International Rice Congress considers how to increase yields, food security

Tuesday, Oct 16, 2018 10:30

The multi-year framework agreement on collaborative rice research was signed between IRRI and the US-based Corteva Agriscience. -- VNS Photo Hoàng Nam

Rice is a crop of global significance and a vehicle for economic prosperity and climate change adaptation and mitigation, delegates heard at the 2018 International Rice Congress, which opened in Singapore yesterday.

“Singapore is not a nation producing rice but a big importer,” Singaporean Minister of National Development Lawrence Wong said in his opening speech.

“Technology and science are very important to shape the world’s rice industry and to cope with climate change. I hope we can witness big progess at the congress.”

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations renewed their commitment to direct efforts and resources to achieving global food and nutrition security.

Dr Matthew Morell, director general of the IRRI, said: “IRC 2018 is a call to galvanise organisations towards more cohesive and sustainable approaches to address these critical socio-economic and environmental issues.

“We face significant challenges if we care to deliver food and nutritional security for all people. Together, with a host of like-minded organisations, we can translate sound scientific research into innovative solutions for the world’s smallest farmers.

“Understanding the current and future needs of our rice stakeholders allows us to target our work towards the most effective solutions. With our partners, we can put in place concrete steps to bring about significant changes in the global agri-food system.”

Kundhavi Kadiresan, FAO assistant director-general and regional representative for Asia and the Pacific, said: “The world is changing rapidly, and the future world rice economy will look much different than it does today.

“Diets are changing towards fish, meat, fruits, and vegetables although rice will remain the foundation of Asian diets, especially for the poor. Global rice trade is increasing, and climate change is affecting rice production.

“Our objective is to make smallholder farmers more resilient and competitive so that they can achieve prosperity and provide poor consumers with affordable rice in a sustainable manner. That’s a win-win the world needs to see.”

Half of the world’s population, around 3.5 billion people, eat rice daily. By 2050 annual global rice consumption is estimated to rise from 450 million tonnes to 525 million tonnes.

While more than 90 per cent of this rice is eaten in Asia, including the region’s 515 million people still affected by hunger, the demand for rice in Africa is growing at 7 per cent a year.

More importantly, of the 667 million children under the age of five world-wide, nearly 151 million are stunted as a result of malnutrition.

The three-day congress has gathered 1,500 thought leaders, scientists, policymakers, agriculture experts, investors, private sector actors, and technology providers from 40 nations around the world.

It includes the following themes for discussion: systems physiology, genetic improvement, disruptive technologies and innovations, sustainable and equitable farming systems, climate change and environmental sustainability, pathways to health and nutrition, social inclusion and gender equality, and food systems for the future.

During the event, a multi-year framework agreement on collaborative rice research, deployment of new breeding technologies and development of breeding programme was signed between IRRI and the US-based Corteva Agriscience, the agriculture division of DowDuPont.

“Our shared goal for this partnership is to help rice farmers become more roductive and sustainable” Peter Ford, Corteva Agriscience’s president, Asia Pacific, said.

“Our collaboration will allow us to offer farmers a broader suite of high-performing products and effective science-based innovations that will optimise yield and crop quality,” he added.

The agreement provides both parties with access to advanced technologies like the IRRI’s germplasm, hybrid and inbred rice programme and Corteva Agriscience’s precision breeding technologies.

The partnership seeks to improve the genetic outcomes of breeding programmes, encourage sustainable rice cultivation and develop new rice varieties with higher yields and resilience against biotic and abiotic stresses.

“The IRRI is committed to harnessing the best of agriculture innovations to build a sustainable and equitable global rice sector,” Jacqueline Hughes, deputy director general for research at the institute, said.

The conference celebrated the World Food Day, which falls today, with an interactive global discussion on the role of youth in achieving zero hunger.

Held every four years, it provides a venue for all players in the rice industry to meet, share and learn about the latest innovations, cutting-edge technologies and crucial policies shaping the future of the globe’s most important staple crop.

Việt Nam organised the third IRC in 2010.

Despite its rapid industrialisation and modernisation, rice fields now account for around 60 per cent of Việt Nam’s total arable area, and production is essential for the livelihoods of nearly nine million farming households in the country.

Last year, Việt Nam was one of the three largest rice exporters in the world, shipping nearly six million tonnes to 150 nations and territories for US$2.6 billion. – VNS

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