Global perspective Human stories

UN declares 2004 the International Year of Rice

UN declares 2004 the International Year of Rice

Rice being harvested in Tanzania
In a major effort to spotlight a commodity whose production is failing to keep up with population growth, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) today declared 2004 the International Year of Rice.

"Almost a billion households in Asia, Africa and the Americas depend on rice systems for their main source of employment and livelihood," FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said in launching the Year, the slogan for which is "Rice is life."

While the world's population was continuing to grow, however, land and water for rice production were diminishing and "its production is facing serious constraints," he said.

"The Year of Rice will act as a catalyst for country-driven programmes throughout the world," he said. "We aim to engage the entire community of stakeholders, from rural farmers to the scientific institutions that mapped the rice genome, in the mission to increase rice production in a manner that promotes sustainability and equity."

Rice is the most rapidly growing food source in Africa and has a major influence on human nutrition and food security all over the world.

"About four-fifths of the world's rice is produced by small-scale farmers and is consumed locally. Rice systems support a wide variety of plants and animals, which also help supplement rural diets and incomes. Rice is therefore on the frontline in the fight against world hunger and poverty," the FAO Director-General said.

The Year was declared in response to a proposal by 44 UN Member States submitted last year, noting a "pending crisis" in rice production even though rapid increases in the last three decades had contributed significantly to improving world food security. Of the 840 million people still suffering from chronic hunger, over half lived in areas dependent on rice production for food, income and employment, it said.

FAO Assistant Director-General Michel Savini, speaking at a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York held in conjunction with the launch of the Year, said the decision to dedicate next year to rice was an indication of the important role its sustainable production could play in achieving the Millennium Development Goals on the eradication of hunger and poverty.

Rice was a staple food for more than half of the world's population and it provided 20 per cent of the world's dietary supply, as opposed to just 19 per cent for wheat and 5 per cent for maize, Mr. Savini said. However, even as the world's population continued to increase, rice production was competing for land and water with other users such as urban development.

Almost one billion households in Africa, Asia and the Americas depended on rice production systems as their main source of employment and livelihood, he added, and he hoped that the Year would act as a "catalyst" for countries to increase their production of the commodity in a "sustainable way that would benefit farmers, women, children and especially the poor."


Listen to UN Radio report