Rice is an essential crop today for the teeming millions not only for Asia but also for the whole world. The importance of rice as a political crop in many of the Asian countries is an increasing trend.
Many of the African countries are nowadays getting accustomed to the taste of rice dishes as an alternative to their native crops like cassava, millet, sorghum etc. As per the Economist (11 March 2017) rice has long been popular in some African countries like Senegal. It is becoming a staple in much of the region. As a special dish rice is also gaining popularity in many of the western countries. So, it could be said that rice is going to be a crop of the next generation all over the world.
But the crop has to encounter a lot of challenges nowadays. We need more and more rice for the increasing population. That is the vital challenge of the day. The population growth will continue until the end of this millennium. Vis-à-vis, the rate of rice yield growth is in a decreasing trend though the consumption rate per head per year in many of the rice growing countries are decreasing gradually. As per FAO, the other challenges are the degradation of rice ecology, the disruption of rice biodiversity and rice heritage, the frequent resurgence of biotic and abiotic stresses due to global warming impact, increasing competition for land, labour and other inputs with the other sectors, volatile rice market, the recent reformed policy of the rice exporting countries etc.
There was a panic of food shortage around the world in 2007-08 in many of the developing nations. So we were not out of this crisis. In fact, we had at least 10 million tonnes of shortage of rice that time. The government was frantically trying to procure rice from the conventional rice exporting countries like India, Thailand and Vietnam though they had enough rice in their stocks. But due to some unknown anxiety, they refused to sale rice to us. FAO might have noticed the situation closely. Since then the organisation has been trying to formulate some strategies to encounter the crisis like this to make the country self-reliant in the rice sector. Accordingly, the issue came up as a priority concern in the FAO conference for the Asia-Pacific region in Hanoi, 2012. The member states of the region also made a request to the organisation to coordinate the formulation of a regional rice strategy.
The preparatory phase of the rice strategy took some time but it had a very close-fit start with an advisory committee getting the dignitaries all over the world. The famous agricultural scientist Professor MS Swaminathan was the chairman of the committee. He was one of the pioneers of the green revolution in India and is considered as the father of ever green revolution all over the world. The committee consists of Dr Shenggen Fan, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Dr Bruce J. Tolentino, Deputy Director General for Communication and Partnerships of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Dr Peter McCormick, Deputy Director General of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Dr Lourdes Adriano, Advisor and Practice Leader – Agriculture, Food Security and Rural Development, Asian Development Bank (ADB), Dr Hoonae Kim, Director of the Asia and Pacific Division, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Dr Patrick Labaste, Sector Leader for Agriculture and Rural Development, World Bank, Dr Apichart Pongsrihadulchai, Advisor to the Minister for Agriculture and Cooperatives in Thailand, Dr Yang Saing Koma, a representative of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), i.e. Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) and the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), Dr Peter Timmer, and Thomas D. Cabot, Professor of Development Studies, emeritus, Harvard University.
Prior to making the document final there was a meeting most probably in the last week of January 2014 at Pattaya, Thailand. We had a representation from BRRI in that conference. The document prepared on 23 January was sent to BRRI on 28 January to have a quick comment by January 31. I am sure the same was done for all the rice growing Asia-Pacific regional member countries also. I was fortunate to go through the document and made some comments prior to the Pattaya conference. Even I was fortunate go through the final edition recently. In fact, I could not find any change between the draft copy and the final one. The copy is already in its final shape. So there is no scope now to criticise but to praise it only. But I have to say something about it when I will be discussing the themes later of this write up. Anyway, I found FAO has considered rice not simply as commodity stuff but also as a sector. That is good to think rice that way. Accordingly, they have coined the vision to prepare the rice strategy as: “Food secure, better nourished and prosperous rice producers and consumers in Asia/Pacific region who benefit equitably from a vibrant, innovative and transformed rice sector that is more productive, efficient and environmentally sustainable by 2030”.
The half of the population of the world lives in Asia. Most of them depend on rice as the source of calorie. Rice is also grown in Africa and elsewhere but not to the extent of satisfying their increasing demand. Conversely, I have mentioned already that rice as a food is getting popularity day by day across the world. The demand for rice would be 503-544 million tonnes in near future. The amount was 439 million tonnes in 2010. Considering this as a base line the production should be increased at the rate of 1% per year to satisfy the total rice demand of the world. However, the lion share of this rice is expected to come from Asia where land is shrinking at an alarming rate. So, the whole Asian rice belt is in practice of intensive rice farming system. It may be mentioned that Asia has to grow not only for her own consumption but also has to satisfy the increasing demand of Africa and elsewhere in the world. So the revised target is 1.2-1.5% considering encountering the upcoming challenges in near future.
Most of the rice growing countries are still struggling to upgrade their economy to a vibrant level. Therefore, the objective of these countries is not only to grow rice to mitigate the hunger of their country but also to develop a lively economy based on the rice economy. Hence, considering all these challenges and issues, the strategies were fixed as:
1. Increase productivity, nutrition value and sustainability.
2. Enhance value chain and reduce post-harvest losses.
3. Mitigate/adapt to climate change and reduce risk.
4. Conserve environment and heritage.
5. Promote fair and efficient market and trade
6. Improve organisation of production, and empower youth and women.
To attain these strategic objectives some technical and policy related thematic areas are suggested:
1. Sustainable intensification of rice production
2. Climate change mitigation/adaptation and risk management
3. Environment and rice heritage
4. Water and irrigation
5. Smallholder farmers and farmer organisations
6. Gender roles and empowerment of youth and women
7. Food quality, safety and nutrition
8. Value chains and post-harvest operations
9. Policies on rice price, trade and stock
10. Regional cooperation on rice and
11. Food and nutrition security in Pacific Island Countries (PICs).
The thematic areas are discussed in detail in the report. But many of the descriptions are not much related to our situations in Bangladesh, the fourth largest rice growing country of the world. For example, the upland situation discussed here is very much related to the countries like Cambodia, Laos or Thailand. The upland situation in Bangladesh and Eastern India is quite different from those countries. We have the rice ecotype like DWR (Deep Water Rice), SWR (Shallow Water Rice), Water logged Rice, Tidal submergence etc. which are not mentioned in the document precisely. Just mentioning the conservation of rice germplasm and rice heritage is not all where a less popular technology like AWD has been discussed with special emphasis. Nothing is mentioned about the flash flood and early flash flood in the haor area in Bangladesh. Anyway, I am mentioning the drawbacks very much related to our context. This is because there was nobody in the advisory body during the preparation of draft. Even prior to make the document final the suggestions provided were not incorporated in the text.
Anyway, I am not in a position to ask anything to those dignitaries who are responsible for preparing the document. They might have considered the themes through international perspectives, even though this document could act as a good guide to the policymakers of the respective countries. The local scientists and policymakers might use this as a reference to prepare their own strategies. It may be mentioned that BRRI have a vision of its own. And as per the vision, they have fixed their strategies with special reference to our own context. Still, they have the opportunity to improve their strategies with proper consultation with the FAO expert.
(This write up is based on the document ‘A regional rice strategy for sustainable food security in Asia and the Pacific’ Final edition RAP Publication 2014/05 FAO, Bangkok, 2014).
The writer is the Director General (Former), Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Gazipur