Two institutional giants, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), have teamed up to co-head the ‘Sustainable Rice Platform’ scheme which leverages private and public sector partners worldwide.
Dr Bas Bouman, senior scientist leading the work at IRRI and head of Crop and Environmental Sciences Division told FoodNavigator-Asia that the collaborative project harnesses knowledge on the rice sector from IRRI and the expertise in global environmental schemes from UNEP.
“Our aim was to develop a set of criteria for sustainable rice … because globally, we don’t really have a definition,” he continued.
Bouman said that the criterion will act as a benchmark for global standards of production.
“There are multiple dimensions of sustainability that we will be addressing,” Bouman said.
Initiatives will include increasing yields in an environmentally friendly way with efforts made to reduce water use, minimise greenhouse gases, use less energy and ensure less pollution.
There will also be a focus on economics with cost-of-production and labour use considered.
“There is a lot of technology that has already been developed for sustainable rice production, but unique to this platform is that we will now be able to quantify the results of these technologies,” he said.
The scheme will provide an assessment of the practical implications that technologies have, enabling farmers to pin-point the most important criteria for them on a local level, be it water saving strategies or yield concerns, Bouman continued.
James Lomax, agri-food program officer at UNEP, said that the program will look to incentivise farmers to adopt sustainable production methods.
Global rice production ‘tight’
Andrew Ward, program officer at the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres at CGIAR, said: “There is some data collection out there but not necessarily robust or accurate or that gives the whole picture. Doing this scheme well would be something new and it is clearly something that is required.”
“The food situation is still quite tight and I think it’s going to be a huge issue, even in the next five years, therefore it is critical we have these schemes and research and start increasing rice productivity,” he continued.
Bouman agreed that the timing for the network is crucial, as in many parts of the world rice supply is lagging behind demand.
He said that in certain countries, particularly in Thailand, India and the Philippines, there is a lot of scope to increase rice yields in a sustainable manner.
A global network
Bouman said: “It is a network of partners. We want to engage with both the public and private sectors. In Asia we have partnered with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and we are also working with big private companies like Nestle and Kellogg.”
“It is all of these partners that are mainstreaming this scheme and therefore it will be both globally and locally implemented,” he continued.
Lomax said: “I’m overwhelmed by the response from multinationals involved in rice production. They feel that their business could benefit from the scheme, they feel that they can catalyse change.”
“I think it just gives important efforts in the rice sector a new twist and that’s really about scaling efforts up and bringing coherence,” he added.
Bouman added: “It’s not a one-shot effort. This platform should have a long life. We are looking more at what can be accomplished in 10 to 15 years, in the long-term.”