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New rice varieties 'can temper high prices'

Manila, March 1, 2011

Rice prices are likely to remain high as demand rises, but countries can boost supply and temper prices by switching to climate change-ready varieties, the head of a rice research agency said on Monday.

'We expect global demand in rice to be strong for the foreseeable future as the population grows,' said Robert Zeigler, director general at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Meanwhile, weather conditions are expected to be more severe in the coming years, with more frequent droughts and flooding that would stall rice production.

IRRI has developed new rice varieties that can help farmers boost production even in extreme weather conditions, Zeigler said.

'We have developed flood-tolerant varieties that have already been released in the Philippines and Bangladesh, and farmers are very happy with the yield and the quality,' he said, adding that IRRI remained confident of developing more climate change-ready varieties.

The Philippines has set a target of attaining rice self-sufficiency by 2013, and it plans to do so by using climate-change ready rice varieties.

Rice, consumed by nearly half of the world's population, has so far stayed below record-high prices hit in 2008, unlike recent prices of most other grains such wheat and soybeans.

'We see prices trending upwards,' Zeigler told Reuters after hosting an exhibit of rice varieties at the agency's 250-hectare facility in Laguna province south of the capital, Manila.

'Growth (in demand) will continue to be strong in Sub-Saharan Africa, in Latin America, and certainly in the Middle East,' he said.

The benchmark 100 per cent B grade white rice from Thailand, the world's biggest rice exporter, stood at $535 per tonne, unchanged from last week and steady from the start of the year. But Vietnamese rice prices are on the rise on strong demand and with local rice firms beginning to stockpile.

Zeigler said countries must keep rice supply stable and prices affordable as demand grows amid the changing weather patterns that impact crop production.

'We had a wake-up call in 2007 and 2008, when the price spiked and many of us had said that was just the beginning,' he said.

Zeigler said countries, especially those with huge rice requirements, should invest more to improve irrigation systems, storage facilities and research.-Reuters




Tags: agriculture | farming | Manila | Crops | food grains | International Rice Research Institute |

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