Have you seen this headline and wondered what it is all about?
Rice is the 3rd largest crop in the world, it provides 20% of all calories consumed worldwide, and has DOUBLE the carbon footprint of wheat. It accounts for around 2.5% of all global human-induced GHG emissions, rice’s climate footprint is similar to that of the aviation industry.
The largest producers of rice are, probably not surprisingly, India and China. The traditional, and most commonly used, method of rice production requires the flooding of large areas of land in order to grow the rice. This presents two very real problems:
1. the need for large amounts of fresh water and;
2. the release of methane into the atmosphere.
The need for large amounts of water might be obvious but there is also the issue of the production of methane. Rice grows mostly in flooded fields called rice paddies. The water blocks oxygen from penetrating the soil, creating ideal conditions for bacteria that emit methane. The longer the flooding lasts, the more those bacteria build up and the more methane is released into the atmosphere.
What can we do to help?
Firstly, its important to remember that rice is important culturally and nutritionally for billions of people around the world, and compared to animal based foods has one of the smallest footprints per ton of protein.
Stopping the production of rice is not the answer – farming it more sustainably is. Two methods which have been shown in the US to reduce water usage and also methane creation are:
a) reduce flooding time and;
b) create a field surface where water run off can be easily captured and reused.
Unless you are a rice farmer its difficult to see how you can help, the cogs of the corporate machine need to get whirring on this one.
But there is one thing you can do – buy organic (and if possible, reduce your consumption of rice).
The use of fertilisers in rice farming plus the extreme flooding of the fields mean that pesticides and fertilisers are spread far and wide and are hugely damaging for our pollinator and ecosystems. Buying organic helps prevent this.
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