Over a thousand delegates at the International Rice Congress currently underway in Beijing, are grappling with huge issues affecting the crop that feeds almost half the world.

Rice is considered the basis of food security and social stability in many large and influential nations, such as China and India, and the industry is confronting major dilemmas. How, for instance, can producers grow sufficient rice to feed the growing population of the planet without using more land, water and labour?

The International Rice Research Conference and the World Rice Commerce Conference, being held side-by-side in Beijing, are designed to address just these issues. Delegates from many of the world's major rice-producing countries have travelled to Beijing, including many politicians.

A special 'ministerial roundtable' kicked the Congress off on Sunday, prompting comment from Ronald P Cantrell, director-general of the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute. "Bringing together for the first time some of the world's largest rice producers - notably China, India and Indonesia - it comes at a crucial time in the history of rice improvement, with the sequencing of the rice genome under the leadership of the rice-growing countries themselves."

The impact of liberalisation on the rice trade is slated to be a hot topic at the Congress, as well as the poverty trap that ensnares millions of rice farmers, the Nation newspaper reported.