By International Rice Research Institute
What needs to be done.
In the near term, urgent actions from national governments and international agencies are needed on two fronts: rapidly exploiting existing technological opportunities for increasing rice yields and policy reforms to improve poor people’s food entitlements. Rice production can be revitalized, but there are no silver bullets. The world community must invest now and for a long time to come.
Some of the actions listed below deal with the immediate crisis while others provide long-term solutions to prevent future crises.
IRRI is calling for the implementation of the following nine-point program of short- and long-term interventions:
1. Bring about an agronomic revolution in Asian rice production to reduce existing yield gaps.
Farmers have struggled to maximize the production potential of the rice varieties they are growing, so there is a gap between potential yield and actual yield. Depending on production conditions, an unexploited yield gap of 1–2 tons per hectare currently exists in most farmers’ fields in rice-growing areas of Asia. Such yield gaps can be reduced through the use of better crop management practices, particularly in irrigated environments. This requires funding support for programs aimed at improving farmers’ skills in such practices as land preparation, water and nutrient management, and control of pests and diseases.
2. Accelerate the delivery of new post-harvest technologies to reduce losses.
Postharvest includes the storing, drying, and processing of rice. Most farmers in Asia suffer considerable losses in terms of both quantity and quality of rice during postharvest operations because of the use of old and inefficient practices. Active promotion of exciting new technologies that are currently available for on-farm storage and drying will reduce losses considerably.
3. Accelerate the introduction and adoption of higher yielding rice varieties.
New rice varieties exist that could increase production, but farmers are not using them mainly because the systems that develop and introduce new varieties are under-resourced.
4. Strengthen and upgrade the rice breeding and research pipelines.
Funding for the development of new rice varieties has steadily declined over the past decade or more. This must be reversed in order to develop the new rice varieties that will be required for sustained productivity growth. Opportunities exist to accelerate the development of new rice varieties with increased tolerance of abiotic stresses (such as drought, flooding, and salinity) and resistance to insects and diseases through new precision-breeding approaches. Likewise, record high fertilizer prices and new pest outbreaks demand the urgent revitalization of research on rice crop and resource management.
5. Accelerate research on the world’s thousands of rice varieties so scientists can tap the vast reservoir of untapped knowledge they contain.
Working with IRRI, the nations of Asia have spent decades carefully collecting the region’s thousands of rice varieties. More than 100,000 types of rice are now being carefully managed and used at IRRI and in Asian nations. However, scientists have studied in detail only about 10% of these types. It is urgent that researchers learn more about the other 90% so they can be used in the development of new varieties.
6. Develop a new generation of rice scientists and researchers for the public and private sectors.
Another vital concern for the Asian rice industry is the education and training of young scientists and researchers from rice-producing countries. Asia urgently needs to train a new generation of rice scientists and researchers—before the present generation retires—if the region’s rice industry is to successfully capitalize on advances in modern science.
7. Increase public investment in agricultural infrastructure.
Adequate investments in agricultural infrastructure such as roads, irrigation systems, and market systems are critically important for raising and sustaining productivity growth in rice. As with agricultural research, the underinvestment in infrastructure needs to be corrected urgently.
8. Reform policy to improve the efficiency of marketing systems for both inputs and outputs.
Domestic and international marketing systems need to improve so that changes in consumer prices are reflected in producer or farm-gate prices (this is known as efficient transmission of price signals). Policies should be developed and revised to remove barriers to the efficient transmission of price signals and to create conditions that allow the private sector to function smoothly.
9. Strengthen food safety nets for the poor.
Poor and disadvantaged people who are highly vulnerable to food shortages require strong food and social safety net programs to ensure that their needs are adequately met. Both urban and rural poor people would benefit from food or income transfers and nutrition programs focusing on early childhood.
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