Feb 09, 2001 12:40 Hrs (IST)
cultivation, barring a few exceptions, is facing a crunch across the Asian continent
where history says rice cultivation began at least about 5,000 years ago.
The area under rice cultivation is also dropping along with the yields. What is
worse, other regions of the world, notably Africa and even the Americas, may one day
become the rice bowls, overtaking Asia where currently 90 percent of the just under
600 million tons of rice is produced, traded and consumed.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that experts began to notice the
decline in rice productivity in the nineties in India and Thailand, and then
confirmed this trend through field trials in the Philippines.
And even though the urbanization witnessed in all Asian countries, particularly in
the Tiger economies, has seen lower growth rates in rice demand with urbanites
tending to eat less rice than their rural counterparts, global demand for rice is
set grow 1.7 percent annually, higher than the growth in rice production.
"We'll need to increase current rice production from nearly 600 million tons
annually to almost 800 million by year 2025 if we want to keep up with population
growth," says Nguu Nguyen, agricultural officer of the FAO's Crop and Grassland
Besides population growth, increased use in other parts of the globe, particularly
Africa, will play a role in the global rice demand. In western Africa, for instance,
governments had to spend a billion dollars in 1995 to import rice as local demand
has led to 400 percent increase in imports over the past 25 years.
A host of reasons are attributed by the FAO and organizations like the Manila-based
International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) - the world's premier rice institute --
for the decline in rice production in Asia. One of them is the decrease in market
prices for rice.
During the period 1967-81, a ton of rice fetched $769, but it dropped to $322
between 1984-1997, a drop of 58 percent. Degraded land and decreasing water
availability are other leading factors. Cultivation of a kilogram of rice needs
roughly 5,000 liters of water, but the Sri Lanka-based International Water
Management Institute (IWMI) says by year 2020 a third of Asian population will face
The Rome-based UN body's statistics prove that rice production in Asia slowed down
after rapid increases in the sixties, when the Green Revolution was initiated,
through the early eighties. Throughout Asia, rice yields grew by 2.5 percent
annually between 1967-84, but only by half that amount between 1985-1996 when the
area under rice cultivation dropped by half and production from 3.2 to 1.5 percent.
In India, rice yield grew by 1.9 percent during the 1967-84 period, and further by
2.3 percent during the 1984-96 period. The area under cultivation grew by 0.7 seven,
and then by less than half during 1984-96.
The figures for China are profound; rice yield grew only by one percent during the
1984-96 period, as against 3.3 percent during the previous period. The area under
cultivation witnessed a decline during the second period.
To turn the tide, rice experts are working to come up with new varieties of rice
that would produce even more rice with less land, water and pesticide. At the core
of these efforts is the so-called super rice, pioneered by the IRRI. Currently under
field trials, the rice is expected to be mass distributed by year 2004, and will
increase the yield to about 12.5 tons per ha. Currently, yields of seven to ten tons
per ha are harvested.
China, which developed the now widely used so-called hybrid varieties, has already
developed rice varieties that have yielded up to 17 tons per hectare.
There are also other, less technological ways to increase rice production, say rice
experts. Australia's successful Ricecheck system and Indonesia's integrated pest
management systems for instance.
Asia is in dire need of innovative methods and technologies if only to retain its
status as world's rice bowl as rice producers outside of Asia are thriving, warn
India Abroad News Service