Saturday, April 12, 2008

Rice price or rice crisis it is still a crisis!

The Philippine Daily Inquirer has the rice price crisis as a headline. Perhaps it is good politic to say it is just a matter of market forces and economics but it may be better to dish out the plateful of truth, we have a global food crisis.

The IRRI and Philippine rice experts have listed climate change as big factor together with land conversion and the biofuels boom. Nonetheless none of them would want to say that we have reached the two major determinants for carrying capacity (K) of planet Earth. Water is the first limiting factor followed by cultivated land. Both resources as any freshie environmental science student knows are finite.

IRRI board chair Professor Elizabeth Woods listed the following areas of immediate concern

1. 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. Farmers must improve their crop management skills so they can better deal with higher input prices.

2. Accelerate the delivery of new postharvest technologies. Postharvest includes the storing, drying, and processing of rice. Exciting new technologies exist for on-farm storage and drying that are not being widely used. The use of old, inadequate technologies causes major postharvest losses in rice.

3. Accelerate the introduction of higher yielding rice varieties. New varieties exist that could increase production, but farmers are not using them mainly because the systems that develop and introduce new varieties to farmers 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, and this must be reversed. Likewise, record high fertilizer prices and new pest outbreaks demand that rice crop and resource management research be urgently revitalized.

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 rice varieties are now being carefully managed and used at IRRI and in Asian nations. However, scientists have studied in detail only about 10 percent of these varieties. We need to urgently learn more about the other 90 percent so they can be used in the development of new rice 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 each rice-producing country. Asia urgently needs to train a new generation of rice scientists and researchers before the present generation retires.

IRRI is on the right track with its goals. There is really a need to develop new rice varieties that are adaptive to the "crazy" rainfall shifted patterns we have now. Digging through the biodiversity resources of rice is the only way to do this. As rice has always been a high quality resource there is a need to reduce farming and postharvest losses. Lastly IRRI is calling for new scientists. It seems that after the success of the Green Revolution 40 years ago, funding for rice science scholarships has lessened.

But IRRI's goals are long term. Medium to short term results are needed and this must be in cognizance of the fact that we have reached the planet's K.

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