Science: World scientists in $600 million plan to boost rice yield

Scientists launched a $600 million global initiative on Wednesday to raise rice yields and reduce the impact of rice production on the environment, which they said could also help 150 million people escape poverty by 2035.

The Global Rice Science Partnership will oversee research over the next five years to boost yields and breed stronger strains that can resist flooding and threats from climate change.

The scheme, led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and partners, was launched in Hanoi as rice scientists, executives, policymakers and traders from nearly 70 countries met to discuss research, demand and trading and currency risks.

"Given that rice is a staple food for more than half the global population and in most of the developing world, there is no question that availability of rice is equated with food security," said Robert Zeigler, director general of the Manila-based IRRI.

The new research is also aimed at cutting emissions of greenhouse gases from rice production by an amount equivalent to more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide by adopting improved irrigation methods and avoiding deforestation.

With higher yields, farmers would not have to expand their fields into new areas, and that could save more than 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) of forest, wetlands and other natural ecosystems by 2035, the consultative group said.

Annual funding for rice research by donors would rise to $139 million by 2015 from around $100 million next year to help realize the scheme's goals.

By boosting supplies and lowering food prices, the initiative should help lift people out of poverty, perhaps as many as 72 million by 2020, Zeigler said.

In addition to IRRI, the initiative includes two French organizations and a research center in Japan plus hundreds of other partners from governments, the private sector and civil society. 

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