Continuing global partnership through rice

 Bas Bouman and Lanie Reyes   |  

RICE aims to reduce poverty and hunger, improve human health and nutrition, adapt rice-based farming systems to climate change, promote women’s empowerment and youth mobilization, and reduce rice’s environmental footprint.

Cecile Grenier, a Cirad breeder working at CIAT, and Jaime Borrero, a CIAT research associate, inspect a rice field in Bolivia. (Photo: CIAT)

Cecile Grenier, a Cirad breeder working at CIAT, and Jaime Borrero, a CIAT research associate, inspect a rice field in Bolivia. (Photo: CIAT)

Rice is the world’s most important staple food and will continue to be so in the coming decades. A staple for some 4 billion people worldwide, rice provides 27% of the calories in developing countries. With expected population growth, income growth, and decline in rice area, global demand for rice will continue to increase, from 479 million tons of milled rice in 2014 to 536–551 million tons in 2030.

Rice farming is associated with poverty. About 900 million of the world’s poor depend on rice as producers or consumers. Of these, some 400 million poor and undernourished people are engaged in growing rice. (See infographics.)

In the future, rice will have to be produced, processed, and marketed in more sustainable and environment-friendly ways, despite the diminishing resources (land, water, labor, and energy) and the problems brought about by climate change. And, we need to produce more per unit of land and water.

Moreover, we still need to improve the nutritional quality of rice-based diets through biofortification, optimizing processing, and dietary diversification.

Women play a significant role in rice farming, processing, marketing, and buying rice for food. Yet, they still have less access to and control over resources such as information and inputs. These inequalities reduce the productivity of women-managed farms. But, with appropriate technological, institutional, and policy support, rice farming, processing, and marketing could offer equal opportunities for employment for both women and men.

Moreover, more youths in some parts of the world are becoming unemployed, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The rural population is aging particularly in Asian countries where structural transformation is rapid. Thus, it is imperative for the rice sector to develop attractive job opportunities for young people.

Clear targets
RICE, the CGIAR research program (CRP) on rice agrifood systems, will tackle these concerns with crystal-clear targets. RICE aims to reduce poverty and hunger, improve human health and nutrition, adapt rice-based farming systems to climate change, promote women’s empowerment and youth mobilization, and reduce rice’s environmental footprint.

Through R&D in collaboration with its many partners, RICE expects to:

  • help at least 13 million rice consumers and producers, half of them female, to exit poverty by 2022, and another 5 million by 2030
  • assist at least 17 million people, half of them female, out of hunger by 2022, rising to 24 million by 2030
  • assist at least 8 million people, half of them female, to meet their daily zinc requirements from rice by 2022, rising to 18 million by 2030

These outcomes will become possible by:

  • helping at least 17 million more households to adopt improved rice varieties and farming practices by 2022 and a further 19 million by 2030
  • improving the annual genetic gain in rice (as measured in breeders’ trials) to at least 1.3% by 2022, rising to 1.7% by 2030
  • helping increase annual global milled rice production of 479 million tons in 2014 to at least 536 million tons by 2022 and to 544 million tons by 2030
  • increasing water- and nutrient-use efficiency in rice-based farming systems by at least 5% by 2022, rising to 11% by 2030
  • helping reduce agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions in rice-based farming systems by at least 28.4 of megatons carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent/year by 2022 and by a further 28.4 megatons of CO2 equivalent/year by 2030, compared to business-as-usual scenarios.

The way to the target
These outcomes will be achieved through many interventions along the rice value chain from farmer to consumer. These interventions involve intensification and diversification of farms, genetic improvement and improved crop and natural resource management, reduced pesticide use and development of pest- and disease-resistant varieties, integrated pest management and ecological engineering, increasing the marketability and value of products and by-products, increasing participation in the value chain, increasing the content of minerals and micronutrients in rice grains, and improving the glycemic index of rice.

And, to increase the sustainability of production, the pathways are to reduce the use of precious resources, increase ecosystem services, and reduce negative environmental externalities such as greenhouse gas emissions and loading of agrochemicals in rice production. Increasing the productivity of inputs reduces their amounts used per unit of production. This can be done by making the use or uptake of these inputs effective and reducing their loss to the environment.

RICE will deliver international public goods as well as locally tailored solutions. These include genes and markers, breeding lines, improved varieties, improved crop management and postharvest technologies, publicly accessible data and information systems, capacity development, training and dissemination materials, and policy briefs and other knowledge products.

RICE R&D products will focus on contributing to gender equity and women’s empowerment. One of the ways is to improve women’s access to resources (seed, inputs, technologies, and technical knowledge), which will increase their labor productivity aside from increasing their rice productivity and production.

Despite agriculture being the core sector of these economies, youth employment in agriculture has remained very low—mainly as family labor—because of the lack of mechanization, high production risks, and low agricultural productivity. Thus, RICE will engage in strategic research on youth issues and develop business models and opportunities for young people to be actively involved in rice value chains.

Program structure and flagship projects
RICE is designed to have five highly interconnected flagship projects (FPs):

  • Accelerating impact and equity (FP1)
  • Upgrading rice value chains (FP2)
  • Sustainable farming systems (FP3)
  • Global Rice Array (FP4)
  • New rice varieties (FP5)

FP1 will engage in foresight, policy analyses, gender and youth studies, monitoring and evaluation of progress, and ex-ante and ex-post impact assessments across the research program portfolio. It will help the other flagship projects develop well-targeted and demand-driven products and delivery approaches to have an impact at scale.

FP2 will analyze rice value chains and identify entry points for upgrading. This flagship program will conduct market research, assess rice value chains, and identify opportunities for improved processes, reduced postharvest losses, novel and value-adding products, strengthened value-chain linkages, and improved market access. It will provide guidance for specific product development and connect novel farming systems with markets. part of the rice value chain and will develop new rice technologies and rice-based farming systems.

FP3 will develop and deliver sustainable intensification and diversification options for rice-based farming systems to improve farm livelihoods and rural diets while minimizing their environmental footprint.

FP4 will establish a global network of field laboratories that will discover new genes and traits of rice, develop and test rice ideotypes, assess the suitability and robustness of novel genotype × environment × management options, and use the rice plant itself to characterize climate change.

FP5 will develop and deliver new varieties adapted to current and future climates and have improved traits such as increased yield potential, resistance to biotic stresses (pests, diseases, and weeds) and tolerance of abiotic stresses (drought, submergence, salinity, heat and cold, problem soils, and low light). Seed distribution systems will be strengthened to ensure that the new varieties are available to millions of farmers.

Africa's rice sector is now more aware that producing just more rice is not enough and that quality is essential. (Photo by R Raman, AfricaRice)

Africa’s rice sector is now more aware that producing just more rice is not enough and that quality is essential. (Photo by R Raman, AfricaRice)

Research and site integration
The partnerships under RICE extend to link with other CRPs. For example, RICE will collaborate with Policies, Institutions, and Markets on foresight analysis, food supply-demand modeling, and impact assessment methodologies. Also, RICE will collaborate with all other crop-based agri-food system research programs and with the Water, Land, and Ecosystems program on the development of genomics and breeders’ tools (genebanks, genetic gains, and Big Data).

RICE and the Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) program will work together in mainstreaming the development of healthy and nutrient-dense rice varieties. And lastly, RICE and the Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security program will work together toward developing, evaluating, and disseminating climate-smart rice varieties and farming systems.

Geographically, RICE will be part of a strong collaboration through the integration of research and development sites among the CRPs where practical. RICE’s flagship project on sustainable farming systems will be the main mechanism for collaboration on the ground.

Partnerships and comparative advantage
RICE continues to be led by the same institutes that led the first phase (2011-16) of the CRP on rice: the International Rice Research Institute as the lead institute, Africa Rice Center; International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Centre de Cooperation lnternationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (Cirad), L’lnstitut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), and the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences.

Together, these centers are aligned and bring to the table consortia, networks, platforms, programs, and collaborative projects with about 900 partners from government, nongovernment, public, private, and civil society sectors.

The first phase of the CRP on rice was synonymous with the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), established in 2010. In the second phase, RICE will be the main CGIAR program contribution to a larger GRiSP. The comparative advantage of RICE to pursue its goals and objectives is that virtually all potential alternative suppliers worldwide have already become partners in its first phase.

The 2012 CGIAR survey on partnerships in its research programs reported that 82% of the respondents were satisfied with their partnership in the GRiSP. The program performed strongest in research outcomes and expertise, with global expertise and innovation being the top two performing dimensions. Respondents described it as one of the best rice research programs in the world.

Anchored in strong and continuing partnerships, RICE maintains close collaboration and interaction with regional fora, subregional bodies, regional economic communities, and international development funds and banks.

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