Rice expert warns about dwindling yield gains


Sat, Aug 11, 2007 - Page 11

The world's leading rice expert warned yesterday of "worrisome signs," with high prices for rice and fertilizer and rice stocks at their lowest levels in about 30 years.

Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), said new farm technologies were needed to replicate the gains made from the "Green Revolution," which had lifted hundreds of millions of rural Asians out of poverty.

"There are a number of worrisome signs suggesting that new challenges lie ahead," he told an international rural poverty conference in Manila.

"There has been a slowdown in growth in rice production as the yield gains from the adoption of the modern varieties in the irrigated areas have become almost fully exploited and the rice area is declining," Zeigler said.

"Over the past five years, [the] international rice price has doubled and price for urea [fertilizer] tripled, the latter spurred on by the rise in oil prices."

Zeigler said "rice stocks are their lowest level since the 1970s."

Rice is the staple for half the world's people, providing about 20 percent of direct human calorie intake worldwide, says IRRI.

Zeigler said "the rising demand for biofuels, the pressures that urbanization and industrialization place on land and water resources ... and the long-term effects of global warming" would require "new technologies that can be rapidly disseminated" to boost output and keep prices low and stable.