South-East Asian rice bowl depleting fast – analysis.

Dwindling crop yields, land scarcity and climate change may cause South-East Asia to lose its status as a major rice exporter — unless changes in production and management techniques are introduced, says an analysis.

Published March in Nature Food, the analysis evaluates the gap between potential and actual yields of rice across South-East Asian countries, including Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines, and shows ways to augment rice production in the region.

South-East Asia accounts for about 40 per cent of international rice exports but the region is also a substantial consumer of rice. The researchers note that by 2050, owing to increasing populations, there will be 18 per cent higher demand for rice in the region.


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With limited scope in other major rice-producing countries like China and India to generate a rice surplus, South-East Asian countries with a larger yield gap must step up production to avoid the need for import in the future, the researchers say.

Rice yield stagnation has been noted in countries like Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, owing to residential and industrial encroachment on rice-growing areas with little prospect to expand irrigated paddy lands, thanks to inadequate investment and other reasons.

“Our analysis shows that South-East Asia will not beable to produce a large rice surplus in the future if current trends continue,” says Alice Laborte, an author of the study and senior scientist at the Philippine-based International Rice Research Institute. “Failure to increase yield on existingriceareawill drastically reduce the capacity of countries in the region to achieveor sustain rice self-sufficiency and export rice to otherregions.”

Using a data-intensive approach the researchers found that the average gap in rice yield represents about 48 per cent of the “yield potential” estimated for the region although there were significant differences among countries. Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand were showing larger ‘rice yield gaps’ than Indonesia and Vietnam.

Closing the “exploitable yield gap” by half through proper crop management and other measures would drastically reduce the need to import rice and generate an “aggregated annual rice surplus of 54 million tons available for export,” the researchers say.

They recommend specific measures to improve the rice yields such as investments in agriculturalresearch and scaling up of productivity-enhancing technologies to narrow the exploitable yield gapover the next 20 years. Crop management practices such as better use of fertiliser and irrigation, nutrients, water, and pest management are particularly useful in lowland rainfed environments, they add.

“Closing of yield gaps requires the concerted effort of policymakers, researchersand extension services to facilitate farmers’ access to technologies,information, and markets,” says Laborte.

South-East Asia needs to produce morericewith reduced inputs, including land and water, and also leave behind a smaller environmental footprint, says Samarendu Mohanty, Asia regional director of the International Potato Center.

“With consumption still rising along with population growth, these countries need to accelerate yield growth in targeted countries to remain net exporters ofrice,” Mohanty tells SciDev.Net.

“Increasing rice production in the region will enhance food security not only in the region but also globally,” Laborte says. “Maintaining the capacity of South-East Asia to produce a large ricesurplus can help reduce global pricevolatility and provide a stable and affordable rice supply to manycountries in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.”

“With soaring fertiliser prices, many farmers may choose to reduce fertiliser usage which could lead to lower rice production,” she adds.

According to Mohanty, fertiliser prices have skyrocketed in the past several months with the Ukraine war making it even worse; in February alone, fertiliser prices went up by 40 per cent.

“The wet season paddy crop in Asia, [the crop of] the main growing season, which is just a couple of months away, will be severely impacted by high prices and shortages in fertiliser,” says Mohanty.

IMAGE CREDIT: International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ricephotos/367818287/), CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/).


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