Over half the world’s population depends on rice as their staple food. In Asia alone, over 2 billion people receive nearly 70% of their calories from rice and its products. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, has launched [b]The International Year of Rice[/b]. It is a major effort to spotlight a vitally important commodity whose production is failing to keep up with population growth.
Worldwide, over 800 million people in the developing world are undernourished. Mr Jacques Diouf, Director General of FAO, recently stated that there is enough food in the world for every person if it were evenly distributed. However distributing food is not mainly a technical problem but a political one to which political leaders give little priority. One problem with promoting policies to reduce malnutrition is that those who can make a difference are not hungry. In the context of this statement, the important issue of inequitable land ownership was ignored.
Why rice? The Director General explained that about four-fifths of the world’s rice is produced by small-scale farmers to be consumed locally. Rice systems support a wide variety of plants and animals which also help to supplement rural diets and incomes. Rice is therefore on the front line in the fight against world hunger and poverty.
During the ’60s and ’70s, the Green Revolution increased the yield and supply of cereals in the developing world. But this has reduced the production of more nutritious crops, and has required more fertilizer and equipment which poor people cannot afford. The result has been a drop in the number of small farmers, the promotion of agribusiness and an increase in environmental problems.
Currently there is much hope in the technological development of a new rice called Nerica. It is not genetically modified, is an output of a natural crossing, and is self productive. It comes in many varieties, has a higher yield, is more resistant to stress, and more importantly, it has a higher protein yield. It is also more affordable for small farmers, giving them a better chance to sell their product as well as feed themselves. Another important development in active research is biofortified crops which contain valuable vitamins and minerals. This research should be strongly supported as it offers valuable aids in the struggle against malnutrition and poverty. More information can be found on the FAO website ([url=http://www.fao.org]www.fao.org[/url]) and also on [url=http://www.rice2004.org]www.rice2004.org[/url].
[i]Sylvain and Phyllis Ehrenfeld[/i]