The International Year of Rice

Article excerpt

The United Nations on 31 October 2003 proclaimed 2004 as the International Year of Rice (IYR). The purpose of the Year is to raise public awareness of a crop that is essential for the sustainability of several poor nations. The General Assembly aims to encourage an increase in rice production through a more efficient use of water and land resources.

It is the second time in the history of the United Nations that a year is dedicated to rice. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) had declared 1966 as the International Rice Year. Rice deserves the spotlight because it is an indispensable ingredient for the achievement of the Millennium Declaration's first goal: eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.

Approximately 840 million people around the world suffer from chronic hunger. Malnutrition hinders physical and mental development in children and impedes adults in performing adequately in the workplace. Fifty per cent of the hungry live in regions that depend on rice production for nutrition. Pre-school children in Bangladesh serve as an example, for they derive 76 per cent of their caloric intake from this grain.

The IYR focuses on improving the efficiency of rice production in order to maximize crop yields and feed an ever-increasing number of individuals. It calls for collaboration between Government and civil society to help developing countries grow more rice with fewer resources. Reducing the need for land resources is a pressing concern, because the world loses one hectare of fertile land every eight seconds.

The General Assembly demands that public funding be made available for rice research. Scientific research promotes agricultural breakthroughs that can enhance the condition of the world's hungry and is responsible for the discovery of new varieties that out-yield all others in certain climatic ecosystems, such as the "Miracle Rice" that thrives in the tropics.

Current research proposes to raise the nutritive value of staple foods like rice Innovative methods could facilitate access by malnourished individuals to foods that are more nutritious and easier to produce. This process, known as bio-fortification, "requires an interdisciplinary alliance of research and implementing institutions", says Dr. Howard Bouis, Director of the Biofortification Challenge Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. …