SINGAPORE — The Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) has been shortlisted for a $100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, for improving the livelihoods of 500,000 rice farmers while reducing environmental impacts.

SRP is a multi-stakeholder platform established in December 2011. The SRP is co-convened by UN Environment and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to promote resource efficiency and sustainability in trade flows, production and consumption operations, and supply chains in the global rice sector.

Members include Olam International, GIZ, IFC, WCS, Mars, LT Foods, Sun Rice, Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The SRP is addressing the “rice paradox” through a framework for increasing production in a sustainable way.

According to the SRP, there is a paradox where rice is vital to food security yet simultaneously has the largest carbon footprint of all food crops. By 2050, rice production will need to almost double to meet the population demand, which under current conditions, will require additional land equivalent to the size of Chile, and add 300 billion kgs of CO2 equivalent emissions.

“Mobilizing investments for small-scale rice farming communities to shift toward sustainable rice production is essential for our planet’s survival and to preserve the backbone of global food supply,” said Matthias Bickel, chairperson SRP board, director Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. “Engaging these communities is key to combatting climate change and to preserving natural resources like fresh water. It’s high time to overcome the underinvestment in small-scale farming and to tackle farmers as agripreneurs in a market-driven environment.” 

The SRP principles were first put to the test in a pilot project implemented by Olam, in partnership with the Thai Rice Department and German development agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. Starting with 71 farmers in 2016, the project in Thailand has trained over 6,000 farmers to date on climate-smart practices and has produced the world’s first fully verified sustainable rice.

“With the SRP Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation, we have a definition and proven model for sustainable rice,” said Sunny Verghese, co-founder and group chief executive officer of Olam. “Together with our partners, Olam is aiming to bring 150,000 rice farmers in our Asia and Africa supply chains under the standard by 2023 and we’ll be monitoring the impact through our sustainable sourcing tool, AtSource. Yet, this is a drop in the ocean when we consider the millions of rice-farming households around the world, so this prize funding holds an extremely exciting opportunity for the sector to scale up action and re-imagine global rice markets.”

Today, SRP projects have reached 500,000 rice farmers across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, with results including a 10% increase in farmers’ income, 20% savings in water use and 50% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is to reach 1 million farmers by 2023.

The program subsequently has been designated as one of the Top 100, in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition, in recognition of its “real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time.”

The shortlist, or Top 100, represents the top 21% of competition submissions. The final award recipient will be announced in fall 2020.