With growth in rice yields falling behind population growth, intensification of rice production in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner is essential for food security, particularly in Asia and Africa, said the FAO, hosting an international conference dedicated to rice last week at its Rome headquarters.
Rice is the staple food for over half of the world's population and FAO projections show that by 2030, total demand for rice will be 38 per cent higher than the annual amounts produced between 1997 and 1999. In order to meet future demand, new methodologies and production technologies are necessary because land and water resources are under threat, writes the group.
"Of the 840 million people still suffering from chronic hunger, more than 50 per cent live in areas dependent on rice production for food, income and employment," said the FAO.
Because rice does not contain all the elements necessary for a balanced diet, a key aspect of the International Year of the Rice ?this year in 2004 - is to encourage rice producers to intensify the rice production system and fully exploit their capacity to raise fish and livestock, added the group.
According to the Rome-based organisation, intensified rice systems will benefit the nutrition and livelihoods of the rice-dependent community, while supporting biodiversity and encouraging the sustainable management of natural resources.
At the conference participants discussed issues related to the potential of science and new technologies, such as biotechnology, to improve the efficiency of rice production, focusing on the need to preserve and protect the wide range of genetic resources hosted by rice-based systems.
Such systems are "a prism through which the interconnected relationships between agriculture, food security, poverty alleviation, and sustainable development issues can be clearly understood," said Dr Louise Fresco, assistant director general to the FAO agriculture department.