Growing Climate Friendly Rice

By Manu Bharadwaj
, 8 minute read

Quick summary: Around 509.87 million metric tonnes of rice were consumed worldwide in the harvest year 2021–2022. Now consider the volume of emissions created to produce such a large amount. Yes, dangerous GHG emissions including nitrous oxide and methane are produced during the manufacturing of rice. Learn about the production of these emissions and how they might be curbed.

More than 60 % of the population in India is engaged in rice growing with more than 80% of them being smallholders. Climate change in the rice value chain will bring serious implications for the livelihood of these farmers and cause food insecurity. 

Rice feeds half the world population but contributes to global warming too. 

This gluten-free grain has various health advantages, including maintaining a healthy weight and blood sugar levels. This rice is not just a source of food security but is also an important source of livelihood for millions. 

The effects of changing climate like droughts, floods, rising temperatures are devastating farmers and their livelihoods. The greenhouse gases Methane, Carbon dioxide and Nitrous oxide are primarily the emitters in the rice value chain. Since methane is a much dangerous emission, it must be controlled through soil, water, and residue management. 

Rice contributes as much carbon as aviation, but we can make it less damaging

Rice Story 

1More than one-fifth of all calories consumed worldwide come from rice, the most popular cereal grain with the third-highest global production. Although Asia and some regions of Africa are good places to grow rice, it can be grown anywhere with good planning and irrigation. 

Seeds are sown in prepared beds, and after 25 to 50 days, the seedlings are transplanted into fields that are surrounded by a pier that is submerged in water. Quality yield depends mainly on irrigation, the quality of seed and the quality of the soil. Rice is produced on clay, silt, or muck depending on the region and the type of climate. 

Rice harvesting is a complex procedure that is done both manually and mechanically. It needs many threshing processes, which are then dried out to reduce the moisture content. The rice that has been harvested is called paddy and is now referred to as brown rice since it is covered by a hull, chaff, or husk. Additionally, milling will result in white rice grains. To give this white rice a glossy look, additional coatings with talc or glucose can be added. Many of the nutrients in brown rice are lost during this milling process which turns it into white rice. 

While most of the rice that is produced around the world is used for human consumption, products of milled rice, like the bran and the rice starch are both used in brewing, distilling, fuels, fertilizer, producing oil and for livestock. 

The rice supply chain functions as a traditional multi-stage supply system. Its basic framework would include farmers as the basic suppliers of paddy, middlemen, processing industries, distributors and retailers.  

Sustainability in the rice value chain is important

Rice is hurting the planet 

By-products of rice farming include methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide. As volumes of production are huge, it accounts for 1.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions and 12% of methane emissions. 

There are several reasons for such emissions; here are a few: 

In most parts of the world, rice is produced in a flooded field. This blocks oxygen from getting into the soil and creates an ideal anaerobic condition for bacteria to develop. This eventually makes way for the decomposition of organic soil matter and the release of Methane. Today at least 25% of GHG emissions are driven by Methane.  

It is said that “for every ton of rice produced, a ton of residue is also produced”. Rice alone contributes to 34% of the total crop residue. This means that after production rice stubble and rice straw are left behind and farmers feel convenient enough to burn or flood such reaming residue to quickly dispose of this huge mess. This act of convenience has led to significant emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and sulphur.  

Another production practice that results in emissions is the excessive usage of nitrogen-based fertilizer; as rice plant has poor absorption, which can increase the emissions of nitrous oxide.

Challenges in tackling Rice emissions

High cost: Indeed, there are technological advancements and machinery developments that help reduce emissions and increase yields. Asia produces the world’s majority of rice and is produced by small farmers. It becomes difficult for these farmers to upgrade to such new machines or technologies. 

No adequate knowledge: rural small farmers aren’t aware of emissions through rice production or climate change. There is a gap between processors and farmers which has kept them grey over these issues. 

Resource availability: climate change has already had its impact on rice production and resources have been scarce in certain parts of the world. Drought, adulterated water, low soil quality, and low quality of yield are a few to name. 

Less government support: Governments, organizations, and regulatory bodies must directly support FPOs and farmers by informing them of such events and contributing financially to such developments.

CSA for rice production

Production practices: implementing CSA practices in aspects of seed, water, fertilizer, tillage and wastes can emissions and increase yields. To reduce the emission of methane and nitrous oxide during production, water management practices like alternate wetting and drying, shallow flooding, land levelling, water treatment, etc. are followed.  

This should be backed up by a sound agriculture practice that promotes soil testing, land levelling, improved seeds, improved tillage and mainly the implication of technology. 

Management of wastes and rice residue: production wastes are called residue and after production (i.e. milling) remains are called wastes. There are multiple uses for rice residue, a farmer only burns or washes it away become of its volume and time consumption. It can be repurposed into organic fertilizers, animal fodder, inputs of bioenergy, etc.  

Post-production milling waste can be reduced by increasing milling efficiency while keeping the quality intact. 

Better risk management: yield smart technologies and practices have to be implemented to cope with contingencies and effects of climate change. Technologies like weather forecasting, pest management systems, seed systems, and nutrient management are available for better data-based decisions.

Learn how VNV advisory connects with TraceX for driving sustainability practices

Technology drivers 

2As you now see, rice requires more water to produce than other grains. As a result, industry goals include making improvements to cut down on such usage. With water becoming more expensive and scarcer, there is a reliance on technology like the internet of things, which uses sensors and data exchange to give an ideal quantity of water usage based on the moisture level of the soil. This is supported by intelligent irrigation systems that control the timing and volume of the water inlet. Automated processes have also reduced the need for labour. 

Another major problem is the removal of post-harvest residue, various advancements and techniques are developed regarding the use and disposal of rice straws and stubble. Machines are mounted on tractors which help collect these residues before mulching the fields. Even though there are debates regarding the cost of acquiring more such machinery there have been around 78% fewer emissions compared to burning. Furthermore, these straws are put to use as raw materials for making paper or medium-density fibreboards, furniture, and pulp board and are also used as feed to livestock. 

With the impacts of climate change on rice production, there has been the development of climate change-ready rice. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has come up with varieties of rice which has features to adapt to these changing climate conditions such as Drought-tolerant rice, Flood-tolerant rice, Salt-tolerant rice, Heat-tolerant rice and Cold-tolerant rice. These are produced by genetically modifying the molecular and physiological process and combining it with available rice genes. 

The China Climate Smart Staple Crop Production Project promotes farmer adoption of CSA package for rice consisting of improved seeds, water and good fertilizers, pesticides, tillage and rice straw management practices. 

Conclusion 

Although we can experience climate change being impacted by rice production, it isn’t too late to turn our rice green. It all has to start with educating the farmer about the issue and working with him in adapting to various new methods, technologies and machines that help increase yields while reducing emissions. Governments, organizations, and regulatory bodies also have to play a major role in developing policies, and incentives and helping farmers achieve their goals. 

TraceX helps companies in their sustainability journey with its blockchain traceability solutions.

Trace Carbon, a one stop carbon management platform helps in measuring, reducing, offsetting and reporting scope 3 emissions for climate action.

Manu Bharadwaj
VP - Growth & Strategy

VP of Growth and Strategy of TraceX Technologies. An engineer turned entrepreneur and a Traceability expert.

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