The global rice industry is facing a critical moment as it grapples with the effects of export bans, logistics disruptions, climate change, and regional conflicts on rice supply and demand. However, experts also point out the potential of agricultural technology to boost productivity and income for rice farmers and consumers.

One of the main challenges facing the rice industry is the impact of rising global populations and urbanization on land and water resources.

According to Atty. Arthur C. Yap, a former Department of Agriculture secretary, in his article published in the op-ed of The Philippine Daily Inquirer on Dec. 4, 2023, governments must prioritize and fund the conservation of water and soil resources, and incentivize the private sector to partner with them in these efforts.

“Government cannot do this alone but must incentivize the private sector to work on these through cost-sharing partnerships. Banks can be allowed to enroll projects like soil conservation, impounding, and drip irrigation, as agri-agra law compliant,” Yap wrote.

He stressed the need for more equitable land and water use regulations that balance the realities of resource use and ownership, and for investing in better planting techniques, postharvest, and logistics systems.

Another challenge is climate change, which is expected to significantly affect rice production in the future. Rice is highly sensitive to climate conditions, and the Philippines, as well as other major rice-producing countries such as India, Pakistan, Thailand, and Vietnam, are vulnerable to the effects of tropical cyclones and El NiƱo events.

The former Bohol Governor urged the rice industry to use the available technologies to manage risks and costs, such as precision agriculture, digital agronomy, weather intelligence, better data, and financial and insurance instruments.

“Without better risk mitigation products in public and private finance, funds will not flow into agriculture and will keep the sector ‘high risk.’ In the Philippines, banks pay annual penalties of more than P3 billion rather than comply with a law that obligates them to lend 25 percent of their loanable portfolios to agriculture activities. That is a clear indictment against the sector’s ‘bankability,'” Yap said.

A third challenge is the sustainability and environmental impacts of rice production, which consumes a large amount of water and emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Yap, also former congressman in Bohol’s Third District, suggested that farmers should be incentivized to use drip irrigation or laser leveling to minimize flooding of rice fields, and to use balanced fertilization and integrated pest management protocols.

He also called for greater access to green finance for farmers, especially as the world met at the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dubai.

“Maximizing international collaboration is crucial for the future of the global rice industry. As the world has broken up into multipolar clusters, there is a challenge to engage multilateral associations at different levels, to advocate for policies that will promote the common good. The world is so complex today. Disease and infections, financial melt-downs or misdeeds, adventurism and aggression, trade policies like export bans and tariffs, imposed at the local or regional levels, have a way of affecting the family of nations eventually,” he said.

Atty. Yap pointed out the example of India, which imposed its export bans for white rice earlier this year, causing the price of the commodity to jump up to 25 percent and impacting the world’s poor.

“Such policies are short-sighted and detrimental to the global food security and stability. We need to foster more cooperation and coordination among rice-producing and consuming countries, and to adhere to the principles of free and fair trade,” he said.

Despite these challenges, Yap highlighted the opportunities and innovations that the rice industry can harness to improve its performance and competitiveness.

The former DA Secretary noted the examples of hybrid rice, which can increase yields by 15 to 20 percent; biofortified rice, which can enhance the nutritional value of rice; and gene editing, which can create new varieties of rice with desirable traits.

Yap, also a lawyer, lauded the role of IRRI, the world’s leading rice research organization, in developing and disseminating these technologies to the rice sector.

“IRRI has been at the forefront of rice science for over 60 years, and has contributed immensely to the food security and livelihoods of millions of rice farmers and consumers. We look forward to more breakthroughs and collaborations from IRRI and its partners in the coming years,” he said.