Investing in rice is vital if alleviation of poverty is to be achieved and if there is no tangible increase in productivity, the demand would outstrip supply, according to Robert S.Zeigler, Director-General, International Rice Research Institute, Manila.

Citing a research report, he also warned against rice prices going up sharply by 2050 because of climate change.

Speaking at a seminar on ‘Rice research innovations for addressing global food security in a changing climate’, organised by the Centre for Plant Breeding & Genetics of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) here today, he said globally rice was the primary food crop for more than three billion people.

For about 600 million people living in extreme poverty in Asia, it was the staple food. But its popularity was spreading beyond Asia into other regions like Latin America and Africa as well.

Significance of rice crop

He said the significance of rice crop was that it could grow even in wet environs where other crops might fail. But if there was no increase in productivity, the demand for rice would outstrip supply and cited the situation in 2008 when the prices tripled “pushing an additional 100 million people into poverty’’.

Zeigler said there was need for 8-10 million tonnes more of rice every year (a demand growth of 1.5 per cent a year) globally to ensure food security and to keep the prices affordable.

Challenges faced by rice crop

But rice cultivation was beset with several challenges.

Apart from nature’s wrath like rising sea levels, drought, tropical storms etc, there was a looming water scarcity that is predicted to hit 15-20 million hectares of rice cultivation over the next 25 years. Shrinking area, lesser availability of nutrients and labour were the other challenges it may face.

He said a report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) had said that because of climate change alone, rice prices would go up by 32-37 per cent by 2050, even as productivity comes down by 14 per cent in South Asia, 10 per cent in East Asia and the Pacific and by 15 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa.

New varieties

To combat this negative development, IRRI was “developing rice varieties adapted to climate change’’ and management strategies to cope with it.

He pointed out that India has seen “unprecedented adoption rates of rice’’ developed at IRRI that could withstand flooding for up to two weeks.

He cited the development of salt and drought tolerant-rice and delivering nutrient management advice through mobile phones as some of the examples of IRRI’s initiatives to assist the farmers.

Vice Chancellor of TNAU K. Ramasamy said TNAU was the only public sector member in IRRI’s international hybrid rice consortium. The university also is a home to “one of the largest community of IRRI-Alumnus in India’’.

Outlining what the university wanted from IRRI, he said with its large scientific manpower, TNAU was well placed to help IRRI in its efforts to “usher in green revolution in rice in Africa’’.

Both could also work together in developing climate-resistant rice varieties and in mitigating the impact of climate change.

(This article was published on September 14, 2012)
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