After decades of a seemingly abundant supply, Asia’s rice bowl it appears is no longer full, leaving farmers trying to figure out why. Last week they heard a warning from researchers that the region’s ability to feed itself was under serious threat from dwindling harvests and a sluggish technology uptake, forcing a drastic rethinking of production techniques. Four decades after the green revolution was launched in a blaze of optimism over long-term food security, output of the food staple eaten by more than 3 billion Asians is growing by only 1.5 percent a year, down from 2.5-3 percent in the 1970s and 1980s. Global rice stocks at the close of the 2003 marketing seasons are expected to decline by 20 million tonnes, reducing reserves to about three months of supply.
China and India, the biggest consumers, will experience the largest drops. Prices have also fallen steadily at the farm gate and in world markets, driving thousands from an increasingly unprofitable business. Yet the move away from rice farming only adds to an even greater problem as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has calculated that 38 percent more rice will have to be harvested by 2030 just to keep pace with population growth. And it doesn’t stop there. “This increased demand will have to be met from less land, with less water, less labor and fewer chemicals,” Gurdev S Khush, a researcher at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, told an FAO conference in Rome. Under these circumstances, leaders of the five biggest rice producing countries – China, Thailand, India, Vietnam and Pakistan – have agreed to assemble in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday, February 24, to look at where the industry went wrong.