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Audio.  "World population and trade issues are major challenges that face the rice sector", says Mr. Hartwig de Haen, Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Department, FAO, in his opening statement to the FAO Rice Conference.
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    International Year of Rice


    International rice conference meets in Rome:
    "Intensified rice systems required - land and water resources under threat..."

    ROME, 12 February 2004 -- Intensification of rice production in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner is essential for food security, particularly in Asia and Africa, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said today.

    FAO is hosting an international conference at its headquarters in Rome 12-13 February 2004, entitled Rice in global markets and sustainable production systems, which seeks to mobilize the international community to confront the most pressing production constraints and marketing issues facing the global rice sector.

    The Conference is a part of the International Year of Rice 2004 (IYR) awareness and action campaign, which was declared by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2002. FAO, as the organizing agency for IYR implementation, views the year as a vehicle for achieving the first of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which call for a 50 percent reduction of hunger and poverty by 2015.

    Rice is the staple food for over half of the world's population. FAO projections show that, by 2030, total demand for rice will be 38 percent higher than the annual amounts produced between 1997 and 1999. In order to meet future demand, new methodologies and production technologies are necessary because land and water resources are under threat.

    Rice, fish and livestock

    Of the 840 million people still suffering from chronic hunger, more than 50 percent live in areas dependent on rice production for food, income and employment. Because rice does not contain all the elements necessary for a balanced diet, a key aspect of the IYR is to encourage rice producers to intensify the rice production system and fully exploit their capacity to raise fish and livestock. According to FAO, intensified rice systems will benefit the nutrition and livelihoods of the rice-dependent community, while supporting biodiversity and encouraging the sustainable management of natural resources.

    Poor rural farmers account for 80 percent of all rice producers. More than 2 billion people in developing nations depend on the rice-based system for their economic livelihood. According to the IYR Secretariat, this population is generally trapped in poverty because of the inability to tap the potential for agro-intensification, economic policies that favor rice consumers and decreasing support for public rice research. In the past few years, countries have also been confronted with falling prices, an increased competition for markets and a changing policy environment.

    Overcoming production constraints

    This week’s Conference will discuss the challenges posed by the new economic and policy settings. It will highlight efforts that are being made at the national and international levels to overcome major production constraints and will discuss opportunities for increased efficiency and sustainability within the rice-based system. The Conference will also confront issues related to the potential of science and new technologies, such as biotechnology, to improve the efficiency of rice production and will focus on the need to preserve and protect the wide range of genetic resources hosted by rice-based systems.

    Dr. Louise Fresco, Assistant Director General to the FAO Agriculture Department, believes that rice-based systems provide "a prism through which the interconnected relationships between agriculture, food security, poverty alleviation, and sustainable development issues can be clearly understood."

    The strategy of the Year of Rice is to use the Year as a catalyst for country-driven programmes throughout the world. Dr. Fresco stressed that the Year’s success is dependent upon global collaboration and international ownership. "The implications of rice-development directly affect a wide range of stakeholders, from rural farmers and the urban poor to the scientific community and international policy makers, thus rendering the Year a rare opportunity for the global community to work together towards fulfilling the Millennium Goals and the objectives of the World Food Summit. This is an action campaign - a chance for us to make good on our promise to the billions of people for whom 'rice is life'."

    The 2004 campaign will seek to propel increased support to the sustainable development of the rice-based production systems to go beyond 2004. Scientific and photographic contests will be held, and regional and international conferences have been planned around the world.

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    Contact: Erwin Northoff
    FAO Information Officer
    [email protected]
    FAO Newsroom: http://www.fao.org/english/newsroom/