Rice is the staple food of half of the world’s population, which includes about 70% of the world’s poor. Ninety percent of the world’s rice supply is produced in Asia—the bulk of it in ASEAN countries. Global food security thus relies much on what goes on with rice—its production and distribution—in this part of the world.
A huge portion of the global rice supply is produced, eaten, and traded in the rice-rich ASEAN region. Consider these:
- Thailand and Vietnam are two of the world’s largest exporters of rice.
- Indonesia and the Philippines are two of the world’s largest importers of rice.
- Myanmar is preparing to re-assume its place as a major exporter of rice.
- Singapore relies on trade for the high-quality rice its population needs.
Experts at IRRI say that durable regional agreements on rice production and supply will shield the region from global food crises that may emerge from upheavals in market conditions.
Many ASEAN populations were badly hurt in the global food price crisis of 2007-09. ASEAN nations have since redoubled efforts to better manage domestic food supplies and shore up regional arrangements to share information with one another on cross-country stocks and prospects as well as curb volatility in rice and food prices.
In an integrated ASEAN, shared security in food and nutrition requires stronger regional agreements that will facilitate reliable rice reserves, especially during emergency situations.
In Asia Society and IRRI's Never an empty bowl: sustaining food security in Asia, a comprehensive plan of action was launched to address food insecurity and poverty in the region. Among the recommendations made was the establishment of a rice futures and spot exchange, with Singapore envisioned as the port of choice.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) had a similar recommendation when it issued the working paper, Commodities exchange: options for addressing price risk and price volatility in rice, in 2012. The ADB noted that “a regional rice index and commodities exchange could help calm world rice price fluctuations and ensure farmers get a fair price for their rice.”
This and other implications of an ASEAN economic bloc are strategic options that experts at IRRI—scientists, economists, and market specialists—could provide assistance to governments and policymakers on.
Endorsement by agriculture ministers
In 2009, member states adopted the ASEAN Integrated Food Security Framework and the Strategic Plan of Action on ASEAN Food Security, for which IRRI was tasked to propose a Rice Action Plan. That plan has been integrated into the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), a single, global strategy for rice research and led by IRRI.
IRRI’s research and delivery strategy under GRiSP has been endorsed by the ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF), which affirmed GRiSP as an important expansion and development of the ASEAN Rice Action Plan.
In the 2013 AMAF meeting in Malaysia, the ministers made note of the contribution of GRiSP toward ensuring that rice is affordable to the poor, profitable to farmers, is of good quality, and nutritious. It was decided then that the Senior Officials Meeting of AMAF will work with IRRI to secure the resources needed to implement GRiSP across the ASEAN.
In the 2014 AMAF meeting in Myanmar, the ASEAN Secretariat and senior ministers were tasked to cooperate closely with IRRI. All ASEAN member countries were encouraged to continue bilateral programs with IRRI.
ASEAN and IRRI collaboration can be categorized to strategic technical assistance, building the next generation of rice scientists, and enhanced regional cooperation.
Strategic technical assistance to ASEAN member-nations
IRRI provides technical and policy support to the ASEAN member-nations for the development of their respective rice sectors.
The agriculture ministry of each country works with IRRI in drafting the rice sector strategy. This is guided by the peculiarities of each country’s experience, global trends, and more than 50 years of IRRI’s study and development of higher-yielding and sturdy rice varieties, technologies, crop management practices, and policy advice.
The development and implementation of the rice sector strategies are coordinated by the Council for Partnership on Rice Research in Asia (CORRA).
A new generation of rice scientists for the ASEAN
AMAF endorsed IRRI’s program to secure global food security by developing a new generation of rice scientists for the ASEAN region through increased participation of ASEAN’s budding researchers in IRRI’s training and scholarship programs.
IRRI has suggested the establishment of a regional capacity-building fund to support the training and upgrading of ASEAN rice scientists and policymakers. The fund will manage contributions from ASEAN member-states, the ASEAN+3, and development and dialogue partners who are all interested in shared food security.
A plan was also hatched in 2014 to launch an ASEAN food security forum for senior-level policymakers and decision-makers.
Enhanced regional capacity to secure food
Multilateral cooperation is indeed crucial in curbing volatility in rice and food prices. The governments of ASEAN member countries must share information on cross-country stocks and prospects that enable rational, moderate, and longer-term assessments of supplies and prices.
Such dialogue will underlie international understanding and assurance that rice-exporting and -importing countries have shared interest in stable, if higher, rice prices. It is likely that food prices will be higher than experienced since the mid-1970s, and bodes well for farmers and for long-term, higher total global supplies.
Without a doubt, IRRI and hundreds of GRiSP partners across Southeast Asia will play a key role in fostering cooperation in the region. The partnership between the ASEAN member-states and IRRI has been quite productive over the past decades, with the ASEAN benefitting greatly from IRRI’s research.
You may also view IRRI's Youtube playlist on ASEAN videos.
Media releases and news items
- IRRI to present 10-point action plan on rice as ASEAN agri ministers meet
- Food security a top priority for ASEAN ministers and senior officials
- IRRI offers 'honest broker' role in global rice market
- New blood needed in rice science, IRRI urges ASEAN
- Talking policy: What does ASEAN 2015 mean for a rice-rich region?
Rice Today features
- ASEAN cooperation: Crucial to global food security
- Time for a rice futures market
- Sam Mohanty's blog
- Bruce Tolentino's blog