Rice has come a long way, and today it is a popular staple food in all the continents of the world. This is one staple food for more than fifty percent of the world population. There is a food security risk in the world, and rice is one food chosen to address this issue. Taking a keen look at the present state of things as it affects the production of rice, one can predictably say that there is problem in the sector.

These are not the best of times for the rice industry. As far back as 13 years ago, F A O declared that year as the international year of rice. The cultivation of rice cuts across over 100 countries in the world. In Pakistan, the cultivation of rice is the 3rd largest when cereal cultivation is considered altogether. Let us consider the following parameters from the growth of rice in Pakistan:

In 2011-2012, rice was cultivated on 2.571 million hectares with production of 6.16 million tones and the average yield remained 2396 kg/ha. In the year 2012-2013, per capita rice consumption in Pakistan was 15.30 kg/year. (Source: Problems Faced by Rice Growing Farmers and Their Behavior to the Government Policies: A Case from Pakistan by Muhammad Abdullah, Cuixia LI, Sidra – Ghazanfar, Abdur Rehman, Bushra Ghazanfar, Shah Saud)

The following are the challenges rice farmers face, according to reports of surveys conducted among some select farmers:

  • High price of fertilizer
  • Shortage of canal water
  • High price of agricultural input
  • High rent charges of agricultural machinery
  • Lack of consultancy facilities
  • Lack of credit/finance as the major problems during the rice crop production stage.

Another area of great worry is the area of crop protection. The issues identified include:

  • Costly pesticides/weedicides
  •  Ineffective fungicides

When we consider the issue of marketing of rice crops, problems also arise that are discouraging the farmers because they are not getting real value on their efforts on the rice plantation. These problems include the following:

  • Unsatisfactory price offered of the produce
  • Poor transportation system
  • There is also the problem of storage.
  • Lack of knowledge about market prices. 

The demand for rice is increasing each day, and when we consider the problems faced by rice growers with Pakistan as our point of reference, it is clear that we risk a crisis in the food sector that will negatively affect more than half of the world population. The farmers are discouraged, there is no more enthusiasm on their part to meet up with demand of rice both locally and for export. The market is large, and demand for rice is far more than the supply that is available.

The reality that we have on our hands makes a drastic measure necessary to save us from the dangers looming on the horizon. The population is increasing with every passing day, and with that, there is an increase in demand for rice. It is high time we look in the direction of gene-edited rice– that is the only realistic option for now.

CAN WE AFFORD TO ALLOW THIS TREND?

The crisis in the cultivation of rice will do no one any good if it is not properly addressed. Demand is increasing, and it is clear that the supply coming in cannot meet up with the needs of more than half of the world population. For us to properly understand the problems, we shall take a look at some descriptions of the challenges currently being faced with the growing of rice. Over 90% of the rice produced comes from the Asia-Pacific region. We are taking this region as reference point in determining the current trends going on in the industry.

Let us take a look at the projected population growth in this region of the world from now to 2025. For your information, this region consumes 90% of the world’s rice production:

Projections of Population in Major Rice Producing and Consuming Countries in Asia, 1995 to 2025

Country Population
(mill.) 1995
Annual Growth Rate
(% per year)
Projected
Population
(mill.) in 2025
Percent
Increase
1995-2025
1995-2000 2020-2025
China 1199 0.9 0.5 1471 23
India 934 1.7 1.0 1370 47
Indonesia 192 1.4 0.8 265 38
Bangladesh 121 1.8 1.1 182 50
Vietnam 74.1 2.0 1.2 117 58
Thailand 60.5 1.3 0.7 80.8 34
Myanmar 46.8 2.1 1.1 72.9 56
Japan 125 0.3 -0.3 124 -1
Philippines 69.2 2.2 1.2 115 66
Rep. of Korea 44.8 0.8 0.3 52.9 18
Pakistan 130 2.7 1.6 243 87
Asia (excluding China) 2244 1.8 1.1 3389 51

 

Source: World Bank Population Projections, 1994-95 Edition

Apart from Japan, there is an expected population growth up to about 87% in Pakistan come the year 2025. With the current output in the rice industry, we definitely have a problem on our hands. Rice has been in cultivation for thousands of years and is currently being cultivated in at least 115 countries of the world. The years of its existence has exposed it to attacks from a number of pests and diseases.

Expectedly, this has resulted in very poor and low output. When we look at the estimated population growth rate over the years compared to the productive output of rice over that period, there is a glaring short fall. A food crisis stares us in the face. Let’s get a clearer picture by considering the projected output of rice for the period (1987-1997):

 Rice Production, Yield, Area and Growth Rates in Production (P), Yield (Y) and Area (A) in the Asia-Pacific Region (1987-1997)

Country Production (P)
(000 tones)
in 1997
Area (A)
(000 ha)
in 1997
Yield (Y)
(kg/ha)
in 1997
Growth Rate (%)
(1987-1997)
P A Y
Australia 1,352 164 8,244 6.2 4.5 1.6
Bangladesh 28,183 10,177 2,769 1.1 -0.4 0.7
Bhutan 50 30 1,667 -0.2 0.1 -0.2
Cambodia 3,390 1,950 1,771 4.4 2.4 2.2
China 198,471 31,348 6,331 1.0 -0.7 1.6
DPR Korea 2,347 611 3,841 -5.1 -1.7 -3.3
Fiji 18 7 2,246 -5.5 -7.1 0.8
India 123,012 42,200 2,915 2.6 0.5 2.1
Indonesia 50,632 11,100 4,449 2.2 1.2 0.8
Iran 2,600 550 4,240 4.9 1.5 2.8
Japan 12,531 1,953 6,416 -0.5 0.5
Laos 1,414 554 2,902 2.1 2.8
Malaysia 1,970 655 3,008 1.6 0.1 1.5
Myanmar 18,900 6,070 3,064 4.0 3.3 0.6
Nepal 3,711 1,511 2,455 1.3 0.5 0.9
Pakistan 6,546 2,316 2,827 3.3 1.2 2.1
Papua New Guinea 1 3,023 0.1
Philippines 11,269 3,842 2,933 2.7 1.8 1.0
Rep. of Korea 7,100 1,045 6,794 -1.8 -2.3 0.5
Sri Lanka 2,610 660 3,954 1.3 1.3
Thailand 21,280 9,932 2,143 1.3 0.2 1.1
Vietnam  26,397 7,021 3,760 5.5 2.4 3.1
Total 523,784 133,696 3,918 1.8 0.4 1.4
Rest of World 49,479 16,115 3,070 2.0 0.3 1.7
World 573,263 149,811 3,827 1.8 0.4 1.4

 

Source: FAO/RAP Publication: 1998/21

When we look at the lopsidedness, it is clear to all that something must be done to reverse this worrisome trend in the industry. The world can produce its needed demand of rice year-in and year-out if we do things the right way. There are not two solutions to this problem on our hands. The earlier we embrace gene-edited rice, the better for the world population.

THE CURRENT ISSUES

  • The cost of production is taking its toll on the rice farmers. The inputs needed for smooth operation are not economically favorable to the farmer at the end of the day. There is the cost of labor, which is increasing beyond what the farmer can bear. The seeds available have been around for thousands of years and are therefore prone to attack of diseases and pests. The issue of machines is also there for the farmer to contend with. What about fertilizers?  Add poor development and the issues of rural credit market to this, and the problems become too much for the farmer to bear.

 

  • It is observed that the knowledge of farmers in the industry is poor. In land preparation, they do not have the expertise required to break even. Their knowledge of the cultivation of the land is far from being adequate. At the end of the day, the cost of production in most instances leaves little profit for the farmer at the end of sales. There is therefore low enthusiasm on the part of the rice farmer. The language of any commercial venture is gain. If the gains are not forthcoming, then there will be discouragements as is currently happening in the rice sector. This can be taken care of by gene-edited rice if it is embraced.

 

  • Industrialization combined with urbanization is competing with the availability of land for the rice farmer. It is observed that farmers now have less land at their disposal and they are still using the same set of seedlings and method of farming. So, what do we expect in this situation? A shortfall in the productive process of course!  This is a contributor to the problems in the rice industry. There is a desperate need for improved seedlings that will produce higher and improved yields as well.

 

  • The rice farmers are gradually aging out and the younger generations are not taking into the sector because of the lure of industrialization. This is a serious socio political issue which needs urgent attention. With the introduction of gene rice and other related incentives, the younger generation will definitely be attracted to farming.

HOW DO WE NARROW THIS YIELD GAP?

The only way out is through genetically modified rice. There are many positives in embarking on gene-edited rice. Consider the following put together:

  • Increase micronutrients such as vitamin A
  • Accelerated photosynthesis
  • Tolerance of herbicides
  • Resistance to pests
  • Increase grain size
  • Generation of nutrients and flavors
  • Production of human proteins

GMO rice dates back to the year 2000 when the first two varieties came into being. One thing with these two varieties was the fact that they are herbicide resistant. They are the LLRice60 and LLRice62, which were both approved in the U S. Other herbicide resistance varieties later came into existence in Canada, Australia, Mexico, and Colombia. None of this early GMO rice went into commercial production. As of 2012, it has not been available for commercial consumption. The availability of gene-edited rice in commercial quantities has the potential to reduce hunger, malnutrition, and poverty.

The use of herbicides in the cultivation of rice is a must. GMO rice is herbicide resistant, and the use of herbicides in their cultivation only affects the weeds and not the crop. 100% yield is therefore guaranteed. The Bayer’s line of herbicide resistant rice is known as liberty link which is resistant to glufosinate. Their latest variety is LL62 which has now been approved for consumption in the E U.

Another equally great advantage of gene rice over the species that has been known for thousands of years is its nutritional values. Ingo Potrykus and his team produced golden rice which has a higher concentration of vitamin A. According to statistics from the World Health Organization, iron deficiency affects 30% of the world’s population. If more than half of this population eats gene-edited rice, then one can rest assured that the issue of this deficiency will be reduced by up to 50%.

With gene-edited rice, you can be rest assuredbe certain that the attack of pests will not be a problem. This has been the worry of rice farmers who plant regular rice seeds. A great percentage of their expected harvest at the end of every harvest season has been lost to pests. When we are guaranteedguaranteed a species that is resistant to pest attacks;, then the abundant yield is guaranteed.

The Chinese sScientists have also gone ahead to ensure that GMO rice delivers the best of benefits to those that opt to eat it as food. On their part, they have modified brown rice. Their brand of GMO rice is a cheap way of getting the Human serum albumin (H S A) protein. And what is the use for H S A? Hold your breath: It is used for the treatment of-severe burns, liver cirrhosis, and hemorrhagic shock. Can you imagine all those benefits rolled into one piece in one single variety of gene-edited rice? It is great!

– or do you have any cause to agree less? I doubt that.

The cause of most diseases that the world is battling with today is the food we eat. There areis loads of junk food today that people consume all over the world. Japanese researchers have gone to work to produce a variety of gene-edited rice that is resistant to haey fever. Cedar pollen is the cause of haey fever, and these researchers haves produced gene rice which contains 7 pollens that will effectively check the symptoms of haey fever. What else can one ask for from gene-edited rice?

The essence of going into gene-edited rice is to boost the yield of rice to meet up with the estimated population growth so as to avert the crisis in the food sector that will happen if steps are not taken in the right direction. A consortium of 12 laboratories went to work in 8 countries in the year 2015 with the sole objective of producing gene-edited rice with high yield. Their efforts yielded a rudimentary form of C4 photosynthesis (C4P). It has the capacity to boost growth by increasing the yield per hectare by a rough estimate of 50%. This technology has also produced excellent results in the growth of wheat, potatoes, tomatoes, apples, and soybeans.

CONCLUSION

There is no perfect invention. Every scientific discovery is subject to modifications that are aimed at improvements. This applies to gene-edited rice, as well. Critics are quick to point to the areas that are not favorable to the human angle;, but their points are weak and they are areas that can be easily fixed. For now, there is no suitable alternative to gene-edited rice-the criticisms notwithstanding.

The world cannot afford the crisis that is likely to come up if the gap between supply and demand for rice is not closed up. It will be a calamity that is better imagined than experienced if demand rises above supply. That is exactly the risk in the rice sector of the economy if gene-edited rice is not embraced totally.

Regular rice seeds have been around for thousands of years, and the cropit has played its part in filling the gap for staple food. For now, due to years of attack on the seeds over the years;, it has become clear that it can no longer meet up with the demand of half the population of the world that is increasing with each passing second of the day.

There is time for everything under the sun. To avoid food crisis in the supply of rice;, the only solution lies in gene edited rice. The yield will meet more than the estimated demand of the world population. The health benefits we have discussed earlier cannot be overlooked. Gene edited rice is the only solution if we are to overcome the danger signals in the production of rice-pure and simple.

Image from flickr by philHedley


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