New Delhi, Oct 9 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday urged scientists to study ways to boost rice productivity and stressed the need for a multilateral trade regime that enables rice farmers to harness the full potential of their resources.
'We in India are concerned that the growth rate of both production and productivity in rice cultivation in the country has tapered off in recent years. We need a new boost to rice production and productivity,' said Manmohan Singh addressing the second International Rice Congress 2006 (IRC2006).
Stressing the importance of increasing rice production both domestically and globally to address issues of hunger and malnutrition, the prime minister said, 'We need both a second green revolution in rice, and more importantly an improvement in the economics of rice cultivation and resource use.'
Agriculture scientist and chairman of National Commission on Farmers M.S. Swaminathan also stressed the need for science and technology and trade offering a complete spectrum of solutions for the rice farmers to boost the yield.
While recognising the potential of biotechnology to provide solutions, the prime minister urged a cautious approach.
'Beyond questions of science, a number of profound social, economic and ethical questions are associated with biotechnology,' he told around 1,200 scientists from 40 countries attending the IRC2006.
'We need to strike a balance between using the potential of biotechnology to meet the requirements of hungry people while addressing ethical concerns about interfering with nature,' the prime minister said, highlighting the concerns of environmentalists.
The conference that goes on till Oct 13 will aim at fostering partnerships in research, development and trade to boost the production of rice, which is a vital staple food for more than half of the world's population.
India ranks first in area (42.4 million hectares) and second in rice production (87.6 million tonnes.) with its area and production accounting for 27.5 percent and 14.5 percent of the global share respectively. Rice has a 43 percent share in the food grain production in the country.
Water shortage is posing a major threat in India in areas where rice is grown under irrigated conditions.
'This is forcing a paradigm shift towards maximising output per unit of water instead of per unit of land,' the prime minister said.
'Indeed, increasing output per unit of water is a larger challenge facing Indian agriculture as a whole. We need scientific, technological, economic and importantly, institutional responses to meet this challenge,' he added.
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar pointed out that rice demand globally is projected to reach 515 million tonnes in the next 25 years to feed about 8.3 billion people.
'The challenge lies in achieving the targets primarily by enhancement in the productivity,' said Pawar.
Given the shrinking land holdings and availability of water, Pawar admitted the challenge is daunting.
The agriculture minister felt biotechnology and introduction of hybrid high yielding varieties of rice could provide the answer.
'Maintaining and conserving rice biodiversity and utilising it intelligently fo