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Leading development experts call for renewed focus on rice
Brussels, Belgium
December 8, 2004

Rice is essential to winning the battle against world hunger, and global leaders must consider the use of innovative technologies to meet the needs of the world's growing population. This is according to representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the European Parliament as well as the winner of the 2004 World Food Prize (the equivalent of Nobel Prize for Agriculture).

Speaking at an event organised by CropLife International* to commemorate the UN's International Year of Rice**, several leaders in development and agriculture research called upon the international community to take urgent action to increase production, ensure environmental sustainability and enhance nutrition of rice - the world's most important crop and "one of the most protected food commodities in world trade," according to Nirj Deva, MEP.

Over half of the 840 million people suffering from chronic hunger live in areas dependent on rice production for food, income and employment. Growth in rice yields is slowing, and is already falling behind population growth.

"Plant science technologies are necessary to increase rice yields and create new rice varieties," according to Christian Verschueren, Director General of CropLife International. "Crop protection products help rice farmers control pests, diseases and weeds. In addition, CropLife International's leading companies are assisting with mapping the rice genome and are researching rice varieties that are resistant to insect pests and diseases. They have also supported the development of "Golden Rice" to help combat childhood blindness in developing countries."

"Innovative technologies will become increasingly critical to ensure the sustainable development of rice-based production systems," said Mahmoud Solh, Director, Plant Protection and Production Division at the FAO.

Dr. Monty Jones, 2004 World Food Prize Laureate and Executive Secretary of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) explained how NERICA*** (New Rice for Africa) rice varieties have been developed using plant breeding technologies, and have the potential to benefit over 20 million rice farmers and 240 million consumers in West Africa alone. High-yielding rice ideally suited for poor African farmers, NERICA also promises to help reduce the region's high rice import bills. A 25% adoption of NERICA would lead to savings of $100 million a year.

"Every nation is confronted by critical issues related to the application of science and technology...The success of NERICA is just one illustration of the value of this approach in combating hunger and poverty in Africa," stated Dr. Jones. "The development challenges facing Africa are well known but they must be kept in mind to sustain motivation in the face of other distractions faced by decision-makers. The life-threatening conditions of rural Africans must compete with the seemingly more compelling demands for protecting the way of life of Northern agricultural producers and processes."

In order for effective research to come to fruition, it needs to be complimented by proper, risk-based regulatory frameworks, effective technology transfer mechanisms and and market-based distribution systems in rural areas.

"Research can only produce real results if there is an enabling, predictable, robust and consistent regulatory framework that listens to good science. We also need proper infrastructures to ensure that these technologies can be transferred and distributed, particularly for the benefit smallholder farmers," stated Christian Verschueren.

BACKGROUND

CropLife International is the global federation representing the plant science industry. It supports a network of regional and national associations in 88 countries, and is led by companies such as BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, FMC, Monsanto, Sumitomo and Syngenta. CropLife International promotes the benefits of crop protection and biotechnology products, their importance to sustainable agriculture and food production, and their responsible use through stewardship activities.

2004 is being celebrated as the "International Year of Rice." The recognition of a commodity with an International Year is an unprecedented step in the history of the United Nations. A number of governments and institutions have come together to focus attention on rice at events being held around the world. For more information on the International Year of Rice, visit the FAO dedicated webpage at <http://www.fao.org/rice2004/index_en.htm>.

NERICA rice varieties were developed by crossing African and Asian rice species. They combine the best attributes of both species. Some benefits include:
* Higher yields: NERICA rice varieties can produce over 50 per cent more grain than current varieties when cultivated with traditional rain-fed systems without fertilizer.
* Faster maturity: NERICA varieties mature 30 to 50 days earlier than current varieties.
* Enhanced nutrition: The new rice is substantially richer in protein.
* Disease and drought tolerance.
* Insect resistance: the new varieties can resist some of the most damaging insect pests in west Africa.
* Increased vigour: NERICA varieties can out-compete weeds for space, sunlight, water and nutrients.
More information can be found at: <http://www.warda.org/warda1/main/Achievements/nerica.htm>.

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