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Global donor agencies share investment approaches and priorities for developing rice systems in Asia and Africa

MANILA, Philippines (16 October 2023) — International donor organizations presented their priorities and approaches for investing in rice systems in Asia and advancing rice production in Africa at the recent 6th International Rice Congress. These include nutrition, water management, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, sustainable agricultural practices, and capacity building.

Food Security and health are two of the priorities of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), according to Ryan Washburn, USAID mission director for the Philippines and Mongolia.

“Golden Rice is an example of a key investment for us,” said Mr. WashBurn. “USAID has a partnership worth USD 1.5 million with IRRI to advance the development and adoption of this nutritious rice variety in the Philippines and Indonesia.”

Other priorities of USAID connected to rice systems and agriculture in the region include climate-change mitigation, market system development, and economic opportunities for women.

Ijsbrand de Jong, lead water resource management specialist for the World Bank, highlighted their investments in rice value chain financing, reducing methane emissions of rice systems, and advancing water management and irrigation services in Asia.

“Many Asian cities are freshwater-insecure,” said Mr. de Jong. “Greater productivity and efficiency of water resources can reduce competition and pressure between urbanization and agriculture.”

He emphasized that this required close engagement with the public and private sector as well as funding for infrastructure and innovation.

Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) invests in various initiatives, such as greenhouse gas mitigation and sustainable intensification and diversification.

“Flying in outside experts is not a sustainable solution, not to mention it contributes to carbon emissions,” said James Quilty, ACIAR chief scientist and research program manager for soil and land management.

Strengthening partnerships and institutional capacity are key to fruitful and enduring investments, according to Dr. Quilty .

“We need to create closer relationships with the local government, private sector, farmers, and decision-makers, and foster technical capacity and expertise,’ he said. “By being more collaborative and supportive to the people on the ground, we can ensure more long-term outcomes.”

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) focuses on the importance of increasing the productivity of rural farmers.

“By helping smallholder rice farmers produce and earn more from their crops, we can alleviate not only hunger but poverty,” said Cambodia Country Director for IFAD Frew Behabtu. “Investing in farmer-centric policies, financing and insurance, market linkages, and value chain development can stimulate rural development and uplift the lives and livelihoods of millions of farming families.”

Mr. Behabtu added that investments should not be rigid, as IFAD believes in linking investments to returns and outcomes. His organization reviews its investments every year to look for ways to adjust, enhance, and innovate.

“Rice is a rapidly growing commodity there, and most of the rice is imported from Asia. What lessons from Asia do you think can be leveraged to advance rice production in Africa?” asked Joana Kane-Potaka, deputy director general for Strategy, Engagement, and Impact of the International Rice Research Institute (IRR).

The perspectives on investments needed in the development of agriculture in Africa include:

Water management. This is one of the key challenges as most rice-growing areas are currently rainfed. Scaling direct-seeded rice systems was seen as a promising opportunity for conserving water and its low GHG emissions.

Investments in sustainable irrigation. Efficient irrigation technologies developed in Australia could be adopted to fit the African context for creating efficient and equitable irrigation and water management for rice systems.

Holistic investment approaches. Projects need to be productive but also climate, nutrition, and gender inclusive. Mitigating emissions, providing healthy diets, and offering opportunities for women, youth, and marginalized groups should play a hand during project development and scaling up of projects.

Capacity building. This is not only for governments but across the value chain, from research, extension, input suppliers, the private sector down to the farmers themselves.

Rice straw management systems. This has the potential to develop rural livelihood industries ancillary to rice cultivation such as the production of ruminant feed, biofuel, and biodegradable products.

“With the ever-growing need for rice amid the intensifying challenges of the climate crisis, the world’s food and nutrition security hangs in the balance,” Ms. Kane-Potaka said. “Your generous investments towards the ‘triple bottom line’ - people, planet, profits - underscore our shared commitment to build a more sustainable future through initiatives that uplift lives, protect the environment, and create long-lasting impact.”

The panel discussion, Investments needed in the agriculture for development arena, was moderated by Ms, Kane-Potaka.