Decisive and urgent action needed to save Asian rice and small-holder farmers

Friday, March 22, 2019
Urgent action needed for Asia's rice farmers

The Asian rice sector is in a deep crisis with worsening inequality and declining productivity with its survival dependent on immediate and large-scale action by governments and the private sector, finds fresh research by Oxfam in Asia published in its report ‘Unfair Harvest- State of Rice in Asia’.

While several major problems are plaguing the rice sector, the report highlights three extremely crucial areas: First is the status of women farmers and their lack of influence to change the unfair conditions plaguing them every day. Second is the growing role of the private sector where farmers’ incomes and wellbeing are shunned in the all-out drive for maximizing profits and the businesses’ unrealized potential for positive change through more inclusive models. The third is the need to urgently address climate change which has caused havoc devastating the crops of millions of farmers across Asia already.

Reports from Pakistan and Nepal have highlighted how women farmers suffer the worst of the inequality prevalent in the sector. In Pakistan, women in small-scale agriculture earn about half of the men’s wages, have no negotiating power with employers, suffer unsafe working environments and long hours laboring in farms, and are on top, also responsible for unpaid care of their households.

Oxfam’s data from three countries- Pakistan, Nepal and Vietnam, which are at various stages of rice value chain modernization and private sector consolidation, have shown that farmers’ incomes are grossly inadequate for a decent living. In Nepal, farmers earn only 13% of the living income, while Pakistani and Vietnamese farmers are only earning marginally better at 17% and 26% of the national living income.

“Our findings basically corroborate the growing realization that the process of “modernization” in the rice value chain and possibly most other agricultural value chains through increased use of artificial inputs, mechanization, the consolidation of the midstream and downstream value chain in terms of milling, procurement and retail have largely failed our smallholder farmers. There is acute farm distress, and only immediate visionary and innovative interventions by governments and businesses can ensure the survival and prosperity for all in the sector,” said Siddharth Sreenivas, Food and Climate Justice Lead with Oxfam in Asia.

The research also shows that production costs and retailers’ share of value have risen steadily since 2007 in all the countries studied. However, prices for farmers have fallen drastically cutting their ability to earn a livable income. Farmers receive as low as 4% of the price paid by consumers, depending on the type of rice and the final market.

Across global agriculture value chains since 1995, the share that goes to supermarkets has grown by over 11 percent while that going to farmers has reduced by 13 percent, found Oxfam report ‘Ripe for Change’ released in 2018. 

Climate Change is a poverty multiplier, worsening the prospects particularly for the poorest farmers struggling to make ends meet. With extreme weather events constantly on the rise, climate change keeps creating havoc for rice farmers in Asia devastating their cultivations, reducing yields, and increasing salinity which reduces land fertility. 

In turn, rice cultivation is also a huge contributor to increasing global warming with emissions from the rice sector at some of the highest levels among food crops globally.

Our report calls for immediate action. Only urgent and decisive action by the governments and the businesses with power can save the Asian rice sector and the farmers who’ve been feeding billions across Asia for millennia.

We ask the governments to:

• Introduce and enforce laws to protect labor rights and women’s rights, including guaranteeing adequate minimum prices for small-scale farmers and guaranteeing equal pay and conditions between women and men.

• Support alternative business models that work with and strengthen cooperatives and agricultural collectives, including in the informal sector.

• Enact and enforce policies to improve access to resources and opportunities for small-scale producers and women, including supporting farmers to move to more sustainable production methods.

• Create incentives for businesses to implement sustainability standards which benefit smallholder farmers.

We ask the private sector to:

• Uphold the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

• Iimplement inclusive and gender-sensitive practices and standards, and promote standards that focus on smallholder interests, gender equality, and climate change.

• Guarantee safe working conditions and equal opportunities for women throughout their value chain.


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Contact information: 

For interview opportunities and further information please contact:

Siddharth Sreenivas

Food & Climate Justice Campaign Lead, Asia Platform

Oxfam International

Based in New Delhi, India

+91 9741001013

Skype: sid.sreenivas