Making safe and nutritious rice accessible to the consumers who depend on it for nourishment and at the same time growing rice that is profitable for farmers who rely on it for their livelihood is a shared responsibility of all actors working within the rice based agri-food system. But current institutions and policies are no longer equipped to adequately address this challenge and require system-wide shifts in priority areas. In the past few years, to address some aspects of this multifaceted challenge, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been conducting value chain research exploring consumer behaviours and preferences as entry points to making rice inclusive, sustainable and capable of meeting global food security and nutrition challenges.
At the Value Chains and Policies session of IRRI Science Week, presenters reflected on how the institution’s initiatives contribute to improving the rice value chain within the countries it works in. Ongoing work on consumer valuation of sustainable rice production, as well as product profiling and forecasting of appropriate rice varieties, demonstrate how robust data can help identify emerging markets and enable rice value chain actors to address these markets’ needs as well as opportunities. Research on the sociocultural and economic factors behind household food consumption, the impact of climate change on rice production, and new mechanization and post-harvest technologies examine different drivers of change that can catalyze the transformation of rice-based value chains. A key learning across all these research programs was the need to influence policies to ensure sustained systemic change and large scale impact, particularly in terms of making all aspects of rice production more inclusive, more nutritious and more sustainable.
A facilitated discussion moderated by Agri-Food Policy platform leader Jean Balié elicited feedback from IRRI’s research staff on cross-cutting interests, the importance of identifying future research priorities and related trade-offs about areas that would need to be de-emphasized. Sharing research findings through proper channels and a variety of supports, bringing together stakeholders across the value chain, developing a sound knowledge of the policy context in IRRI focus countries, and engaging with policy makers beyond the agricultural sector were identified as necessary conditions for IRRI to gain policy influence on the future of rice based food systems.
“There is a growing emphasis across the agri-food system on nutrition challenges that rice cannot address on its own” says Balié. “The goal for institutions like IRRI is to demonstrate that there are opportunities to reposition rice as a crop that remains the backbone of profitable and sustainable future farming systems and nutrition and affordable future diets.”