Complex and fragmented, the rice industry produces on average a staggering 480 million metric tonnes (MMT). More than 2 million smallholders work on 160 million hectares of land, but production yields are stalling and environmental concerns are growing.

Rice, A Major Food Staple

Rice is the main staple for 3.5 billion people, delivering 20% of their daily calorie intake. Consumption continues to grow in Asia, and though there are signs of decline in some higher income countries, it remains the fastest growing food staple in Africa and Latin America.

The Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP)

In response to growing concerns, the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP), a multi-stakeholder alliance, was established in 2011 to promote efficient use of resources, improve climate change resilience in rice production, contribute to food security and improve smallholder incomes.

From its earliest days, and the publication of its Guidelines for Sustainable Rice Production in 2013, the SRP has pursued voluntary market transformation initiatives by developing and implementing guidelines, performance indicators and more recently the Standard on Sustainable Rice Cultivation v1.0 in 2015.

Hot Source spoke to Geert Eenhoorn, Project Manager Rice, to learn more.

How Did UTZ Become Involved?

UTZ joined the SRP early in the process of developing sustainability guidance and standards for the rice business. The UTZ name is perhaps best known for its voluntary standards for tea, coffee and cocoa, but sustainability goes beyond these cash crops and is just as important for staples such as rice – if not more so.

Why Focus On Rice?

The production of rice involves lots of smallholder farms and lots of environmental impacts. At UTZ, we felt that this was an initiative where we can play an important role.

With production currently standing at 480 MMT annually, compared to coffee production of 9 MMT or palm oil at 65 MMT, it is obvious that the scope for creating positive impact on the market, farmers, the environment and consumers is far greater. Much of the rice produced is consumed in its country of origin, with just 1.5% consumed in OECD countries (less than one third of which they produce themselves).

For UTZ and the SRP it’s not merely about adding a certification mark to the end-product, the Standard on Sustainable Rice Cultivation is about making a difference to farming, farmers and the environment around the globe.

How Did The Process To Develop The Standard Start?

Development of any standard involves extensive stakeholder consultation, and alignment, to ensure all information, the background of all participants, their needs and interests, is reflected in the standard itself.

Last year we also went into the field. We were keen to test the standard and help farmers in pilot schemes to complete the assurance process. Plus, we needed to find out, in field conditions, how third party auditors assess against the new standard. On the go we trained the first three certification bodies (CBs) on the SRP’s behalf, including SGS.

What Did The UTZ Assurance Pilots Involve And Where Did They Take Place?

Working with more than 300 farmers across India, Pakistan and Thailand there were two elements to each pilot. Working in collaborative groups, we trained farmers and farmer groups on how to data collection and record keeping, focusing on how to engage them and identify additional training needs. This is the so-called Internal Management System. The second element related to training auditors, who we also accompanied on their first field visit to see how they interpreted the Standard and assessed the farmer groups. It is important to note that these were learning exercises, and the Standard will not be a static document, we are still developing tools, version 1.0 is early days.

Other SRP members also piloted the standard and performance indicators, without the assurance element. So already hundreds more farmers are working with the SRP in countries including Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Brazil.

How Does The Standard Measure Success?

Addressing the challenges faced by the full range of businesses, the SRP has developed a set of 12 performance indicators that can be scaled to suit. In a departure from the traditional pass/fail standard, the inclusion of these indicators help to drive a culture of continuous improvement. The performance indicators include profitability, productivity - labor, yield, and water, food safety, nutrient use efficiency: N, nutrient use efficiency: P, pesticide use efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, health and safety, child labor and women’s empowerment.

From smallholders to larger rice producers, across the globe there is increasing awareness of food quality and safety issues, and a desire to reduce the impact of their activities on the environment.

What is the benefit of completing the SRP assurance process?

We’re striving for a multi-layer assurance system, where we not only provide support to smallholders and rice producers, but also use assurance for the benefit of the wider industry and local authorities. For example, implementing the standard and the first level assurance process enables policymakers and local authorities to prove that their farmers are moving towards more sustainable ways of working. This then allows them to claim climate funds or report on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This means sustainable farming can be promoted at policy level, which makes this a very exciting development!

What Is UTZ And The SRP’s Target For The Standard?

It is SRPs target to encourage 1 million farmers to adopt climate-smart sustainable best practices by 2021. It seems very ambitious, but by linking the 3-level assurance system, to the many initiatives of the SRP members this should be achievable.

SGS Rice Services

With testing laboratories across the world’s rice producing countries, SGS delivers the widest range of services to ensure the quality and safety of rice crops. Rice authentication, conducted using DNA analysis by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT PCR), offers scalable throughput and rapid results to combat product substitution. From contamination, to GMO determination and pesticide residue analysis, we have the capabilities to deliver accurate analyses in the quickest turnaround times.

Our stock monitoring and fumigation services will minimize the risk of damage and loss, also ensuring that issues can be addressed promptly.

Across the entire value chain our audit and certification services are a benchmark for assurance, giving you the confidence you need to access new markets and establish new business.

For the complete range of SGS services and support visit SGS Food and Safety.

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World Rice Production