The International Temperate Rice Conference that returned to Australia for the first time in over twenty years brought local and international delegates together to hear about the latest research, technology and innovation in temperate rice production from industry experts, with a particular focus in this year’s program on sustainability, water efficiency and productivity. Keynote speaker Dr Matthew Morell, Director General of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), said the conference is an opportunity to shape the future direction of the global rice industry, bringing these vital issues into focus.
In his address, Dr. Morell discussed how rice science is contributing to sustainable development goals, highlighting the need for agencies like IRRI to continually evolve to meet the challenges of the next 25 years. The increasing population was putting pressure on the availability of land and labour and access to water and fertiliser. “To meet the world’s demand over the next 25 years we will have to produce about 25% more rice, but this will have to be produced from less land, with less labour, with fewer inputs,” said Dr Morell adding that there was much the temperate-zone rice community could do for the millions of tropical region growers, who were among the poorest farmers and populations in the world. “We would like those people who are poor farmers to be able to access all the technology and knowledge that’s produced in more affluent rice producing countries,” Dr Morell said. “We are trying to work with temperate rice communities and bring some of that technology and opportunity to the poorer farmers in the disadvantage areas in Asia but also Africa.” Adding further Dr. Morell said, “There is a big opportunity from a development perspective to make countries in Africa self-sufficient, and a lot of this will be from temperate rice production.”
About 90 per cent of the world’s rice farmers are in Asia and another 2-3 per cent in Africa. Temperate-zone rice is grown in cool regions such as Australia, the Americas and Europe, while tropical rice, which is the most common, is grown mostly in Asia. In the last 20 years, Australian growers have become world leaders in water use efficiency, production efficiency and environmental management. Although Australia’s rice farmers make up a small fraction of the world’s 144 million rice producers, they can still play an important role in the industry’s global development. Australia’s small pool of farmers produces about 1 million tonnes of the 700 million tonnes grown globally.
The IRRI that is an independent research and education agency dedicated to reducing poverty and hunger through rice research, improving the health and welfare of rice farmers and tackling future climate is seeking scientific collaborations with Australian research agencies, universities and businesses to “ensure science technology, research and knowledge is shared for mutual benefit”. “There is a long tradition between Australia and international organisations like ours. I’m confident that this will continue,” Dr Morrell informed. “Regardless, I am optimistic that along with these significant challenges, come incredible opportunities to shape equitable and sustainable rice sector that can help support a world of nine billion people,” he added.