When implemented, the indicators will allow each country to monitor and compare the environmental impact of its rice production with that of its neighbors, and either correct any problems or improve on existing practices. It's the first time anywhere in the world that a series of environmental indicators is being developed to monitor the impact of agricultural production on such a large regional basis.
The five indicators being developed focus on the following environmental factors: production, biodiversity, pollution, land degradation, and water.
Announcing the initiative at a special World Environment Day event (held on 2 June) in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, IRRI Director General Robert S. Zeigler said: "The aim of such indicators is to provide the members of ASEAN with a set of standards to assess the environmental impact and health and sustainability of their rice production.
"At the moment, it is very difficult for any ASEAN member nation to accurately assess whether its use of pesticides, for example, is appropriate or excessive," Dr. Zeigler explained. "The harmonization of such environmental standards across the ASEAN region is sure to provide a wide range of benefits. To give a simple example, once a standard was agreed on how to measure a person's blood pressure, a whole range of activities and treatments were developed to help a person live a more healthy life.
"The same reasoning could be applied to environmental standards or indicators for ASEAN rice production leading to cleaner water, healthier ecosystems and a better environment for the entire region."
In February, IRRI hosted a workshop ?funded by Malaysia and attended by Malaysian scientists ?to further deve lop ideas for such indicators and to consider ways to have such standards harmonized across ASEAN.
In August, the IRRI-led group will organize another workshop in Malaysia to evaluate and add indicators, especially on the socioeconomic dimensions of rice production. This, we hope, will allow ASEAN members to much better assess the impact of environmental problems, especially in comparison with each other.
"This is an exciting initiative for rice production in the region that will lead not only to a cleaner, greener rice industry in Asia but happier, healthier and wealthier rice farmers as well," Dr. Zeigler told the event in Hanoi.
ASEAN has designated the year 2006 as ASEAN Environment Year (AEY) with the theme "Biodiversity: Our Life, Our Future." The official launch of AEY 2006 was held at the Bogor Botanical Gardens, Bogor, Indonesia, on 18 May 2006 in conjunction with the 189th anniversary of the Bogor Botanical Gardens.
The launch of AEY 2006 aims to raise people's awareness of the region's rich biodiversity, and strengthen regional cooperation and implementation of actions on environmental conservation. It supports ASEAN's commitment to achieve the goals of sustainable development envisaged in ASEAN Vision 2020 on the establishment of a "clean and green ASEAN."
ASEAN Environment Year is celebrated every three years with the aim of promoting environmental awareness at all levels of society, highlighting ASEAN's environmental achievements, and strengthening partnerships among ASEAN member countries as well as the private sector, civil society and nongovernmental organizations in addressing environmental challenges in the region. A series of activities and campaigns addressing the AEY 2006's theme will be carried out in each ASEAN member country throughout this year.