World's most important commodity takes centre stage

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Rice Agriculture

The distribution of rice, the main staple of more than half the
world's population, will be the focus of debate at the upcoming
International Rice Commission meeting in Peru.

Delegates will discuss ways of promoting the production and preservation of a commodity that constitutes 20 per cent of the total food energy intake of the world's population.

In Asia, more than 2 billion persons derive between 60 and 70 per cent of their daily dietary energy from rice and its by-products.

However, the sector faces a number of challenges. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that the rice market will contract slightly this year, largely as a result of expanded paddy production and lower demand from importing countries.

Tight domestic supplies in a number of countries during 2005 prompted a surge of global imports to a record volume of 29 million tonnes, according to the FAO Rice Market Monitor.

It also boosted global paddy production to an all time high of 628 million tonnes.

"Growth reflected relatively favourable weather conditions in Asia, western Africa and South America and the positive effects of high prices in 2004, which had fostered a general increase in plantings,"​ revealed the report published earlier this month.

The fortunes of a vast number of people are tied to the economic situation of the commodity. According to FAO, almost a billion households in Asia, Africa and the Americas depend on rice systems for their main source of employment and livelihood.

Rice production in sub-Saharan Africa is now expanding faster than any other crop.

Twenty-six countries in Latin America and the Caribbean cultivate rice, but the regions production is only 4.3 per cent of the world total. In Peru, rice production contributes about 10 per cent to national agricultural production and uses more than 40 million man-days, from planting till harvest.

At the IRC meeting, which will be held from 3 to 5 May, country representatives will present and analyse their national rice research and development programmes. The IRC organises a session every four years to review emerging issues and recent achievements in scientific, technical and socio-economic matters relating to sustainable rice production and rice-based farming systems.

The sessions are also designed to assist member countries in orienting strategies for the development of national rice programmes, and promote extensive interaction among national, regional and international institutions. The 20th Session of the Commission took place in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2002.

The FAO report makes a very tentative forecast' for this year's global paddy production to rise to 634 million tonnes, up 1 per cent on 2005.

The trade forecast for 2006 has been lifted to 27.8 million tonnes, still 4.1 per cent lower than in 2005. The contraction from last year's exceptional performance is anticipated to be mainly import-driven, as demand by several major importing countries is expected to weaken, according to the report.

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