The discussions are set to lead to recommendations for collaborative action and investment by governments, the private sector and the development community. Innovative partnerships are needed to transform the global rice sector toward a low-carbon, sustainable future, and contribute to the 2030 Agenda and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Speaking at the opening of the First Global Sustainable Rice Conference and Exhibition held at the UN Conference Centre in Bangkok, Dechen Tsering, regional director and regional representative for Asia and Pacific, UN Environment, called for urgent collective action among public and private sectors as well as research organizations and civil society groups.
“Rice is critical to global food security and to the welfare of around 800 million impoverished people around the world,” Tsering said. “However, we pay a high environmental price for our rice, and we need a transformation in the global rice sector if we are to meet future global demand and enhance farmer livelihoods in a sustainable way. As a multi-stakeholder initiative with 80 institutional members, the Sustainable Rice Platform, co-convened by UN Environment and the International Rice Research Institute, offers partners the opportunity to participate in this transformative process and make a real contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
In another keynote address, Kundhavi Kadiresan, assistant director-general and regional representative for Asia and the Pacific, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, reminded delegates that, “Asia fills the world’s rice bowls and will continue to do so in the years to come. But such a major crop needs constant attention – by input suppliers, farmers, traders and the authorities whose policies govern its production. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations seeks to work with partners who strive to ensure the sustainability of rice production in ways that allow farmers to earn more income but that do not result in damage to ecosystems and the rice-based landscapes of the region.”
Meeting the world’s future food and nutritional needs in a sustainable way presents critical development challenges, underscoring the urgent need for action to enhance production while minimizing the environmental footprint of rice systems and their vulnerability to climate change. According to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), rice is a thirsty crop, accounting for 30% to 40% of the world’s irrigation water; 3,000 to 5,000 liters of water are needed to produce 1 kilogram of polished rice. Rice also accounts for approximately 13% of global nitrogen fertilizer use.
Aside from its extreme vulnerability to climate change impacts, rice production is itself a major contributor to climate change. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, rice fields contribute approximately 9% to 11% of the world’s non-CO2 agricultural emissions.
These concerns underscore the need for action to enhance resource efficiency and reduce the environmental and carbon footprint of rice systems. Ensuring economic, environmental and social sustainability on the farm and throughout rice value chains presents critical development challenges.
Summarizing these challenges in his opening address to the conference, Matthew Morell, director general of the IRRI, reminded delegates of the efforts of the international research community to develop innovative climate-smart best practice packages for rice smallholders.
“The International Rice Research Institute and its national partners and collaborating institutions have developed proven technologies and approaches to help smallholders in developing countries produce rice more efficiently, more reliably, using less water and farm chemicals, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the environment,” Morell said. “We are proud to work as co-founders of the Sustainable Rice Platform to promote adoption of these climate-smart best practice packages by Asia’s farmers.”
The Sustainable Rice Platform is a multi-stakeholder partnership to promote resource efficiency and sustainability, both on-farm and throughout rice value chains. The alliance works with over 80 institutional partners in the public and private sectors as well as international organizations, NGOs and the international research community to promote climate-smart best practice among rice smallholders in developing countries. In 2015 the world’s first Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation was launched, together with a set of Performance Indicators to enable monitoring of progress and impact. The launch triggered commitments by a number of private sector actors to achieve 100% sustainable sourcing within their global corporate supply chains by 2020. Revision of the standard recently began with a 60-day online public consultation.