Many countries import rice because their current national production is insufficient to supply their national requirements.
Some of these countries have the potential to produce more rice within their borders by:
- Improving rice yields on existing rice production areas.
- Building irrigation schemes to convert rainfed land (single crop) into double- or triple-cropping rice systems (intensification).
- Converting land to rice production that is currently used for other agricultural activities.
- Reclaiming land that was previously unsuitable for rice production (e.g., through the use of salt-tolerant rice varieties).
- Converting natural ecosystems into rice production.
Other countries do not have the capacity to grow enough rice on their own land to meet existing or anticipated demand. Some of these nations are exploring options to invest in rice production or rice-growing land beyond their borders – this is referred to as international land acquisition for rice production.
The underlying reason for the existence of international land acquisition for rice production is that the world needs more rice.
To keep rice prices at around US$300 a ton – which allows both poor rice farmers to make some profit yet keeps rice affordable for poor rice consumers – we need to produce more rice. IRRI estimates, that in each of the next 20 years, the world will need an additional 8–10 million tons of rice more than in the previous year to meet expected needs.
Science can help find and deliver practical solutions that can increase rice yields without negatively affecting the environment.
IRRI’s general research strategy is to find ways to help rice farmers increase the productivity of their rice farms on existing rainfed and irrigated land and do it in a sustainable manner. For example, IRRI recently released submergence-tolerant rice, which can grow and produce good yields in areas prone to flooding. This allows farmers to increase their rice yields on land that previously provided predominantly unreliable and low rice yields.
IRRI is also involved in a whole range of other research to help raise rice yields with the intention of helping lift poor rice farmers and consumers out of poverty. For example, IRRI is
- Developing new high-yielding rice varieties with built-in resistance to pests, diseases, and other stresses such as heat and drought.
- Developing rice crop management strategies that improve nutrient-use efficiency to get the most value out of inputs and reduce wastage.
- Identifying ways to reduce postharvest losses.
- Conserving the genetic diversity of rice so it can be used in the development of new rice varieties suited to different growing conditions.
- Communicating to farmers smarter ways to manage pests that reduce pesticide use without compromising yield.
- Researching rice economics and social science to help policy-makers and decision-makers make informed decisions to help them provide rice to their people and avoid poverty.
- Training the next generation of rice scientists and building the capacity of rice practitioners to ensure the sustainable development of the rice industry.
Expanding rice-growing areas into previously uncultivated areas is considered a last option and this must be done with great care. It must be sustainable, negative environmental consequences must be avoided, and it must be socially acceptable and to the benefit of rice farmers and consumers.
IRRI is not involved in any projects on land acquisition for rice production, nor does it provide advice on land acquisition, but IRRI does find ways to help increase the overall rice supply – with a mandate to help poor rice farmers and consumers and improve environmental health.
As a nonprofit and independent organization, IRRI shares its scientific solutions and knowledge broadly with a range of different stakeholders, including farmers, and across the public and private sector. By doing this, IRRI contributes to improving rice production and the welfare of rice farmers in the broadest possible way, giving farmers more options to choose from.
IRRI also meets with many different nations, organizations, the private sector, donors, individuals, and the media to discuss the rice supply-demand situation. Our interest is to raise awareness about the role rice research can play in increasing the supply of rice, particularly to help reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and consumers, and ensure that rice production is environmentally sustainable.
IRRI has never done, nor does it intend to do, any feasibility studies on the outsourcing of rice production for any governments or investors.
Many developing countries would benefit from financial investment in their rice industry to help them develop in a sustainable way, reach their potential, and benefit local rice farmers and consumers.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has closely examined the issue of international land acquisition for food production in its policy brief titled “Land grabbing” by foreign investors in developing countries: risks and opportunities. This brief outlines the global situation, the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of investment, and proposes a code of conduct for international land acquisition that calls for
- transparency in negotiations;
- respect for existing land rights, including customary and common property rights;
- sharing of benefits;
- environmental sustainability; and
- adherence to national trade policies.
IRRI supports this proposed code of conduct.