Friday, June 26, 2015

Regional cooperation and ‘correct’ pricing key to sustainable rice production

HANOI, Vietnam - Mainstreaming good practices, finding the ‘right price’ of rice, and working together as a region are crucial to making rice production sustainable.

These are key points resulting from the discussion of global experts and stakeholders convened as the rice working group during the recently concluded 2nd Responsible Business Forum for Food and Agriculture held in the Vietnamese capital.

Proactive regional cooperation in agriculture, especially for rice—the region’s most important crop staple—becomes even more crucial with the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community.

“All countries are ultimately and unavoidably influenced by trade and exchange, constrained or not,” stated Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in a report he shared as chair of the rice working group.

“Shared sustainability in rice is made possible as states move away from strategies and actions motivated purely by domestic politics toward proactive regional cooperation,” Tolentino said further.

In the report, he added that sustainability in the rice sector will be guided by strategic long-term policy that draws lessons from experiences, both good and bad, of countries across Asia. Governments must create the playing field and set and enforce the rules, starting with greater openness in rice market policies and trade across Asia.

Finding the ‘right’ price of rice was also seen as crucial in ensuring that farmers earn better income and are given a real chance at lifting themselves out of poverty, without necessarily burdening consumers unduly. Subsidy could then be given only to the poorest consumers.

More broadly, the working group recommended that the price of rice be allowed to adjust to levels “undistorted by subsidies and inappropriate policies” so that farmers are properly compensated and private sector players can introduce innovations in response to market signals.

The group further advised that the full social and environmental cost of rice production—a major user of increasingly scarce resources such as land and water—must also be determined and built into the market price of rice.

A better understanding of the dynamics of rice consumption, particularly of Asia’s changing eating habits and increasingly diverse diets associated with increasing incomes, would guide policy where quality might vie with quantity in terms of economic value. And where it matters, quality needs to be defined for rice and must consider consumer preferences as well as nutritional and social value.

Members of the panel for the rice working group chaired by Tolentino were Dang Kim Son, former director general of Vietnam’s Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development; Jeffrey Khoo, vice president and senior originator of Swiss Pre; Suthad Setboonsarng, former international trade negotiator for Thailand and member of the IRRI Board of Trustees; and Wyn Ellis, coordinator of the Sustainable Rice Platform.#

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