For every one billion people added to the world’s population, 100 million more tons of rice need to be produced each year. But the challenges facing rice production are great.
To help ensure food security, reduce poverty, and help vulnerable populations adapt to the effects of climate change, more rice needs to be produced on less land, with less water and less labor. Rice production systems need to be more equitable, efficient, environmentally-friendly, and more resilient to climate change, while contributing less to greenhouse gas emissions.
In most of the developing world, rice availability is equated with food security and is closely connected to political stability. Changes in rice availability, and hence price, have caused social unrest in several countries. During the food crisis of 2008, the cost of rice tripled. The World Bank estimated that this pushed 100 million more people below the poverty line.
Of the three major crops — rice, wheat and maize — rice is by far the most important food crop for people in low- and lower-middle-income countries. Although rich and poor people alike eat rice in low-income countries, the poorest people consume relatively little wheat and are therefore deeply affected by the cost and availability of rice.
In many Asian countries, rice is the fundamental and generally irreplaceable staple, especially of the poor. For the extreme poor in Asia, who live on less than $1.25 a day, rice accounts for nearly half of their food expenditures and a fifth of total household expenditures, on average. This group alone annually spends the equivalent of $62 billion (purchasing power parity) on rice. Rice is critical to food security for many of the world’s poor people.
Worldwide, there are more than 1508 million hectares of rice fields. Further area expansion is unlikely, but rice production must increase to meet the growing demand from a growing population (see food security). How is this possible with reduced availability of land, nutrients, water and labor, and the need to reduce the environmental footprint of rice?
Overwhelming scientific research and evidence have shown that the climate is changing. The vast majority of climate change impacts and the overall impact of climate change on rice production are likely to be negative. While there is still ongoing scientific exploration into climate change, IRRI recognizes two universal trends predicted by all climate change models:
- Temperatures will increase, resulting in more heat stress and rising sea levels, and
- There will be more frequent and severe climate extremes.
Gender and equity
The UN Millennium Declaration resolves “to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger, and disease and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable” (United Nations, 2000). The policy and institutional environment must be supportive of women, both to recognize the significance of their contribution and so that they can realize empowerment through their own skills and capacity.