The world’s first standard for sustainable rice, which sets new and more efficient standards for rice cultivation, was recently unveiled in the Philippines by the Sustainable Rice Platform or SRP.

By Julio P. Yap, Jr.

The SRP, a global alliance of agricultural research institutions, agri-food businesses, members of the public sector, and civil society organizations was convened in October by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). According to the IRRI, the SRP Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation uses environmental and socio-economic benchmarks to maintain yields for rice smallholders, reduce the environmental
footprint of rice cultivation, and eventually meet the consumer needs for food safety and quality.

The development of the standard was led by SRP members, UTZ Certified, Aidenvironment, and IRRI, and draws on global experience in other sustainable commodity initiatives such as sugarcane, cotton, coffee, and palm oil. It is made up of 46 requirements, which cover factors ranging from productivity, food safety, worker health, labor rights, and biodiversity.

It is supplemented by a set of quantitative Performance Indicators to enable farmers and market supply chain actors to gauge the sustainability of a rice system, and to monitor and reward progress.

Rice plays a crucial role in global food security and provides livelihoods for over 140 million smallholders in developing countries like the Philippines. However, the IRRI said that this comes at a price to the environment. Rice cultivation uses 30 to 40 percent of the world’s fresh water and contributes five to 10 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The inefficient use of farm inputs, such as agrochemicals, presents additional challenges to longterm sustainability.

“For most of Asia Pacific, rice is a staple. It is part of the social fabric and influences many aspects of our lives—economic, social, and religious. The SRP Standard and Indicators will help ensure that the cultivation of this vital commodity becomes more sustainable and benefits people, communities and the planet,” said Kaveh Zahedi, UNEP Regional Representative and Regional Director of the UNEP Regional Office of Asia and the Pacific.

“The SRP Standard represents the world’s first initiative that will set environmentally sustainable and socially responsible rice production management standards. Our key challenge now is to incentivize and scale up adoption, especially among resource-poor small farmers,” Robert Zeigler, director general of IRRI, which co-founded the SRP, added.

The SRP Standard and Indicators will be field-tested and validated by national government agencies, research institutes, and private companies in a multi-location farm trial to be coordinated by the SRP and IRRI. Ultimately, IRRI said, the Standard and Indicators are intended both as a basis for certification of value-added rice products and also as a benchmark for policymakers.

SRP is a global multi-stakeholder alliance co-convened by the UNEP and IRRI, with 29 institutional stakeholders including public and private sector stakeholders, research, financial institutions, and non-profits. The SRP aims to help rice farmers—whether subsistence or market-focused—produce more efficiently, enhance their livelihoods, and keep the environment healthy.

The SRP also promotes resource use efficiency and climate change resilience in rice systems, both on-farm and throughout value chains, and pursues voluntary market transformation initiatives by developing sustainable production standards, incentive schemes, and outreach mechanisms to boost wide-scale adoption of sustainable best practices throughout rice value chains.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s December 2015 issue.