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Scaling sustainable rice farming practices to achieve food security in Asia

JAKARTA, Indonesia— Experts gathering at the 5th Responsible Business Forum (RBF) on Food and Agriculture have stressed the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration to upscale the sharing of proven best practices in sustainable rice production among Asia’s smallholder rice farmers.

The event, held on March 27-28 under the theme “Scaling Collaboration to Deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” brought together over 500 experts and decision makers from the public, private sectors and the international development community to craft actionable plans and solutions to achieving the SDGs, particularly on ending global hunger.

Rice is the world’s most important staple food, sustaining more than half of the global population. The crop is therefore central to the realization of targets under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Guided by its mission to promote resource efficiency and sustainability in the global rice sector through an alliance that links research, production, policymaking, trade and consumption, the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) was established in 2011 and is co-covened by UN Environment and the International Rice Research Institute. The alliance works with over 80 institutional partners to promote climate-smart best practices among rice smallholders in key rice-growing countries. However, with such a broad and diverse stakeholder base, a challenge lies before us: How can we drive wide-scale adoption of sustainable best practices?

To address this topic, David Johnson, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)’s Regional Representative for Southeast Asia moderated a panel session on “Scaling the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP)”, with an aim of identifying potential solutions to upscale the SRP in order to reach greater impact. The panel members included: Makara Ouk, Director, Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute; Paul Nicholson, Vice President and Head of Rice Research and Risk, Olam International; Dechen Tsering, Director and Representative, Asia and the Pacific, UN Environment, and Wyn Ellis, SRP Coordinator.

In his opening remarks, David Johnson stressed that "if we are going to achieve the SDGs, enhancing the sustainability of rice production, the staple of 4 billion people, must be part of the equation." Improved production practices that are developed and are being promoted through the SRP help farmers achieve social, economic and environment production benefits. Farmers adopting SRP principles are often able to increase their incomes by 20%, while reducing inputs, such as water, by a similar amount.

In order to advance collective multi-stakeholder engagement, Dechen Tsering noted that UN Environment could convene partners at a regional level and help shape future initiatives based on best practices and lessons from the experience of successful initiatives, such as the SRP.

Paul Nicholson of Olam, one of the world’s largest agri-businesses, emphasized that “the SRP has enabled coordination for the first time across a very large but fragmented sector in order to drive innovation and sustainable transformation." However, more needs to be done to develop communication conduits between stakeholders.

Dr. Makara of CARDI emphasized the significance of getting more value to the farmer to drive changes and hopes for SRP to deliver on this.

Commenting on key challenges to upscaling, Wyn Ellis, SRP Coordinator, reiterated the need to address communication and to promote the positive impacts of adoption of sustainable best practices on livelihoods and the environment, to connect markets with producers of sustainable rice, and to foster an enabling policy environment that incentivizes best practice adoption.

In response, members of the panel suggested the following solutions: 1) fostering wide scale adoption of sustainable best practices through strong commercial linkages between farmers and markets to serve demand for SRP-certified rice; 2) development of sources of finance for farm-level initiatives; and 3) promotion of active participation and communication among stakeholders.

David Johnson concluded that “the positive impacts and lessons learnt from current SRP initiatives need to be more widely communicated to allow stakeholders to realize the value in promoting sustainable production methods for increasing farm profitability as a means to achieving long-term food security”.