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ASEAN ministers call on CGIAR for sustained significant investment in rice research

(Photo: Joint Press Statement of The Forty Second Meeting of The ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry)

In a Joint Press Statement of the 42nd Meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF), the ministers stressed the importance of the sustained significant investment in rice research-for-development by One CGIAR and its partner donors in view of the significant challenges in nutrition, sustainability, livelihoods, and climate-change resilience in the region. The statement, released on October 21, 2020 , also cited the importance of rice as a backbone of food security in Southeast Asia and other regions of the world.

Rice is the single most important staple in the ASEAN Region as it provides 50% of calorie intake for its population. The region’s rice areas comprise 48 million ha or almost 30% of the world rice harvest. It produced 220 million tons of rice in 2018. Vietnam and Thailand are among the top three rice exporting countries in the world. 

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of food systems and agriculture as a whole. While its full impact is yet to be known, strengthening the rice-based agri-food systems in the region is crucial. However, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the agriculture sector–including rice-based systems–already faces tremendous pressures such as land degradation, overuse of water resources and agrochemicals, and biodiversity loss. Likewise, irregular weather patterns, floods, drought, and other natural disasters due to climate change adversely affect agriculture and food systems.  

Investing in rice research is crucial for the ASEAN Region not only for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal on Zero Hunger but also for ensuring that the rice sector will be part of the solution to micronutrient deficiencies, climate change, and poverty, among others. 

ASEAN and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) have a strong and ongoing collaboration since 2009. For 60 years, IRRI has partnered with ASEAN Member States (AMS) to contribute to the regional rice sector, rural development, and food and nutritional security. An independent assessment of the annual benefit of IRRI’s rice varietal work in Southeast Asia was valued USD 1.46 billion. IRRI has engaged in over 30 grants and projects per year in the ASEAN Region since 1987. 

IRRI also has a proven track record of providing analysis to AMS for informed policy decisions. For example, at the 14th ASEAN Summit in 2009, IRRI was tasked to develop a Rice Action Plan as part of the ASEAN Integrated Food Security Framework and the Strategic Plan of Action on ASEAN Food Security  in response to the 2007-08  rice price crisis. The Rice Action Plan was subsequently integrated into the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), a single, global strategy for rice research led by IRRI. During the 33rd AMAF Meeting in Jakarta in October 2011, ASEAN ministers expressed their support for GRiSP as “an important expansion and development of 2008’s ASEAN Rice Action Plan.”

Building on IRRI’s long and proven track record of successful partnership with AMS, IRRI developed a new program, Rice Genetic Solutions for Climate Resilience and Value Addition in ASEAN (ASEAN RiceNet). The program will accelerate farmers’ access to high-value varieties under climate change environmental conditions and drive long-term increases in rice productivity and incomes. The program is projected to generate economic benefits across the ASEAN Region of, at least, USD 0.5 billion from variety releases alone. The endorsement of the ASEAN RiceNet at the 41st AMAF Meeting marks the enduring constructive engagement between IRRI and the ASEAN and Plus 3 rice-producing countries.