This is Bob Doughty with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.
The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2004 the International Year of Rice. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations discussed the importance of the declaration in January. Indonesia's Minister of Agriculture said the UN declaration gives many nations the chance to consider food security. He said technology has an important part to play in improving rice production.
Rice provides twenty percent of the world's dietary energy - more than wheat or corn. It is a central food in the diet of a majority of the world's population.
The director-general of the U-N Food and Agriculture Organization, Jacques Diouf, has called rice a symbol of cultural identity and unity. But he warned that production must increase.
The FAO says better farming methods could produce a bigger crop of most kinds of rice.
During the 1990's, world rice production increased. But Mister Diouf warns that production will not meet the needs of growing populations by two-thousand-thirty.
The economics of rice is also important. The FAO says developing governments often place price controls on rice. These governments have to balance two pressures. Prices need to stay low so people can buy this important food. But growers need prices to rise to increase their income.
Price pressures hurt small farmers in developing countries the most. These farmers do not get aid that governments provide farmers in industrial countries.
Exporting can ease these pressures. But only five to seven percent of the world rice crop is traded internationally. This is much lower than wheat and corn. More than eighty percent of all rice is grown on small farms and used locally. Small producers hold large shares of the world export market because of this. Thailand is the biggest exporter of rice with twenty-six percent of the market. But, China and India are by far the biggest producers of rice.
Special kinds of rice may offer a way to create new export markets. Rice with qualities like good smell, unusual color or high protein levels represent specialty products. They could provide growers with higher profit crops.
The UN has chosen the words, Rice is Life to represent the idea behind The International Year of Rice.
This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Bob Doughty.