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2004 - International Year of Rice



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"Rice is Life" was taken as an appropriate theme when the United Nations General Assembly declared that 2004 would be the International Year of Rice. Newswatch editor Sarah Granich reports.

Originating in Asia, rice is now cultivated in 113 countries and on all continents except Antarctica. It is grown on a wide range of soil regimes, from deltas and valleys in Asia, to tropical rainforests, to the slopes of the Himalayas, to the Mediterranean and to the dry lands of the Middle East.

For over half the world's population, rice is a staple food as well as being a vital source of employment for tens of millions of people. Rice production has, in fact, been described as the world's single most important economic activity. Rice-based systems are an intrinsic part of societies, cultures, politics, business and the environment throughout most parts of the world.

The importance of improving the productivity of rice systems throughout the world is paramount. For the 840 million undernourished people in developing countries who derive their meagre nutritional intake from this grain, it is a matter of life and death.

It was recognition of the global significance of rice, together with growing international concern over serious issues facing rice production, that led the International Rice Research Institute to request that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization collaborate in having 2004 declared International Year of Rice. To have a year dedicated to a single crop is unprecedented in the history of the United Nations General Assembly.

Rice is Life

Students and teachers from Bankana Sahib Public School in Ludhiana, India, recently celebrated the International Year of Rice

© FAO

The overall aim of the International Year of Rice is to promote and guide the sustainable development of rice and rice-based production. The following challenges and opportunities have been identified by the organizers.

  • Improving food security and nutrition. Although rice is a rich source of energy and protein, it has an incomplete amino acid profile and contains limited quantities of essential micronutrients. Nutrition can be improved by better rice processing and cooking techniques, the use of rice varieties with high nutritional values, and the fortification of rice with vitamins and minerals (for example, through applying food technology). Food security can be enhanced by promoting complementary crops, livestock and fisheries activities within rice-based systems. The International Year of Rice can help countries develop the infrastructure to support the responsible utilization of biotechnology. It can also increase awareness of the need to support the diversity of rice varieties to reduce genetic vulnerability and to enhance both rice productivity and quality. Diversity in rice-based systems greatly contributes to rural income and complete nutrition in a more balanced diet.
  • Enhancing the productivity of rice-based systems. Sustainable rice development requires: i) genetic improvements for higher yield potential, for example, hybrid rice; ii) better crop management techniques; iii) reduced post-harvest operations; and iv) the development of integrated production systems. It also requires improved national capacity, through training and information exchange, and the national-level transfer of safety-tested new technologies to the field.
  • Managing water resources. There is growing concern about the sustainability of global water resources. Water scarcity can be addressed by reducing the quantity of water required (through developing new rice varieties or improved irrigation systems) or by recycling water through multiple uses. The cultivation of rice in low-water regimes will lead to changes in water and nutrient management, cropping patterns and tillage practices. The International Year of Rice can help improve understanding of the costs and benefits of water use in rice-based systems (for example, the diverse life forms that such systems sustain). Technological developments and management interventions will also be required.
  • Environmental protection. Environmental concerns in rice production include indiscriminate use of pesticides, inefficient use of fertilizers, and emissions of greenhouse gases. At the same time, rice-based ecosystems host a wealth of biodiversity, and the majority of the planting material used by poor farmers is derived from seeds that they produce themselves and that represent generations of local genetic resources. The International Year of Rice can spread awareness of the importance of preserving biogenetic and natural resources and can help stakeholders exchange ideas on environmental issues, challenges and opportunities.

Rice is Life

© FAO

  • Traditional rice-based systems as part of world heritage. The International Year of Rice will raise awareness of the importance of benchmark rice-based systems, and will carry out activities to safeguard such systems and redress their erosion. The inclusion of outstanding rice-based systems in the multi-stakeholder, multi-agency Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) Project represents a major opportunity. GIAHS is expected to lead to the creation of a new World Heritage for Agricultural Heritage Systems category under the World Heritage Convention.
  • The institutional context. More and expanded partnerships between government and non-governmental (including private sector) development and agriculture institutions are required in order to increase farmers' - particularly women farmers' - access to land, credit, information and new technologies and innovations. This will be a central challenge in many countries.
  • The challenge and opportunity for synergy. The overall challenge for rice-based systems is to identify and execute synergetic solutions for rice development, and these are possible only if decision-makers, technicians, farmers and civil society are well aware of the many factors related to sustainable rice production. In addition, sound policies on rice development depend on the harmonization of diverse policy instruments, which are often under the auspices of different ministries. The International Year of Rice aims to be an "information broker" for increasing information exchange, technology transfer and concrete action among all levels in the rice production chain and across all nations, for a synergetic approach to rice development and the improved management of rice-based systems.

Source

The UN General Assembly noted that world attention needs to focus on the awareness that rice has a major role to play in alleviating and even possibly eradicating poverty and malnutrition. There are a number of internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration, through which the entire global community can address the challenges of ensuring a sustainable increase in the production of rice.


Further information
The International Year of Rice framework consists of a broad range of coordinated and organized activities and initiatives across global, regional, national and local levels. For comprehensive details on all events and initiatives, see the official website at www.rice2004.org. A concept paper documenting the thinking behind the International Year of Rice is available. You can also download papers from the February 2004 conference "Rice in Global Markets and Sustainable Production Systems".

On the Web
RiceWeb provides access to a wealth of on-line information about rice, including environmental issues.

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Tiempo Climate Newswatch
Updated: April 12th 2013