Rice and Quinoa
Rice is the most widely consumed food in the world, and is the staple food for about three billion people – or half the world’s population. 90% of the world’s rice is produced in Asia, with 50% of that grown in China and India. Five countries (Thailand, Vietnam, India, China and the United States) account for about 75% of global export supplies of rice. There are three types of kernel sizes – long grain, medium grain and short/round grain, which are then categorized into four main rice types: brown, white, red and other (such as arborio and basmati).
- Due to concerns over food and livelihood security in rice producing and consuming countries, governments rely heavily on agriculture and trade policies – such as import tariffs – to safeguard the industry and protect against low-cost imports from flooding the market, whether from competitive rice producers such as Vietnam and Thailand, or heavily-subsided sources in developing countries such as the United States.
- In many regions it is becoming increasingly difficult, if not completely impossible, to sell domestic rice at sustainable prices because of trade liberalisation policies where subsidised rice from highly efficient producer countries such as the US and Japan is sold in foreign markets at prices below production costs.6 For example, in 2003, US rice farmers received $1.3 billion in subsidies for crops that cost them $1.8 billion to grow, therefore, the US government effectively paid for 72% of the cost of rice production.
- Current negotiations which started with the Doha Round of multilateral trade talks with the WTO will determine the extent to which developing countries must lower their tariff ceilings for rice.
- Since rice is the main source of calorie intake for about three billion people - half of the world’s population - and a mainstay for rural populations and food security in many developing countries, all three WTO pillars are relevant to negotiations: export subsidies and competition, market access, and domestic support.
Chemicals and Environmental Impacts
- Due to economic realities, farmers often select seeds based primarily on high-yield results , which has the affect of shrinking the gene base and leads to the loss of pest-resistant traditional varieties.
- India, for example, had over 30,000 varieties of rice at the beginning of the 20th century, however, currently only 10 varieties are grown in 75% of the country’s rice fields.
Additionally, in 2001, there were 250 patents granted for intellectual property rights on rice. 61% were owned by 6 multinational companies, and 70% of the global pesticides market were controlled between those 6 companies.10 Those 6 companies are Aventis, Dow, Du Pont, Mitsui, Monsanto and Syngenta.
- The excessive use of fertilisers reduces biodiversity in paddy fields and pollutes waterways. Pesticides are often mishandled, leading to the contamination of local wildlife.
- There have been increasing efforts to adopt safer alternatives to pesticides, especially in cash crops like rice, but the financial constraints of farmers may hinder these efforts. Expired, banned and illegally imported pesticides were utilized on a large scale in the regions studied.
- Farmers become deeply trapped in debt when dealing with rising costs but falling prices for crops, which can be due to import competition or consumer power.
- Going into debt to buy ‘improved’ seeds and the associated chemicals, these farmers are often unable to ever to profit enough to get out of debt. Ultimately, they are forced to sell what little land they own.
- In Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the use of varieties of crops requiring the more expensive chemicals has coincided with higher incident reports of suicides among smallholders.
Why Fair Trade?
- Environmental Sustainability
- Environmental standards restrict the use of agrochemicals, ban genetically modified plants, and encourage sustainability
- Community Building
- Producers are small family farms organized in cooperatives (or associations) which they own and govern democratically.
- A Fairtrade Premium is paid on top of the purchase price. This is used by cooperatives for social and economic investments such as education, health services, processing equipment, and loans to members.
- Economic Empowerment
- The Minimum Price is paid directly to the producer cooperatives.
- Pre-harvest lines of credit are given to the cooperatives if requested, of up to 50% of the purchase price.
- Case Studies – Examples of Fair Trade Premium Use
- Federation of Small Farmers’ Associations of Khaddar Area, North India and Sunstar Overseas Ltd 18
- Infrastructure improvements for schools and roads such as construction of a number of small bridges over drains which overflow and make some villages inaccessible during rainy season.
- Proposed loan fund where revolving soft loans would enable members to reduce their debt and the capital fund would grow through the interest payments
- Boonjira Tanruang, Green Net Co-operative, Thailand 19
- Since 2006 the members have decided to divide the income from the Fairtrade Premium as follows:
- 70% to be kept for revolving fund to support sustainable agriculture
- 10% for community and public facilities such as road repair, supporting activities in the villages etc
- 15% for welfare of organic farmers e.g. insurance, other cultural and socioeconomic reasons
- 5% for administrative expenses
Quinoa is a small round seed grown in the Andes in South America. This sacred grain has been in use since before 3000 B.C.. Quinoa is a plant that can be grown in adverse weather conditions - in infertile soil, dry temperatures, and at high altitude. It grows best at altitudes of between 2500 and 4000 metres above sea level, and can grow with as little as 5 centimetres of rain.
There are over 2000 varieties of quinoa available in various colours ranging from dark brown to near-white. While used as a grain, quinoa is actually a seed of theChenopodium plant. The plants grow 1-2 metres high, and have large, green, spinach-like leaves that can also be eaten. The plant takes 5 to 7 months to mature.
Quinoa is high in protein, calcium, iron, and phosphorus, and is a good source of vitamin E and several B vitamins. It is considered a complete protein as it contains all eight essential amino acids.
Quinoa can be cooked in a variety of ways, including boiled, toasted, ground into flour, and fermented into a beer. Quinoa also has the potential for increased use in industrial products, including soap and a wide variety of food and pharmaceutical products.
- This grain can be found in over 2000 varieties
- It is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all eight essential amino acids
- It can be cooked in a wide variety of ways, making it versatile protein source
Many farmers have been forced to sell their crops at reduced rates, which deepened the need to move towards Fair Trade certification for many producers. The Fair Trade system has given many producers a stable income, premiums, and the ability to live a dignified life.
Books and Literature
- Rice: Origin, Antiquity and History, S. D. Sharma, 2010, Science Publishers and CRC Press
- Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas, Judith A. Carney, 2002, Harvard University Press
Films and Documentaries
Meet the Farmer/Producer
1”Oxfam Briefing Paper – Kicking Down the Door: How Upcoming WTO Talks Threaten Farmers in Poor Countries” Oxfam International (2005) p. 2 Retrieved from:
2“Grains and Cereals” Fair Trade Canada. n.d. Retrieved from:
3”FAO Trade Policy Briefs – Note No. 12: Rice Liberalization: Predicting Trade and Price Impacts” Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) n.d. p. 1 Retrieved from:
4“Rice: Quality” United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) (2011). Retrieved from: http://r0.unctad.org/infocomm/anglais/rice/quality.htm
5 ”Oxfam Briefing Paper – Kicking Down the Door: How Upcoming WTO Talks Threaten Farmers in Poor Countries” Oxfam International (2005) p. 2
6 “Rice” Fair Trade International. n.d. http://www.fairtrade.net/rice.html
7 ”Oxfam Briefing Paper – Kicking Down the Door: How Upcoming WTO Talks Threaten Farmers in Poor Countries” Oxfam International (2005) p. 4
8”FAO Trade Policy Briefs – Note No. 12: Rice Liberalization: Predicting Trade and Price Impacts” Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) n.d. p.2
9 “Oxfam Briefing Paper – Kicking Down the Door: How Upcoming WTO Talks Threaten Farmers in Poor Countries” Oxfam International (2005) p. 20
10 “Oxfam Briefing Paper – Kicking Down the Door: How Upcoming WTO Talks Threaten Farmers in Poor Countries” Oxfam International (2005) p. 20
11”Crops and Robbers” Action Aid (2001) p. 3 Retrieved from: http://www.actionaid.org.uk/doc_lib/crops_robbers.pdf
12Oxfam Briefing Paper – Kicking Down the Door: How Upcoming WTO Talks Threaten Farmers in Poor Countries” Oxfam International (2005) p. 20
13 Marzban A., Sheikdavoodi M. J., Almassi M., Bahrami H., Abdeshahi A., Shishebor P. “Pesticide Application Poisoning Incident among Iranian Rice Growers and Factors Influence It” International Research Journal of Applied and Basic Sciences. (2012) p. 381 Retrieved from:
14 “Oxfam Briefing Paper – Kicking Down the Door: How Upcoming WTO Talks Threaten Farmers in Poor Countries” Oxfam International (2005) p. 20
15“Rice” Fair Trade International. n.d.
16 “Oxfam Briefing Paper – Kicking Down the Door: How Upcoming WTO Talks Threaten Farmers in Poor Countries” Oxfam International (2005) p. 21
17 “Rice” Fair Trade International. n.d.
18 “Federation of Small Farmers’ Associations of Khaddar Area, North India and Sunstar Overseas Ltd” Fair Trade Foundation (2005) http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/producers/rice/federation_of_small_farmers_a...
19 “Boonjira Tanruang, Green Net Co-operative, Thailand” Trade Foundation (2005)