If an alien spaceship were to randomly descend to the one third of our planet that is not covered by ocean, chances are high that it would land on a rice field.
So I was told a few years ago, when spending time with some rice researchers. Rice is the most widely cultivated food crop in the world. It is also the most important staple food for a large part of the world’s human population, especially in East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America and the West Indies. From risotto to sushi to paella, food-savvy consumers are using rice as the main ingredient in recipes from around the world. Rice lends substance and texture to many dishes.
Despite all this, rice is under some pressures both economically and culturally. For one thing, it has been taken for granted by many of those who regularly have a ‘rice day’ and think nothing further about it.
That’s the reason for the first-ever Asia Pacific Rice Film Award – a regional competition to celebrate the role of rice in Asian cultures and societies. This is a regional partnership involving Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PAN-AP), my own organisation TVE Asia Pacific and Public Media Agency of Malaysia.I have just given an interview to TimeOut Kuala Lumpur magazine, October 2009 issue. In my capacity as head of the seven-member international jury, I answered questions from the magazine’s Brian Kwan. Here is the full text of the interview, which is also available online here:
How effective do you think this award will be?
When we set out on this joint effort, we posed two big questions: What feeds 3 billion people? And what is slowly but surely disappearing without anyone noticing it? The answer to both questions is Rice! We wanted this film award to draw attention to the central role that rice plays in Asian and Pacific cultures and economies. The measure of our success will be a long term one, and will depend on how many take part in this competition and how far and wide we will be able to distribute their creative efforts.
Why do you think Asia is in need for a wake up call on the subject of rice?
Rice one of our most revered treasures in the Asia Pacific, and many of us take it for granted. It is central to the Asian way of life — its cultural heritage and diversity, spirituality and traditions. This precious rice heritage is under threat from corporate or industrialized agriculture, neo-liberal globalization, private control of the rice seeds, and genetic engineering of the rice genome. Rice lands are also being torn away from small rice farming communities in the name of “development” projects such as special economic zones, cash cropping, and agro-fuel plantations.
Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PAN-AP) has for the last two decades championed the food sovereignty of the grassroots, namely, farmers, agricultural workers, indigenous people and consumers. In 2003, PAN-AP launched the SAVE OUR RICE CAMPAIGN. It is founded on Five Pillars of Rice Wisdom: Rice Culture, Community Wisdom, Biodiversity based Ecological Agriculture, Safe Food and Food Sovereignty. Last year, PAN-AP joined TVE Asia Pacific and Public Media Agency to organise this film competition as part of the on-going campaign. We all share the ideals of promoting rice in Asia and the Pacific.What would you be looking out for in the short films?
The Asia Pacific Rice Film Award will be presented to creators of short innovative television, video or cinematic films that effectively educate the public on the role of rice in Asian cultures, economies and communities/societies. The films should use the ‘Five Pillars of Rice Wisdom’ as guiding principles. They should enhance appreciation of the rice heritage of Asia; raise public awareness of the issues on and threats to rice; highlight the role of small farmers, women in rice; strengthen the people’s resolve and action to save rice; and encourage a stronger role for youth in rice.
Any tips for the participants?
We are looking for short films that are innovative, imaginative and ultimately effective in raising public awareness. Rice may be a pervasive topic in Asia, but the threats to rice are not yet widely appreciated. How do we take this message to the three billion rice growers and eaters of Asia using moving images? How do we engage the YouTube generation – predominantly youthful populations of Asia – with films that open eyes and provoke minds to think further? What would work best — factual reportage, drama, humour, performing arts or other formats? These questions are worth pondering. As organisers, we are open to all formats. We want to be surprised!
After all this, what would be the next step/project?
As I said, this is an on-going campaign, so the winning and commended entries will become new tools and resources for that campaign. Making films and ranking them is only the first half of our shared challenge. We then have to get these films distributed far and wide, using broadcast, narrowcast, webcast and mobile platforms. Three billion people means six billion eye balls that need to be reached! That should keep all of us busy for a while…
Deadline for entries is 31 December 2009!