The global dilemma of providing enough rice for an expanding world population while still maintaining a healthy environment will occupy delegates at a conference which opened on October 15 in HCM City.
At present, the 113 nations which cultivate rice feed only half of the world’s population, said a report delivered at the conference to 150 scientists from countries in the Mekong basin. Around the globe, 150 million hectares of land produce 600 million tonnes of rice every year.
“Rice is very important to Asia,” said Gershon Feder, a researcher from the World Bank. “Around 80% of the region’s population relies on agriculture and two thirds of the world’s 1.1 billion poor people live in Asia.”
In the Mekong river basin alone, 60 million Chinese, Burmese (Burma), Lao, Thai, Cambodians and Vietnamese earn their livings from rice cultivation on 14 million hectares.
“Nearly 70% of poor people live in rural areas and the fight against poverty should focus on rural areas agriculture,” Feder said.
The four lower Mekong nations of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam produced over 66 million counting for 11.5% of global production.
That year, a capita rice consumption in the region increased to between 103 kilograms in Thailand and 169 kilograms in Vietnam.
Vietnam and Thailand are the fifth and sixth largest rice producers in the world.
“The Mekong river basin has good natural conditions for the development of agriculture and biological diversity,” said Dr Bui Ba Bong, deputy minister and Rural Development (Mard) in his opening speech at the conference. “If the region was well managed, poverty would be eliminated.”
During the late 1970s and most of the 1980s, war and a backward agricultural system forced Vietnam to import around 300,000 tonnes of rice every year.
At the end of the 1980s, Vietnam began to change gradually toward a market–oriented economy. IN 1989, Vietnam emerged as one of the world’s largest rice exporters for the first time.
“The change was made possible by policy renovation, improved water management and the introduction of new varieties of rice,” said Nguyen Van Bo, chief of the Mard’s Department of Science and Technology.
Bo cited five reasons for Vietnam’s agricultural improvements: a better understanding of sustaining intensive farming environments; improvements in yield potential, improved grain quality; upland farming system development; and germplasm conservation.
Since 1989, Vietnam’s annual rice output has increased by around one million tonnes. This year the country plans to harvest 34.7 million tonnes, of which 3.2 million tonnes, of which 3.2 million will be exported.
Bo said a comprehensive plan for protecting the environment and sustaining rice production will go hand in hand with increasing rice productivity in the country.
The conference was held with cooperation between the Mard, the Asian Development Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation, the International Rice Research Institute, the Mekong River Commission, and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.