NEW YORK, September 27, 2010 - A modest annual investment of $120 million through 2030 towards rice research in Asia could increase rice productivity by nearly 9%, and reduce poverty rates by 15% and hunger rates by 20% in the region, according to a new report released today by a jointly convened Asia Society and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Task Force.
The Task Force's report, Never an Empty Bowl: Sustaining Food Security in Asia, was launched at an Asia Society event held at the Ford Foundation in New York City that also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the founding of IRRI, a leading rice research institution, based in the Philippines, that was established by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations.
"Rice is not simply a food," said Robert Zeigler, Director General of IRRI. "It is part of the fabric of life. If rice prices go up, most people suffer more than just a mild economic inconvenience. Their way of life, their sense of well being and place in the world is threatened. Sustaining global rice supplies for the future is more than just simple calories and meals on the table."
The symposium also featured presentations from leaders in the policy, donor, civil society, and philanthropic communities, each of whom urged continued partnerships to move the food security agenda forward. According to Asia Society President Vishakha Desai, the Task Force report succeeds at "connecting the right people, convening them together, and [directing] them towards a catalytic effort. The report presents a range of steps that government, business, non-governmental organizations, regional and international organizations, foundations and philanthropic individuals should take to tackle the challenges" related to food insecurity and poverty in Asia.
"It is extraordinary and intimidating," said Luis Ubiñas, President of the Ford Foundation, "that we are gathered here today five decades later to not only celebrate the seminal work [of IRRI]," but to "launch a report that demonstrates just how vibrant and essential this work remains today."
"Our predecessors truly succeeded in creating and scaling innovation and so must we," urged Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation. "Doing so will require critical partnerships like that of the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations in the 1960s and like that of IRRI and the Asia Society today."
The report's findings and recommendations were presented by Task Force co-chair Dan Glickman, former US Secretary of Agriculture, and the Task Force's principal advisor C. Peter Timmer, professor emeritus at Harvard University. The symposium also included a lively dialogue among Task Force members, including Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP); Ong Keng Yong, former Secretary-General of ASEAN; Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, Vice-President, Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, of the Asian Development Bank; and Pedro Medrano, Director of the World Food Programme.
Task Force members agreed that moving the food security agenda forward will require a comprehensive approach that: (1) raises and sustains the productivity of Asian rice farmers while improving the resilience of crops to climate change; (2) increases investment in rural development; and (3) scales up food safety net programs at the national level with investments that target better health, nutrition, and formal education programs.
To read the Task Force report and view a video trailer screened at the event, click here.