Rice-producing nations stress importance of developing new crop varieties

October 23, 2005

Bali, Indonesia - The world's major rice-producing countries - including the two most populous nations, China and India - have emphasized the importance of continuing to develop new rice varieties to guarantee Asia's food security and support the region's economic development.

Rice helps feed almost half Earth's population on a daily basis, and just as important provides vital employment and income for billions of poor people, most of them in Asia. But, at a recent meeting in Indonesia of the region's main rice-producing nations, the challenges facing rice production were highlighted and discussed with a focus on finding solutions through science and technology.

The ninth annual meeting of the Council for Partnerships on Rice Research in Asia (CORRA) was told that, after a brief slowdown in regional collaboration to develop new rice varieties, the situation was improving once again. CORRA brings together senior research representatives of 15 major rice-producing and -consuming nations each year to highlight the issues, threats and challenges facing the rice industry in its efforts to feed the estimated three billion people who consume the staple food each day.

"The introduction of plant variety protection rights and the continued implementation of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture have clearly had an impact on the development of new rice varieties, especially the exchange of material between countries," said CORRA chairman Seong-Hee Lee. Dr. Lee is also the director general of the Rural Development Administration's National Institute of Crop Science in South Korea.

He said most countries were only just starting to understand the impact of plant variety rights legislation and the international treaty on the way they develop new rice varieties. "It's very important that rice-producing and -consuming nations continue to develop new varieties to combat problems such as pests and diseases and to have this collaboration is crucial," he added.

The CORRA meeting was told that, as the concept of national sovereignty over rice varieties was developed by each country, sharing and collaboration became more challenging. "But there's no doubt that we must collaborate to develop the best new rice varieties," Dr. Lee said.

Under the treaty, all countries that ratify it must agree to facilitate access to their plant genetic resources (including rice) for food and agriculture. In turn, those involved will share - in a fair and equitable way - the benefits arising from the use of these plant resources.

However, most of the members of CORRA are still not parties to the treaty and there have been no new ratifications by any of the members since Bangladesh in November 2003. "The main reason for this is the treaty's very complex requirements when it comes to national governments," Dr. Lee said.

For the past 30 years, the well-known network called the International Network for Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER) has played a vital role in the development of new rice varieties in Asia, providing each country with access to material it otherwise might not be able to find. "It's very important for food security and rice production in Asia that INGER be able to continue its work," Dr. Lee said.

In its three decades of work, INGER has provided material for the development and release of 667 new rice varieties in 62 countries around the world. The average annual value of each of these varieties has been estimated by experts at US$2.5 million, providing clear evidence of the major boost new varieties can provide to each country's rural economy.

CORRA members are Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam.
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The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is the world's leading rice research and training center. Based in the Philippines and with offices in 10 other Asian countries, it is an autonomous, nonprofit institution focused on improving the well-being of present and future generations of rice farmers and consumers, particularly those with low incomes, while preserving natural resources. IRRI is one of 15 centers funded through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an association of public and private donor agencies. Please visit the Web sites of the CGIAR (www.cgiar.org) or Future Harvest Foundation (www.futureharvest.org), a nonprofit organization that builds awareness and supports food and environmental research.

International Rice Research Institute

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