The Future of Rice
Posted on 18 Jan 2024
“If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years to educate children.” - Confucius
Over half of the world’s population consumes rice. It is the staple food for an estimated three billion people, with some strains found to date back 10,000 years. The intense nature of its cultivation is putting increasing pressure on natural resources, especially water in regions of the world that can ill afford to waste a single drop. Its cultivation, like many other crops, is also under pressure from the effects of climate change. However, unlike many other crops, it is also significantly adding to greenhouse gas emissions in itself. Rice growing accounts for 8% of global methane emissions - to put that into perspective, the combined methane contribution of coal, oil and gas is 35%.
Rice farmers face multiple challenges, from too little water to germinate the seedlings, too much water that engulfs the mature plant, intrusive salt water that damages the plants and warmer average temperature that reduces yields. As a result, growers are adapting their growing techniques, as well as looking into breeding new rice varieties that are more resistant to higher temperatures. But farmers are not just looking to technology, they are also looking into planting historic strains that they think might prove more suitable to the changing climate.
The carbon footprint of rice
The bacteria that is naturally abundant in the flooded fields in which rice is grown releases methane as a result of the decomposition of organic matter, mainly rice straw residue. Also, as rice tends to be ineffective at absorbing the often overused nitrogen-based fertilizers used by farmers, there tends to be high nitrous oxide emissions as well. In addition, the practice of burning rice residues, a traditional way for farmers to dispose of the byproducts of rice farming, can significantly add to greenhouse gas emissions. For example, in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, 80% of the 29 million tons of rice straw produced each year is burned.
There are a number of relatively low-cost, yet effective measures that can be used to help mitigate against the carbon emissions of rice growing. Centered around improving irrigation, land leveling, and the use of more suitable rice seeds that are more naturally drought, pest and flood resistant, but also provide higher yields. Also, improvements in tillage techniques, fertilizer usage, and the application of digital technologies all contribute to a greener and more sustainable rice growing industry.
Some other practices that are being used are:
Better management of rice residues:
Using rice residues such as straw and rice husks for other purposes, such as animal fodder, growing beds for other crops such as mushrooms and the fuel for bio-energy production.
Reducing food loss and waste:
Techniques such as the increase of rice milling efficiency to a level of 70%, and the modernisation of storage facilities to improve the preservation of the quality of the rice can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in such a large industry. For example, if the milling efficiency was increased by an achievable 5% in Indonesia and Vietnam, an extra 4.9 million tons of rice would be produced for sale, rather than wasted as a by product.
Increasing the overall efficiency of rice production would allow farmers to repurpose land for other crops that would create both environmental and financial sustainability for the sector.
Historically, the Green Revolution that started in the 1960s originally focussed on increasing the overall productivity and output of rice farms, with little regard for the environmental impact of high-volume rice production. Subsequently in the 1980s, the Second Green Revolution made climate resilience as important as productivity. Today, digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, internet of things, blockchains and cloud computing are seen as being key elements in creating a sustainable rice industry.
Due to the location of many rice farms, financing is also seen as being a key element in the transition to a greener method of production. The Sustainable Rice Landscapes Initiative has created a targeted agro-economic framework that targets not just the farmers themselves, but the supporting industries, supply chains and research that surround this global industry.
OpenWeather for Agriculture
For almost all forms of agriculture, having a suite of agro weather products that can be used by themselves, or integrated into other systems to give agro relevant weather data can play a major role in reducing carbon emissions, improving resilience and managing the effects of climate change.
For example, with our Agro API, developers can quickly and easily implement multi-spectrum satellite imagery, vegetation indices and weather data by the user's polygon for the most recent day or for a day in the past to your projects.
The OpenWeather Agro Dashboard is a visual service that helps monitor field states over the years. The service operates with satellite imagery and weather data along with advanced machine learning technologies.
As Confucius understood, although planting rice and trees was important, the continued process of learning, and understanding more about our environment and weather is a key element in creating a productive and sustainable farming industry of tomorrow.
OpenWeather provides weather data for any location on the globe using a proprietary hyperlocal forecasting model with a resolution from 500 m to 2 km, globally. More than 6,000,000 customers from logistics, agriculture, insurance, energy, retail, and many other sectors, are working with the company's weather products.
OpenWeather cooperates with global meteorological agencies such as MetOffice and NOAA, and enhances its model with data from radars, weather stations and satellites. The company provides great availability of service at 99.9% for enterprise-level products.
The products can be easily integrated into complex IT systems and are ideal for ML analytic systems. OpenWeather is a member of Royal Meteorological Society and an Achilles-certified supplier. OpenWeather ethical initiatives include support of educators and students, not-for-profit subscriptions for the general public to increase weather awareness, and recent Ukrainian donation programme.
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