, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan) three-fourths of the global total of undernourished persons. By 2015, these four populous countries and their rice systems shall facilitate four-fifths of the global decrease (390 M) in undernourishment.

Rural-urban migration is stimulated by the inability of smallholder farms to generate sufficient income to support a family. Consequences are that rainfed-rice-system peak-period labour is increasingly provided by women, and the proportion of woman-headed households ranges from 20 to 40 percent.

Rural development strategies and opportunities

The livelihoods-oriented strategies here proposed acknowledge that in East and South Asia poverty is predominantly rural. They acknowledge also that rural pro-hungry, pro-poor programmes should be based upon the strengths of resource poor persons, and should use the assets of communities to assist the poor to help themselves escape from poverty, and should help build social capital. They recognize that the rural poor are especially dependent on their labour, and that the generation of rural employment is vital. They recognize also that investment in women is crucial in achieving sustainable development, food security and poverty reduction, and that investment in women can be made within interventions in agricultural production, natural resources management and rural income generation.

Strategies shall be based also on best-practice and success-case experiences. Features that previously lessened Asian hunger and rural poverty included investments in infrastructures and irrigation, education and female literacy, agro-technological research and extension, and institutional reform.

Increases in rice-system production and income shall depend on increases in crop and livestock and food product yields per unit time and land area, and per unit of other natural, human and purchased resources. But for very poor farming households, the priority is not yield - but the lessening of risk.

Irrigated rice systems shall contribute most of the increased food production that shall ensure national food security. However, governments and civil societies now accord priority to non-irrigated rice-lands and new strategies are being adopted in expectation of substantial returns in enhanced livelihoods, production, national wealth, and sustainable resource management, and of lessened poverty per unit investment.

In most ecozones, small farms employ more workers per hectare and achieve higher productivity than larger farms, and their proportionate contribution to food security is increasing. Moreover, confirmed usage of any piece of land is a vital asset wherewith a landless family can escape poverty. Assistance to governments to implement pro-smallholder policies shall thus be a worthwhile intervention. As also shall be assistance to strengthen policies for natural resources, for rural endowments, investments, institutions, and micro-finance, for price supports, subsidies and agricultural trade.

The quantified interaction between agricultural primary production and rural-income generation is highly relevant. A 1.0 percent increase in agricultural output value results in a 0.5 to 1.0 percent increase in the outputs of the associated non-farm sector.

Cultivar development, using both conventional and molecular approaches, geared to high yield potential, improved nutritional quality, increased nutrient use efficiency and greater tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses must remain a high priority. Priority should be given to bridge the yield gaps. For the irrigated and the favourably rainfed lowlands, the yield-gap methodology can be incorporated within the Rice-Check Package, with its farmer-directed dictum: observe, measure, record, interpret, act. By following this dictum, the farmers generate crucial inputs for their participatory, extensionist-guided regular discussions and evaluations of their rice management achievements. In all ecozones, rice-seed quality and vigour is crucial: quality seed increases yield by 9-15 percent and produces grain of higher quality and price.

Crop-livestock synergy can be particularly beneficial in smallholder agriculture. It provides opportunities to intensify production, to accumulate assets and to diversify risk. In rice smallholdings, poultry, cattle and pigs are prominent.

For rice, if the benefits from the quality cultivars and seeds are to be maximized, management of water, nutrients and pests must be optimal.

For water and irrigation resources, with many competing demands, there is awareness of the need for near- and long-term strategies and policies. For irrigation, it is recognized that the efficiency of water distribution and use must and can be increased. Many irrigation systems need modernization: economic returns to modernization can be substantial - even where returns to the original investment were low. Increasingly, irrigation-user groups shall operate and maintain the irrigation facilities to promote equity and water savings. Effective management of rainwater is extremely important.

For nutrients management, and for all rice-system crops, there must be increased fertilizer-use efficiency and decreased nutrient losses. There are emergent methodologies and associated diagnostic and decision-support systems - notably for irrigated-rice systems. Similarly, there are established procedures of integrated plant nutrition management for different production regimes.

Riceland nutrients management has implication for the global atmospheric environment. It is acknowledged that agriculture, generally, should focus on lessening nitrogen emissions, but with some attention to carbon emissions and sequestration.

The lessening of riceland emissions of nitrous-oxide and ammonia shall depend on the adoption of environment friendly N-fertilizer procedures. There shall be need for appropriate policies with regulation and enforcement. There is a crucial need to identify and phase out subsidies that reward environmental degradation, and to initiate policies that reward sustainable natural-resource management.

Riceland sequestration of carbon, in soil or in standing crops, is a viable (Agenda 21 and/or Kyoto Protocol) procedure wherewith to counter CO2-enhanced global warming. Such procedure, with financial compensation, might be particularly attractive to rice farmers operating on constrained or degraded lands.

Post-harvest value-adding activities, at household scale within rice-based communities, also provide opportunities for creation and expansion of employment and for income augmentation.

The endowments and associated services most needed by riceland communities include legally-assigned land, equitable access to irrigation, to agricultural-extension services, and micro-finance, functional institutions, infrastructures and markets, and viable opportunities for rural enterprises. Education, health care, and other social services need strengthening in many rural areas.

Micro-finance is important to rural households; it is often essential for the adoption of new technologies. For the rural poor who lack credit worthiness, systems of safety nets are vital. The need to identify the target clientele is well recognized.

Endowment investment in skills and vocational training shall be worthwhile in preparing current and future farmers and farm-family women for the rice systems of 2010-30. For current rice-system farmers, training shall best be provided through extension programmes, perhaps adopting farmers' field schools and whole-family training. Different strategies shall be needed for the future farmers - who may wish to specialise in a particular commodity, and to use their literacy, numeracy, and computer competence.

Crucial for overall rural development is rural-women's development and education. Education of girls is probably the single most effective investment in development that any country can make. Helpfully, rice-system interventions afford opportunities to educate, to train, and to empower rice-farm women. Women-oriented skills training in seed management, fodder production, and straw livestock-feed management could be highly cost-effective. Training of adult rural women in financial management and farm-family nutrition will prove highly effective.

There is growing commitment that globalization of trade can and must be made to work for the hungry and poor. The WTO's General System of Preferences affords a route whereby developing-world farmers can increase their market share. Recognizing that trade liberalization shall create gainers and losers, interventions can help prepare the safety nets wherewith to protect and assist the losers.

To implement pro-hungry interventions, appropriate local and national government policies need to be operational. For several rice-growing countries, a priority need is to strengthen the institutional capacity wherewith to define and implement policies and procedures for primary production, for value-adding enterprises and for infrastructural supports.

Policy-oriented interventions can assist governments to review their rural development policies and if appropriate to modify them so as to maximize smallholder activity. Interventions can help identify and amend anti-rural and anti-agricultural and anti-smallholder policies and fiscal regimes. Repeal also of environmentally damaging subsidies and price supports. Pro-actively, interventions might help initiate tax-incentive mechanisms wherewith the private sector can be encouraged to invest in smallholder agriculture. Policies on water resources and use, and on gender mainstreaming must be in place.

Prospective interventions

Progress towards the Year-2015 food-security and poverty alleviation targets has been less than required. Part of the cause is the decline in global assistance to developing-world agriculture during 1989-99. Within that decline, the regional differences (at 1998) among flows of development aid per poor person are revealing: US$950/person to Middle East and North Africa, US$30/person to East Asia, and only US$10/person to South Asia.

Part of the remedy is to increase and sustain investments in physical and human resources for developing-world agriculture - particularly for Asian agriculture. Crucially, investments and interventions must address the vision and goals of providing to the younger generation of hungry and poor persons a realistic expectation that their livelihoods shall be more agreeable than those of their parents.

There is need for investments in irrigated and in non-irrigated ricelands. Interventions in irrigated systems would help produce the increase in food that shall ensure national food security. Interventions in non-irrigated systems would lessen rural poverty, rural-urban migration, and natural resource degradation. In all ecozones, interventions can be guided by existing codes of best practice, with maximal adoption of indigenous knowledge and experience.

The broad objectives for various candidate interventions are characterized as technological, socio-economic, or institutional, policy and infrastructural. Procedurally, and as urged by various stakeholders, the interventions would be integrative among those three types of objectives.

However, integrated development demands attention to education, to health care, to transport, and to micro-finance. The totality of required interventions thus extends beyond the capacities of FAO. Interventions should thus be implemented holistically through a multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary coalition. That coalition would expect to include the beneficiary communities, local NGOs and civil-society, faith groups, academia, private-sector companies and finance institutions, agricultural-extension and agricultural-research personnel, national ministries and component agencies, and several UN agencies.

Procedurally, assistance to particular interventions shall be provided only in response to member-states' requests. To facilitate such requests, this publication includes a "menu" for 33 prospective interventions. Among those 33 candidates, 15 are characterized as technological, 6 as socio-economic, and 12 as institutional and infrastructural.

From the menu for prospective interventions, initial choices would be made by member governments, thereby ensuring congruence with their national policies, strategies, and workplans, and with the specific needs of their targeted riceland communities and farm families. The required pro-poor targeting would be accomplished in partnership with national agencies. Agronomic targeting would be achieved through yield-gap analyses, and by considerations of markets and infrastructures and of socio-economic and cultural constraints.

Operationally, interventions would be implemented through a twin-twin-track strategy. In this strategy, the first twin pair would have one "track" for the non-irrigated ricelands, with the second "track" for the irrigated lands. In the second pair, one track would accommodate near-term interventions (2002 - 2006), the second the medium term (2002 - 2012). Within the first pairing, interventions in the non-irrigated (less-favoured) lands would expect to increase productivity, employment, and income, and hence help lessen hunger and rural poverty. Interventions in the irrigated lands that accommodate the intensive rice-rice-based and rice-wheat-based systems would help increase national food production and security, while increasing the incomes of smallholder families.

Within this twin-twin-track strategy, interventions are categorized according to applicability to non-irrigated, irrigated, or all rice-based systems, whether directed towards primary productivity, value-adding processing, or sustainable resource management, whether technological, socio-economic, or institutional/infrastructural, and whether appropriate for near-term or medium-term support and implementation. They are code-referenced to highlight inter-connections among the interventions listed in different categories.

Outputs expected from these interventions would be several. However, many impacts on hunger and livelihood shall be manifest only in the long term. Moreover, many processes and factors beyond these interventions shall strongly influence riceland hunger and wellbeing. Nonetheless, participatory monitoring and evaluation could in the medium term quantify the interventions' impacts on incomes, nutrition, and empowerment, and on productivity of smallholdings and profitability of micro-enterprises.

For communities, districts and countries, trends in wellbeing would thus be monitored through increments in rural investment and infrastructural constructions, through enactments of policy, taxation and regulatory reforms, through the aggregate sales by new micro-enterprises, and through the quantity and quality of human-resource development - in households and in institutions, and particularly for women. At household scale, monitoring of nutrition, hunger, poverty, wellbeing, and aspirations would use procedures of baseline and recurrent sampling. Monitoring of agricultural productivity trends would be accomplished through analyses of factor productivities and through the numbers of adoptions of more-productive cropping/farming systems.

FAO's catalytic and participatory roles within the prospective interventions

FAO, with its experience, expertise and Asia-Pacific presence, would be a major participant in much of this intervention and monitoring. Additionally, FAO would help catalyse the contributions of many partners and stakeholders - including various UN agency stakeholders.

Collaborative action by several UN agencies would permit that interventions could be undertaken within the mandates of the UN Development Group, the UN Development Assistance Framework, and the UN Joint Consultation Group on Policy, and could be accommodated within the multi-UN Agency Administrative Committee on Coordination, and its Network on Rural Development and Food Security.

Following member governments' initial choices among candidate interventions, the chosen interventions would be implemented holistically through multi-stakeholder, multi-agency, multi-disciplinary coalitions. FAO would help convene and service such coalitions. As and where appropriate, interventions and operations could be associated with the national components of the FAO facilitated Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS).

Interventions would be supported also by the personnel and resources within the FAO initiative for Priority Areas for Inter-disciplinary Action (PAIAs). Indeed, some candidate interventions already provide a "test-bed" (in Indonesia) for the evolving methodology whereby PAIAs provide technical and analytic support to SPFS activities.

Operationally, interventions would be implemented within the suggested twin-twin-track strategy. They would operate at village or at irrigation-secondary level, and would there proceed in partnership with individual farmers and with farmer and enterprise groups - especially with women farmer and women entrepreneur groups. They would involve local extension personnel and private sector service providers, and locally active NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs).

Targeting of prospective beneficiaries would be accomplished by the multi-agency coalitions. FAO would assist such targeting through the Food Insecurity Vulnerability Information and Mapping System. To complement that targeting, locally knowledgeable NGOs and CBOs could help ensure that the interventions utilized the community-specific comparative advantages and strengths.

The menu of candidate interventions shall enable various stakeholders to make an initial appraisal and prospective commitment to specific menu items and to the goals and strategy here proposed. FAO is able and willing to assist member governments in making such appraisal.

This executive summary and main report shall be shared with the many national and international agencies and groups that constitute the stakeholder community for these rice-based livelihood systems. It shall in particular be shared with the several UN agencies that have concern for the alleviation of rural Asia's hunger and poverty - including the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the United Nations Development Programme. It shall be shared also with the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, and with bilateral and multilateral sponsors of programmes of rural development and poverty alleviation, and with the regionally-active development banks.

It is pertinent that FAO has expertise and experience in designing institutional mechanisms to facilitate multi-stakeholder initiatives. Additionally, FAO's Medium-Term Plan includes Asia-Pacific-based food-security programmes and a rice-specific support strategy to help enhance the livelihood of smallholder families. The Medium-Term Plan supports governments' Special Programmes for Food Security. That support includes Priority Areas for Inter-disciplinary Actions (PAIAs). FAO similarly has the mandate and expertise to assist member governments to devise and to implement policies that facilitate smallholder enterprise, rural livelihood, and food security. The technical departments of FAO can thus contribute to much of the needed riceland development.

Within its Asia-Pacific programmes, FAO synthesizes components from several PAIAs to create five multi-disciplinary thrusts. These address biotechnology, biosecurity and biodiversity; livestock intensification; world trade and policy environment; disasters preparedness and management; and rice-based livelihood systems and lessening hunger and rural poverty.

Conclusion and epilogue

There are many constraints and challenges to the lessening of rural hunger and poverty, whether generally or within the rice-based livelihood-support systems. Fortunately, there are many technological, social, economic, institutional, and infrastructural opportunities wherewith to address those constraints and challenges. Encouragingly, recent forecasts permit optimism that there shall be increased national resources wherewith to combat rice-system hunger and poverty. Moreover, there is international willingness and commitment to provide external resources to augment those national resources.

Thus, it is hoped that this executive summary (and the main text of this publication) shall engender within a knowledgeable and influential readership a heightened and quantitative awareness of the essential features and importance of these vital Asian rice systems. To strengthen awareness particularly of the economic, social, and environmental significance of the ricelands and of the 3 billion persons who depend upon them for an often substantial part of their daily food. And within that significance, to emphasize that a food-supply system that is so large and so pro-poor as the rice system has the potential to impact - favourably or adversely - on the world's food security and on its politico-economic stability.

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