In a parallel move, the FAO, the United Nations’ food agency, has declared 2004 the International Year of Rice to focus attention on declining food output. The Japanese government will host another gathering on the issue in Tokyo in November. Why rice reigns supreme Rice is getting most of the attention because it provides between 35 percent and 75 percent of the total calories consumed by Asians and is the prime food source for 50 percent of the world’s poor. As such, it is central to the UN’s efforts to achieve a 50 percent reduction in hunger and poverty by 2015.
Few now expect that goal to be attained without a commitment to more intensive and sustainable food production. But this will require a quantum shift in attitudes and development policies: in short, Asia can no longer rely so heavily on one food staple. “[The] declining profitability of rice cultivation acts as a further incentive for seeking alternative means of sustaining incomes,” agricultural economist Prabhu Pingali told the Rome conference. “Yet in almost all South and Southeast Asian countries, agricultural policies and institutions have favored self-sufficiency in cereals, and the inertia in this system would act as a strong disincentive for diversification unless drastic changes in policies and institutions are adopted.