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Rice (Oryza sativa), one of the three most important food crops in the world, forms the staple diet of 2.7 billion people. It is grown successfully in different parts of the world from 39°S south (Australia) to 50°N latitude (China). It can grow at altitudes ranging from 10 feet below sea level to 10,000 feet above sea level.
Rice is a major food crop that is grown in dry land (or upland) conditions on mountain slopes as well as in wetland conditions in Valley bottoms and in terraced fields. It is a subsistence crop for most farmers. Rice is the longest continuously grown cereal crop in the world and according to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) it is “one of the most important developments in history”. It is grown in all the continents except Antarctica, occupying 150 million hectare (M ha) and producing 573 million tones (Mt) paddy with an average productivity of 3.88 tones per hectare (t ha-1). Its cultivation is of immense importance to food security of Asia, where more than 90% of the global rice is produced and consumed. Rice is seen as a political good in many Asian countries due to its big impact on economy, society and political stability. Rice production is highly diversified and there are strong consumer preferences and a low degree of substitutability in both production and consumption. Almost three billion people worldwide are dependent on rice for their calorie intake, and farming and milling provides employment to many people in the world. In Asia and the Pacific alone, rice production is employing about 300 million people.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations had declared 1966 the Year of Rice. Due to the importance of rice, year 2004 was declared the International Year of Rice by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2002 with the aim of once again turning the attention of the world on rice as an instrument of food security and poverty reduction. This is the second time that the United Nations has paid such a special tribute to rice, the only food crop honoured twice. Rice is the single most important employment and income source for the rural poor. Besides being an essential food, rice is also an important factor in enriching culture, lifestyles and ecosystem functions. Rice is a symbol of cultural identity, global unity and life. Rice has a meaning beyond just food supply and employment in Asia, namely it is also seen as a political good due to its massive influence on social, economic and political stability.
The origin of paddy rice cultivation is located somewhere in the Southeastern part of Asia and is said to date back at least 7,000 years. Since that time, the distribution of paddy rice cultivation has been greatly expanded, but even today it is basically confined to monsoon Asia, near its place of origin. This is not the case for other major cereals such as wheat and maize, which have expanded their area of distribution throughout the world. Kawaguchi and Kyuma consider that this specific distribution pattern of rice is the result of two factors. One is the concentration of rainfall, often more than 1000 mm during the rainy season and the other is the very large expanse of lowlands in monsoon Asia. This indicates that tropical Asia, with only 1/13 of the world's land area, has more than 1/3 of the potentially arable lowlands. Rice is the crop best suited to such lowlands, where water inundates naturally as rainfalls and rivers flood. Thus, a unique combination of climate and landform has helped create the paddy rice system in Asia.
The rice-plant is a type of grass whose grain is what we call rice. The rice takes between 90 to 200 days to mature and there exist about 1, 20,000 different types of rice, both cultivated and wild varieties. In the International rice gene bank at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) there are more than 1, 00,000 rice accessions stored. Differences between species are based on characteristics such as biotic factors; productivity, resistance to disease and insects, and so called non-biotic factors, toleration of cold and drought etc. and many other variables. The genus Oryza has two cultivated and 22 wild species. Of the two cultivated species, O. sativa (2n=24 AA), commonly referred to as Asian rice, is grown worldwide, whereas O. glaberrima (2n=24 AA), “African rice,” is cultivated in a limited area in West Africa. Rice grown in Asia has two subspecies Oryza sativa L. subsp. india which originated in India and Oryza sativa L. subsp. japonica which has its origin in the eastern part of Asia. Rice can be divided into different groups depending on its characteristics and is usually classified after the shape of the grain and its kernel form. Rice is divided into long-, medium- and short-grain varieties, where long-grain rice is usually longer than 6.2 millimeters (mm) or about three times long of its width. Medium-grain rice is approximately 2.1 to 2.9 times long of it is width. And last, the category short-grain rice is less then twice as long as it is wide. Rice can be divided into different sub-groups such as aromatic rice which includes types of rice with strong tastes such as jasmine and Basmati, which are both long-grain and non-glutinous. Another group is glutinous rice, also called sticky rice, which contains a high degree of starch and of which there are both long- and short grain varieties. Fourteen different varieties of rice are grown in different areas and are also consumed in different parts of the world.
Rice and rice-based products derived from rice grain and rice flour include parboiled rice; quick-cooking rice and ready to eat convenience foods; rice flours; rice starch; cakes and puddings; baked breads and crackers; breakfast cereals and expanded rice products; extrusion-cooked and puffed rice snacks; noodles, paper and pasta; by/weaning foods; fermented foods and beverages; pet foods; and bran products. Rice is processed and used as various kinds of foodstuffs besides direct food use, such as parboiled rice, fermented rice wine, rice noodles, rice crackers, rice cakes, rice snacks, rice flour, and other fermented rice products.
Indian economy is mainly based on agriculture. Growth rate for overall GDP of India was 8.5% whereas for agriculture and allied sectors it was 10%. India is the largest growing country (8°N to 34°N latitude) of the rice under varying climatic conditions and it accounts for more than 40% of food grain production, providing direct employment to 70% people in rural areas. Being the staple food for more than 65% of the people, our national food security hinges on growth and stability of its production.
Mohammad Shamim, K.K. Singh, B.Gangwar, Sunil Kumar and Vinay Prasad Mandal
Project Directorate for Farming Systems Research, Modipuram-250110
Dr. Mohammad Shamim, Project Directorate for Farming Systems Research, Modipuram-250110