The company said that in addition to deploying the 46 performance indicators developed by the SRP, it would also invest in programs to address human rights and women's empowerment in its rice supply chains.
Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region has served as the country’s breadbasket for years. Known for fertile soil, the area grows more than half of all rice produced in the country, a staple in the Vietnamese diet. In 2016, however, the delta experienced a devastating drought, leaving 600,000 people without access to fresh water. Rice yields had already been falling for seasons, but the drought represented a tipping point for many farming families. Degraded land, lack of water and pollution caused nearly 1.1 million people to migrate from the region.
Climate change threatens rice cultivation worldwide
Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of what’s to come worldwide. Climate-induced crises are threatening farmers’ livelihoods and exacerbating global hunger. Approximately 3.5 billion people rely on rice as a staple in their diet, and the grain provides around a third of the calories consumed in low- and middle-income countries. Rice is also becoming increasingly popular in the West, now commonly found in pet food, beer, cereals and other items to meet the rising demand for gluten-free products.
All of this is impacted by the exponential growth in the global population, and with it, the demand for rice. Rice production will need to increase by an estimated 25 percent by 2050 in order to meet global needs. Meanwhile, approximately 15 million to 20 million hectares of land may suffer water scarcity due to rising temperatures, threatening to greatly reduce the yields and nutritional value of rice harvests.
Increased water scarcity events would be devastating for rice cultivation, as the crop is extremely water-intensive, each kilogram requiring between 2,000 and 5,000 liters of water (40 percent of the world’s total irrigation water). Rice paddy fields and reservoirs have caused a 233 percent increase in manmade wetlands while natural wetlands have declined by 35 percent, throwing everything out of balance.
Rice is also a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In fact, rice’s carbon footprint is similar to the international aviation industry. Emissions are largely caused by the conventional field flooding farming method, which prevents oxygen from penetrating the soil and leads to the growth of harmful, methane-emitting bacteria. Additional methane is released from the rotting rice straw left over from the crop in conventional rice farming.
There is a better way, but the private sector needs to invest in it
If we continue cultivating rice using these methods, climate change-related weather incidents and exhausted resources will certainly cause a shortage, likely leading to a hunger disaster on a global scale.
After years of research, trial and error, there are now proven methods of sustainable rice production that are adaptive and resilient to climate change, and produce the same yields as conventional cultivation. A study in the An Giang province in Vietnam, the world's fifth largest rice producer, compared harvests between farmers using the more sustainable wetting-and-drying (AWD) field method to those using the conventional field flooding approach. Yields were almost identical, and the AWD method emitted less greenhouse gases and required fewer seeds and fertilizer.
These green farming techniques are the only pathway that can maintain rice productivity and adapt to rising global temperatures. But more private-sector finance is needed to support and grow these programs. Fortunately, it is no longer a risk for companies to shift to these sustainable methods. In fact, it’s a business imperative.
At the Global Environment Facility, investments totaling over $600 million continue to grow from the initial cluster of Asian countries and into West Africa under our programs — demonstrating scalability, replicability and financial support from the private sector, which is a vitally needed element for equitably transforming systems.
Why invest in sustainable rice?
Here are some of the top reasons why the time is now to invest in sustainable rice.
Reducing GHG emissions. There are now proven methods to mitigate rice’s methane emissions by up to 70 percent using simple changes in farming techniques. These modifications include removing rice straw from the fields after harvest, new fertilization and soil amendment regimes, and careful control of the timing, duration and extent of rice field flooding. These transitions are possible through the training and support of rice farmers at the ground level.
Blended-finance to de-risk investments. There is growing attention on blended finance opportunities to de-risk private-sector investment. Instead of pure grants, which are always in short supply, these investment tools catalyze private-sector investment and foster replicable projects. By combining private and public finance sources — such as commercial investors, donors, and/or multi-lateral trust funds like the Global Environment Facility — project design teams can deploy credit lines, loan guarantees, equity investments and other innovative approaches. Many investments can be aggregated into a larger facility or funding program to help scale and attract private finance in markets where the risks are too high for conventional financial products or local institutions alone.
Climate resilience. Researchers have discovered effective methods of reducing rice’s reliance on water that are significantly more efficient than conventional farming techniques, creating more climate resilience. For example, a sustainable rice program in Vietnam used a micro-irrigation system that allows water to drip slowly to plant roots instead of the conventional field flooding method. This resulted in water savings of 60 percent to 70 percent and highlighted the power of technical farming assistance to reduce resource exhaustion and provide more consistent yields.
A global network of support. Sustainable rice farming programs are backed by a network of international organizations including the United Nations, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and my organization, the Global Environment Facility. Programs such as the Sustainable Rice Landscape Initiative are well underway to help private companies make the shift from conventional rice farming to green techniques in order to meet the Paris Agreement’s GHG emission targets. The Sustainable Rice Platform helps create customized finance approaches and climate transition blueprints.
Small farmers are ready. Training and capacity-building for farmers and smallholders have been underway for several years now, paving the way for a systemic transition to sustainable rice production and providing additional assurance for private investors who were reluctant to invest in a country that is too early in this process. Support for farmers can take many forms, such as teaching mechanized harvesting methods in Nigeria, which prevented almost half a ton of food loss and increased farmer profits by approximately $200 per hectare.
The time is now for the private sector to invest in sustainable rice production — not only to meet global climate policy requirements, but also to ensure that rice farming is able to adapt to our changing planet and that businesses remain profitable. Conventional rice farming methods are a ticking time bomb. The foundation has been laid in terms of developing proven techniques, working with governments to shift national policies, and training farmers around the world. It’s time for CEOs to take the leap, not only to save their businesses, but also to prevent climate and hunger disasters.
Rice -- Asia's most important staple -- is to blame for around 10 percent of global emissions of methane, a gas that over two decades, traps about 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide. Scientists say that if the world wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, rice cannot be ignored. Vietnam has been showing efforts to reduce methane from rice cultivation by removing straw from the fields and turning it into mushrooms and organic fertilizer.
A new agreement to promote sustainable agriculture in developing countries was signed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The organizations will share scientific and technical knowledge, promote capacity building activities, and assist in government strategizing, with an emphasis on benefiting small-scale farmers and women.
“With over 3 billion people across the globe eating rice every day, rice is critical to global food security,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General. “Ensuring sustainable rice production is a key contribution to the global goal of ending hunger. By teaming up with IRRI, already a long-standing partner, we will be able to scale up, complement and amplify our work towards reaching this goal.”
The stated goals of the FAO are to eradicate hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition, eliminate poverty while promoting economic and social progress for all, and sustainably manage and use natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations. Currently, two major rice-related FAO efforts are underway. First is the Asia and Pacific’s Regional Rice Initiative, and second, the Partnership for Sustainable Rice Systems Development in Sub-Saharan Africa. These are sharing technology, agricultural and pest management practices, and strategies to increase rice resilience and production efficiency.
“The world faces very significant changes over the next few decades to produce the volume and quality of nutritious food to feed a global population heading for 10 billion people,” said Matthew K. Morell, IRRI Director-General. “Addressing these issues relies on global partnerships, and today, IRRI is delighted to be reaffirming through this Memorandum of Agreement our commitment to work with FAO to enhance sustainable rice-based production and food systems through awareness raising, capacity development, knowledge exchange, and evidence-based analyses for policy support.”
IRRI is a nonprofit research and educational institute founded by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations and the Philippine government in 1960. Its goals are to reduce poverty and hunger through rice science, improve rice farmer and consumer health and welfare, and ensure the environmental sustainability of rice production. Today, IRRI has offices in 17 countries and collaborates with a variety of research partners including the food security research partnership CGIAR. Working with the United Nations Environment, IRRI developed the Sustainable Rice Platform to promote resource efficiency, sustainability, and affordability through policy development and voluntary market transformation initiatives.
By working together, the FAO and IRRI seek to increase availability and use of improved and adapted rice variety seeds. To increase nutrition and improve the income of small-scale farmers, they will develop and commercialize rice by-products. Through farmer field schools and other forms of outreach, they will better educate farmers in best-practices, including pest management. They will also work to improve working conditions for rice farmers and improve women participation and entrepreneurial opportunities.
SUSTAINABLE RICE PLATFORM PLANS INTEGRATED TRAINING STRATEGY TO SUPPORT ROLLOUT OF RICE ASSURANCE PROGRAM
UC Davis plant geneticist Pamela Ronald wants to create rice varieties that can survive in harsher conditions, including more frequent droughts.More at: Reinventing Rice for a World Transformed by Climate Change
The world faces very significant changes over the next few decades to produce the volume and quality of nutritious food to feed a global population heading for 10 billion people.“With over three billion people across the globe eating rice every day, rice is critical to global food security,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General, Climate and Natural Resources. “Ensuring sustainable rice production is a key contribution to the global goal of ending hunger. By teaming up with IRRI, already a long-standing partner, we will be able to scale up, complement and amplify our work towards reaching this goal.”
Matthew K. Morell, director-general, International Rice Research Institute
Making the rice value chain more sustainableIn many countries around the world rice is a staple crop for food security and consumption trends are growing. At the same time rice production is vulnerable to the increasing impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events such as droughts and floods. Both FAO and IRRI are actively promoting more sustainable rice practices throughout the value chain - production, marketing and consumption - to optimise its nutritional properties and as a means of improving livelihoods and tackling poverty, particularly in rural areas. In Africa and in Latin America the UN agency is engaged in scientific and technical cooperation including the sharing of technologies and best practices to increase production and productivity, including reduction of post-harvest losses and improved grain quality. IRRI is engaged in strengthening capacities of all rice sector actors through its capacity development activities, including IRRI Education and the Sustainable Rice Platform. The Sustainable Rice Platform is a global alliance to promote resource efficiency and sustainability in trade flows, production and consumption operations, and supply chains in the global rice sector. The Sustainable Rice Platform recently established the world’s first standard for sustainable rice. Through the Sustainable Rice Platform, IRRI aims to use environmental and socio-economic benchmarks to maintain yields for rice smallholders, reduce the environmental footprint of rice cultivation and meet consumer needs for food safety and quality. At the same time, IRRI Education works to build capacity through-out IRRI’s extensive partnership network.
Improving varieties, transferring knowledgeFAO and IRRI will together assist rice producing countries to adopt improved and adapted rice varieties, enhance availability of certified seeds and also the transfer of knowledge - including on pest management - through participatory approaches such as farmer fields schools. The two organisations will also seek to strengthen partnerships for post-harvest handling, and help farmers and other rice producers add value by developing and marketing rice by-products rich in proteins and micronutrients, and explore the appropriate use of rice by-products to generate energy, animal feed and other agricultural products. In addition, FAO and IRRI will work together to ensure that women farmers can participate in viable, safe and dignified entrepreneurial opportunities in the rice value chain, and that there is an improvement in work conditions in the rice sector.
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