Effects of economic growth
Rapid economic growth in large countries, such as China and India, has heightened demand for cereals, both for consumption and for livestock production. This has pushed up the price of cereals in general. Economic growth is often accompanied by diversification of food demand. Diversifying diets creates opportunities to replace or modify rice-based systems to include higher-value crops and livestock, but it also reduces the amount of land available for rice.
The rice-related tensions that developing countries face are growing more complex as their economies grow: between poor rice farmers and poor consumers, between small-scale and large-scale rice-based farms, between rice and more lucrative/cash crops, between edible crops and biofuels, between crops and other land uses, and between crops and other water uses. Prices of fertilizer are bound to stay high, especially for phosphorus, given the current status of known reserves.
Threats and opportunities
Declining natural resources currently threaten rice production in many parts of South Asia, whereas conditions are relatively better in other parts of Asia. In sub-Saharan Africa, rice is an exciting and, in some regions, new convenience food. But the region imports nearly half of its rice, mainly from Asia. Thus there are big opportunities to expand production within sub-Saharan Africa, replace costly imports, and help offset malnutrition and poverty – if suitable seed and technologies are available.
South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have the highest poverty and malnutrition rates. Producers and consumers are better off in Latin America, but all rice-producing regions will have to contribute to increasing rice stocks in the future if further availability crises are to be averted. Latin America, with its ample land and water resources, may ultimately become transformed into a major exporter of rice, thus helping to stabilize the global rice market.
Projected demand for rice will outstrip supply in the near to medium term unless something is done to reverse current trends of slow productivity growth and inefficient, often unsustainable management of natural resources. Steep and long-term price increases would wreak havoc on the lives of the poor and send dangerous tremors across the political and economic landscapes in the world’s most populous regions.
The Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) has taken on the challenge of reducing poverty in rice-producing countries, through the development of input-
efficient, stress-tolerant, higher-yielding, and enhanced-quality rice varieties. It aims to make rice an engine for economic growth and employment through better integration of rice production, processing, and marketing, thus significantly adding value, reducing rural poverty, and enhancing livelihoods, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.