UN rice conference opens, aims to boost production, efficiency and sustainability

Rice is the staple food for over half of world's population

12 February 2004 – With more than 2 billion people in developing nations depending on the rice-based system for their economic livelihood, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today opened a two-day international conference aimed at increasing production through greater efficiency and sustainability.

“Intensification of rice production in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner is essential for food security, particularly in Asia and Africa,” FAO said in a news release at the start of the meeting at its Rome headquarters.

The Conference is a part of the UN General Assembly’s International Year of Rice 2004 (IYR) awareness and action campaign, which FAO sees as a vehicle for achieving the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals calling for a 50 per cent reduction of hunger and poverty by 2015.

Rice is the staple food for more than half of the world’s population. FAO projections show that by 2030, total demand will be 38 per cent higher than the annual amounts produced between 1997 and 1999. In order to meet this, new methodologies and production technologies are necessary because land and water resources are under threat.

Of the 840 million people still suffering from chronic hunger, more than half live in areas dependent on rice production for food, income and employment. Because rice does not contain all the elements necessary for a balanced diet, a key aspect of the IYR is to encourage rice producers to intensify production systems and fully exploit their capacity to raise fish and livestock.

Rice-based systems provide “a prism through which the interconnected relationships between agriculture, food security, poverty alleviation, and sustainable development issues can be clearly understood,” said the Assistant Director General to the FAO Agriculture Department, Louise Fresco.

“This is an action campaign – a chance for us to make good on our promise to the billions of people for whom ‘rice is life,’” Ms. Fresco said of IYR.

The conference will highlight efforts being made at the national and international levels to overcome major production constraints and will discuss opportunities for increased efficiency and sustainability. It will also assess the potential of science and new technologies, such as biotechnology, to improve production and focus on the need to preserve and protect the wide range of genetic resources within rice-based systems.

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