Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - The world's major rice-producing nations - including China and India - are calling for closer collaboration in efforts to feed Asia's billions of rice consumers in the face of unprecedented new challenges.
Rice production, which helps feed almost half the world, has been under increasingly intense pressure lately, causing rising consumer prices in many Asian nations. Climate change, biofuels, water scarcity, and farmers diversifying into other crops are just some of the factors affecting Asia's ability to produce the rice it needs.
The eleventh annual meeting of the Council for Partnerships on Rice Research in Asia (CORRA) last month in month in Vietnam was warned that more must be done to accelerate the development and dissemination of rice varieties to help farmers keep up with production demands. CORRA brings together the senior research representatives of 16 major rice-producing and -consuming nations to highlight and discuss the main issues and challenges facing the Asian rice industry.
"The rice-producing nations of Asia are facing many of the same challenges in producing the rice they need, so it makes sense for us to work together to overcome these problems," Mangala Rai, the CORRA chair, told the meeting. Dr. Rai is also the chairman and secretary of India's Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE) and director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
"Climate change, water scarcity, and the continuing poverty of rice farmers are problems we all face," Dr. Rai told his fellow CORRA members.
Dr. Rai said it was also important for rice researchers in Asia to have access to the most advanced scientific tools to help them increase production, and this included biotechnology.
"We decided that we should actively support the policies of our governments to promote the responsible use of biotechnology to help achieve food security and reduce poverty," he said. "We also endorsed the risk assessment-based use of transgenic technology in rice as per national priorities for agriculture and for trade."
The CORRA meeting was briefed as well on a proposed new system to encourage greater private sector support in the development of new hybrid rice varieties. Many of the hybrid rice varieties being grown across Asia can be traced back to work done by public research institutes such as IRRI. This earlier work has allowed the private sector to benefit from this public research almost free of charge.
Under the proposed new system - which was endorsed by CORRA - seed companies involved in producing hybrid seed as well as public sector organizations would be invited to join a public-private sector consortium. The consortium would generate funds through different levels of membership and fees, which would be used to support hybrid rice research by the public sector, but also capacity-building programs for young scientists from Asia.
Rice farmers will benefit by gaining access to a wide range of improved rice hybrids and associated crop management technologies.
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