A multi-country seed policy agreement that drastically speeds up the distribution of modern rice varieties across countries in South and Southeast Asia is being sought in a meeting of agriculture ministers and representatives of nine countries this weekend (9-10 June 2017) at Siem Reap. Siem Reap is a gateway to an ancient world and a resort town in northwestern Cambodia where an event, organized by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), brings together officials from Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam to discuss collaborative ways to improve the welfare of resource-poor farming families through innovative agricultural research. One such approach is to ensure that farmers have easy access to improved technologies and advancements, particularly the seeds of newly developed climate-resilient rice varieties. These modern varieties have helped vulnerable farmers by securing their food supply, and providing them with added income and the opportunity to invest in their own future.
The potential expansion of the regional seed-sharing agreement builds on the success of the existing South Asia Regional Seed Policy Agreement, which was signed in 2014 by the governments of Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. Under the agreement brokered by IRRI, the new seed-sharing system allowed new and better seeds to reach the hands and fields of farmers more rapidly. In just 3 years, eight rice varieties have already been released and shared across the three countries. The event this weekend in Siem Reap provides a platform for the participants to share their experience with neighbouring countries and to aid other nations in determining how the extension of such an agreement could positively impact the rice sector of their respective countries. This is an opportune time for rice-growing countries to work toward a regional “seed diplomacy” that could benefit a higher number of farmers and consumers, leading to the development and strengthening of the rice sector.