Rice for life
For more than half of humanity, rice is life. It is the grain that has shaped the cultures, diets, and economies of billions of people in Asia. For them, life without rice is simply unthinkable.
Between now and 2020, 1.2 billion new rice consumers will be added in Asia. Feeding these people will require the greatest effort in the history of agriculture: rice production must be increased by one third from today’s 320 million tons to 420 million tons. Farmers will have to grow an extra 3.7 million tons every year—at the very time that rice land is decreasing and the remaining fields seem to be wearing out. Today, there is barely enough rice for everyone. And in some places, because of political and economic turmoil, there is not enough—and people are going hungry. What about tomorrow? If we do not begin to respond to today’s cries for help, Asia’s future will be bleak.
Growing more and more rice from less and less land, however, may simply not be sustainable. Chemical pesticides are already polluting the lakes, rivers, and groundwater. Genetic biodiversity is eroding, salinity is encroaching farther inland, and there is less water for irrigation. Air and water pollution are already problems in many places. What kind of environment will our children inherit?
Rhythm of life
Grown in Asia for at least 10,000 years, rice has richly influenced the cultures and lives of billions of people. In the old societies of Asia, rice dictates the rhythm of life. It is the grain that links Heaven and Earth, gods and mortals. Throughout the region, rice dominates customs, beliefs, rituals, and celebrations. But as societies become affluent, they are slowly becoming less attached to rice. And the death of an elder often means the loss of age-old traditions and legends. Who will preserve the priceless rice heritage?
Teetering on the edge
In much of Asia, where rice is the essence of survival, poor people in both cities and rural areas spend half to three fourths of their incomes on rice—and only rice. Keeping rice prices within their means is an absolute must for social, economic, and political stability—and for promoting development and reducing poverty. The current Asian economic crisis is a sobering reminder that rice cannot be taken for granted. For Asia, rice sufficiency is the foundation of a healthy and vibrant society. Asia will be prosperous only if it can feed itself.
Before time runs out
In recent years, traditional western funding sources for global rice research have been drying up, and the budgets of national rice programs in Asia are inadequate to support long-term research programs. But much remains to be done. Rice research must continue to provide better ways of coaxing more rice from less land while preserving the fragile environment. Rice farming, if it is to be attractive to future generations, must be transformed into a respected and economically profitable profession. Asians must become more conscious of the importance of rice in their lives. And the priceless rice cultural heritage must also be preserved for the education and enjoyment of posterity. Because of the magnitude of these endeavors, no one organization can do it all. Collaboration among diverse partners is the key. To succeed, this massive effort must be well coordinated, timely—and well funded. Because more than 90 percent of the world’s rice is grown and consumed in Asia, Asians must become responsible for financing rice research and development. A new regional initiative is needed to help keep Asia’s rice bowls full.
Investing in the future
We all need to do our part to reduce poverty, prevent further environmental erosion, and ensure a prosperous future for the billions of people in Asia’s rice societies. Contributing to the Asia Rice Foundation is to invest in a healthy work force and a green environment. What you do today will make a difference in Asia’s tomorrow. Show you care—get involved.