UN Environment, IRRI, partners seek sustainable rice, launch production standards

Tarra Quismundo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 22 2019 02:56 PM | Updated as of Jan 22 2019 05:31 PM

SIEM REAP, Cambodia - For some 3.5 billion people in the world, rice is a diet staple. For the environment, it means heavy water consumption and methane emissions. 

So how does the world respond to the rice demand without harming the environment amid challenges posed by climate change?

Such crucial balance is what a multi-stakeholder alliance of environment groups, rice research organizations and private sector partners seek to achieve with the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP)’s rice cultivation standards, a set of guidelines that seek to promote rice farming that is friendlier to the environment while maximizing yield and generating profits for farmers and businesses. 

UN Environment, the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), German aid agency GIZ and government and private sector partners on Tuesday launched a revised version of the SRP Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation, rice farming guidelines enhanced from its pilot in 2015. 

The world’s first voluntary standard for rice sustainability, SRP’s rice cultivation standard recommends 41 guidelines in rice cultivation covering farm management, water use, pest management, nutrient management, harvest and post-harvest practices, even labor practices. 

Kundhavi Kadiresan, Assistant Director-General and Asia-Pacific regional representative of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said the standards seek to create a market for sustainable rice, answers the need to generate profit for farmers and businesses, and produce better-tasting rice for consumers while minimizing impact on the environment.

“SRP is serious about providing the means to produce rice that’s better: better for farmers, better for the environment, and better for agribusiness,” Kadiresan said in her keynote speech at the SRP plenary meeting and general assembly here. 

The SRP standards, she said, are “practical and necessary tools” to serve as benchmarks for agribusiness and farmers to improve their sustainability. 

“The challenge before us now is one of action: how to implement this to drive us to change and towards a globally sustainable rice sector,” she said. 

“There’s so much more we need to do. If it was actually all very easy, it would have been all done by now,” she told an audience of some 150 researchers, agriculturists, government representatives and private sector partners. 

First introduced in October 2015, SRP sought to mitigate the impact of rice farming to the environment. Per UN’s estimates, rice production uses 40 percent of the world’s irrigation water, and rice fields cause 10 percent of global methane emissions. 

“Rice is the largest source of greenhouse gases and uses more water than any other crop worldwide,” Kadiresan said. 

Rice production, meanwhile, needs to increase by 25 percent in the next 25 years to ensure that a growing population is fed. 

As Jacqueline Hughes, IRRI Deputy Director General for Research and SRP advisory committee co-chair, rice farming has been afflicted with “dependence and misuse of pesticides.” With the rice cultivation standards, the alliance aims to cut yield loss, protect consumers’ health, and make rice varieties pest-resistant, she said. 

“This is doable. These goals can be reached,” said Hughes in her opening remarks. 

“It’s time to break away from the old-fashioned way of doing business and look at new realities,” Kadiresan said in a call to action to the private sector. 

The Sustainable Rice Platform’s revised Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation has 41 guidelines aiming to promote more environment-friendly rice farming practices.

SRP’s guidelines encourages farmers to follow a crop calendar, record the crop cycle, train farmers on SRP, proper soil preparation, land levelling, use of good quality seeds, efficient water use, and good weed and pest management practices, among others. 

Assessment in pilot areas from 2016 to 2017 showed that the use of SRP standards led to 20-percent savings in water and a 10-percent increase in farmers’ income. 

With nearly 100 partner institutions in 24 countries, SRP reached almost 700,000 farmers and was implemented in more than 319,000 hectares of riceland. 

Kadiresan cited a growing awareness about SRP standards worldwide and underscored the need for more farmers and businesses to be more compliant. 

“People all are motivated to do the right thing in terms of sustainable agriculture and food, but also people want to know. So how do we each one play our role because we all need to make this happen,” she said in an interview with ABS-CBN News. 

“We should not just stay with pilots but to mainstream this, provide opportunities… The operationalization of the indicators will be discussed in these sessions (at the meeting) and I hope and they are making it happen,” said Kadiresan.