Yields and eulogies
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CTA. 2003. Yields and eulogies. Spore 105. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47953
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore105.pdf
Rice is food, drink, and medicine. Ritual and remembrance, ornamental, history.
"Rice is food, drink, and medicine. Ritual and remembrance, ornamental, history." But, bemoans Philippino poet Florentino Hornedo, it has, in these days of quick meals and broken families, become merely a food. Wrong, Professor, hold on. At least for a year or two. Over the road and round the corner from the United Nations General Assembly building in New York, a bit further than you can throw a fistful of rice, stands a simple Chinese snack-bar, halfway along a row of food joints. Nothing remarkable about it even its exotic clientele of dossers and diplomats from dozens of countries fades into the background of this most cosmopolitan city. Tucked away near the entrance, unseen but all-seeing, sits a smiling bronze statue of the deity Buddha, decked with flowers, eyes half-closed as if to avoid the smoke of the burning incense, in front of a bowl of rice grains. His task is to bestow blessings of peace and good appetite, symbolised by the rice, on all who enter. How he must have beamed, more benignly than usual, the Buddha, on the afternoon of 16 December 2002, when his diplomat clients entered from a cold, damp street. They had just voted in the General Assembly to declare 2004 the International Year of Rice (in addition to the Assembly s earlier declaration of 2004 as the Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery, and its Abolition). Somehow, the rice lobby had fast-tracked its way through a UN decision process that usually takes 5 years. Is there something special, or something afoot, with rice that it suddenly merits this attention? It s cultural, and cultural Rice is the world s leading staple crop, and no matter the fluctuations in price, supply, or demand, so it stays. One reason for its success is ease of preparation it requires less threshing and cleansing than other cereals. ACP countries account for a small but tangible proportion of both the consumption and production of rice. With more than 90% of production occurring in tropical and semi-tropical Asia, it is principally an Asian cereal, but it grows in all continents in flooded paddy fields as well as drylands. The International Rice Commission (IRC) stresses rice s strategic importance in many ACP regions: "Rice is the most rapid growing food source in several African countries (and Nigeria has emerged as a major importer of rice). Rapid acceleration of rice production over the last three decades was a major contributor to improvements in world food security." Few ACP countries live without rice, but they all manifest a need to grow more of it and to process it more efficiently. The simple stew dishes served with rice and peas in the Caribbean, the rice accompaniments to Vanuatu s roast meals, the splendours of Senegal s Thiébou Dienne fish with rice, and the exalted, almost spiritually inspired rice dishes of Madagascar all attest to its nutritional and cultural importance. Bowlfuls of issues Yet within ACP countries, and beyond, the issue is fast becoming a four-pronged challenge: how to yank up yields, improve poor farmers incomes (for it is mainly the poor who produce it), maintain low prices for the urban consumer (for it is mainly the poor who purchase it), and ensure public property rights on species threatened by clumsy attempts by private corporations to patent them, as with India s Basmati rice. Leading ACP producers such as Côte d Ivoire, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Tanzania all look for solutions towards WARDA the African Rice Center, formerly the West Africa Rice Development Association. It has led the rehabilitation of research on rainfed rice, which dominates African production, and developed NERICA (New Rice for Africa) which combines the productivity of Asian rice varieties with the drought resistance of African species. This challenge is reflected in the topics being prepared for coverage in the International Year of Rice in 2004, coordinated by the FAO. Top of the list is increased yields. After the flurry of high-yielding varieties in recent years, the emphasis will be on improving crop and land management practices; these include inter-cropping, mixed cultivation and the farming of fish in flooded paddies. There are contextual issues to deal with too: addressing post-harvest losses through improved harvesting, drying, storage and processing. Not to mention the part that rice paddies, mainly in Asia, play in emitting the methane gas that exacerbates the greenhouse effect. Other constraints include land tenure, the implications of degraded coastal areas and the balancing act with health campaigns such as malaria eradication. A newer dilemma is that of developing some varieties that ensure high labour involvement in some countries and developing others suited to countries with a shrunken labour force weakened by HIV/AIDS. No doubt the International Year of Rice will help increase yields, estimated by the IRC to rise from a global annual production of 600 million t today to at least 750 million t by 2025, including the same proportional growth for Africa s current output of 34 million t. It will also, in reminding the world of the noble cultural values associated with rice, remind us all that food is more than feed. Food is an explanation of production systems, of consumption patterns and of our links with the elements. Hence the International Year s gloriously plain slogan that you will see in the months to come rice is life. Mr Dat Van Tran Executive Secretary, Crops and Grassland Service Plant Production and Protection Division FAO Viale delle Terme di Caracalla 00100 Rome, Italy Fax: +39 06 5705 6347 Email: email@example.com