On the threshold of 7 billion

 Lanie C. Reyes and Mia Aureus   |  
On 31 October, the United Nations estimates that the world’s population will hit 7 billion. For many of us—occupied, most of the time, by the daily stresses of our own personal lives—this is merely a number. We cannot truly fathom the significance of this number. However, for people such as the agricultural scientists here at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and other food-related research centers around the world, this number is a heavy weight to bear.

The world is growing, but, given the many setbacks in food production, climate change, increasingly scarce resources, etc., production has often fallen short of consumption demand in many countries, especially the developing nations. Hence, scientists strive to always be one step ahead to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

This issue offers a fascinating look at how the world of rice science is keeping abreast of the emerging problems that affect people’s ability to sustain their nourishment needs.

First, understanding the significance of preserving the diverse food crops and protecting them against destructive forces to ensure food security for the succeeding generations, a “Doomsday Vault” was constructed deep within the frozen mountains of Svalbard, Norway, just 1,130 kilometers from the North Pole.

Meanwhile, farmers and scientists in Bangladesh and sub-Saharan Africa are working together to battle their current problems of salinity and iron toxicity, respectively.

Since land resources are as limited as they can possibly be, farmers have to make do with what they have—whether lands are favorable or not to rice production. Fortunately, scientists are constantly developing new and improved varieties that are equipped with tolerance against these environmental stresses, so farmers are able to cope with their farming problems. As one scientist puts it, reaping something is better than nothing.

Regarding Africa, our Maps section focuses on the Niger River, the river that provides irrigation to water systems in Mali, essentially bringing life to the many people in the region.

Interestingly, as we busy ourselves with the production of this issue, our publisher, The Rice Trader, is holding its 5th Rice Americas Conference in Panama City, Panama. Hence, you will find here a review of this significant event that gathered many important players in the rice industry. Along with this, we deemed it appropriate to put together a Latin America feature to highlight this region’s importance in rice production, as well as in trade. Brazil particularly comes into the spotlight as we turn our attention to this country’s overall rice production and its collaborations with IRRI, as well as the development of its hybrid rice industry.

With the population clock turning 7 billion soon, the future of the world is not about doom and gloom, however. This issue looks at the scientists who are working to solve agricultural problems—the hopes of world food production. We have Dr. David Mackill, who caught the wave of the advancing genetics research to help develop scuba rice, a flood-tolerant rice variety. Although IRRI will greatly miss Dr. Mackill, who has become an institution in plant breeding, we also welcome the younger generation of scientists who now hold much of the future in rice research. Two of them are postdoctoral research fellows Govinda Rizal and Shanta Karki, whose love story is intertwined with their love for rice science.

While these people found a love for rice science, some people found a love for rice as their art subject. Through the eyes of artists such as the famed Fernando Amorsolo, as well as contemporary British artist John Dyer, rice is seen in its cultural context—a vital aspect of life immortalized on canvasses.

You will find all these and more in this issue. And, as we have opened up the subject of the ticking population clock, watch for the October-December issue, as it will be a special edition about the world reaching 7 billion people.

Mia Aureus

Lanie Reyes

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