Rice is a staple crop around the world upon which billions of people rely, especially those in developing countries who may be living below the poverty line. For this reason, consistent and even increased quantities of rice will be increasingly important as populations continue to grow. However, the potential for sustainable rice production is in question because it consumes massive amounts of finite natural resources and productivity has already begun to decline. Responding to this growing issue, the multi-stakeholder organization called the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP), will launch a new U.N.-backed initiative in 2020 to reduce the environmental impact of rice. The SRP was established in 2011 by the U.N. Environment and the International Rice Research Institute with the goal of promoting greater resource efficiency and incorporating sustainability standards in the production, trade and consumption sectors.
The SRP’s new label will support this mission primarily by labeling rice products according to their production methods and encouraging consumers to purchase sustainably produced rice. The SRP plans to introduce this eco-label by the end of 2020 with hopes that it will support the popularity of sustainable farming practices.
Rice as a Crucial Crop
Rice ranks as one of the top three most popular food crops in the world alongside wheat and corn with over 3.5 billion people relying on rice in their daily diets. This dependence on rice is most strongly felt in developing countries where rice comprises the single most important food and its accessibility is often connected to overall food security and even political stability. The top five consumers of rice are China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam. Furthermore, these countries along with other countries with high rice consumption are still considered developing and make up the most densely populated countries in the world. As the world’s population continues to increase, rice consumption is projected to grow 13% by 2027, requiring more land and resources to meet this demand.
Around the world, roughly 144 million smallholder farmers produce rice. About 90% of them live near or below the poverty line, earning between $2 to $7 per day on average.
In order to ensure rice quantities remain sustainable and necessary resources are not exhausted in the future, the SRP is advocating for changes in production practices. Experts predict that the productivity of rice will decrease by 15% by 2050 due to environmental changes, putting the future of rice yields in question. Currently, rice production consumes 30-40% of the world’s freshwater resources and also accounts for 10% of anthropogenic methane emissions. Responding to these environmental challenges, consumers and professionals are increasingly demanding more sustainable food options. To meet the demands of rice consumers and avoid exhausting the Earth’s resources, the SRP plans to help guide farmers in their transition towards sustainability.
The SRP Assurance Scheme
With many factors challenging the future of rice productivity, the new SRP Assurance Scheme aims to reduce the environmental impact of rice production which will have the added benefit of stable production yields in the future. To achieve this, the new U.N.-backed program has launched an ecolabel for rice that is sustainably produced according to the SRP’s Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation. The label will offer greater transparency on where and how a rice product was produced, allowing consumers to “track and trace the rice back to its origin country” and make educated decisions and choose sustainable produced rice.
Farmers are incentivized to switch to sustainable practices because those with SRP approval may see an estimated income boost of 10-20%. Furthermore, the SRP asserts that switching to more sustainable practices to qualify for the new label will not be difficult for farmers because the required changes are practical, cost-effective and under the farmer’s control. Implementing these changes, however, will require increased access to knowledge and training about farming practices, which the SRP plans to provide through group certification.
The SRP has already worked with farmers in Vietnam, Thailand, India and Indonesia to improve their farming practices to be more sustainable and resource-efficient by showing them methods that use less water, better seeds, and less fertilizer. Pilot projects have been successful in improving production and increasing the income of farmers.
Through the creation of this new eco-label, the SRP hopes to improve the process of rice production in many ways. Not only will greater sustainability lead to greater and more consistent output in the future, but the livelihoods of farmers will also be improved. This change would especially positively impact developing countries where people are most reliant on rice and low-income farmers who rely on consistent rice yields. If rice production is to meet increasing demand, adapting to more sustainable practices will be necessary and the SRP’s initiative is a step in the right direction.
– Angelica Smyrnios