FAO urges global rice supply strategy

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The Food and Agriculture Organization is crafting a strategy on rice, the consumption of which has been increasing while resources related to its production are dwindling.

The FAO, an agency of the United Nations, has called on an external rice advisory group for recommendations for such a strategy, focused mainly on the Asia-Pacific region where 90 percent of global supply is grown.

According to FAO assistant director general Hiroyuki Konuma, Asia’s share of rice exports accounts for about 80 percent of global rice trade.

Rice “is the most important commodity for the economy, food security and the livelihoods of the people in Asia,” said Konuma, who is also representative of FAO’s regional office for Asia and the Pacific based in Bangkok.

In a statement sent out from the Thai capital, the FAO warned that the growth of rice production is “under threat on many fronts,” with farmers getting older amid scarce resources and the adverse effects of climate change.

Related data from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which is based in Laguna, show that almost half of the world’s population of 7.16 billion people depend on rice.

At the same time, the total area of productive land that is cultivated for rice is receding and currently pegged at 8.54 billion hectares.

By IRRI’s reckoning, a hectare of rice land is lost every seven or eight seconds. Within the same moment, about 20 humans are born.

The FAO notes that in the Asia-Pacific, rice production dominates the agricultural sector and is an important base of economies, the environment, culture as well as livelihoods for hundreds of millions of farmers.

The rice-based economy is suffering from scarcity of resources—particularly water and land—while rice farming is also blamed for greenhouse gas emissions and degrading natural resources, the organization added.

Even then, per capita consumption of rice in the region is slowing as incomes grow.

Citing the 2012 Survey of Food Demand for Agricultural Commodities in the Philippines, agriculture officials say Filipinos consumed an average of about 114.3 kilograms of rice last year.

The number shrank from 128 kilos in 2008, 119.2 kilos in 2009, 114.8 kilos in 2010 and 115.3 kilos in 2011.

However, Konuma said consumption elsewhere in the globe—particularly Africa—is growing.

He said rice is now the staple food in more than 10 countries in Africa, and is becoming an increasingly crucial factor in food security not only in Asia but worldwide.

Also in 2012, the FAO established the external advisory group to provide advice on formulating the Asia rice strategy.

Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, the Indian scientist credited for leading his country’s Green Revolution, chairs the advisory group.

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