Monday, July 24, 2023

Nature-based innovations for climate-resilient rice production

Rice, a versatile crop grown in diverse agro-ecologies, is vulnerable to environmental shifts, especially due to its substantial water requirements. The water foot print of rice is very high. About 3000 to 4000 liters of water is required to produce a kilogram of rice in flooded rice cultivation methods.  However, advancements in sustainable farming practices, such as direct seeded rice, the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) methods, and dryland or rainfed rice cultivation, are offering hope in mitigating methane emissions from conventional rice farming. Adopting these eco-friendly innovations, alongside appropriate seed varieties, holds the key to ensuring a greener and more resilient future for rice cultivation.

Rice cultivation in Bali, Indonesia

The adverse impacts of climate change, characterized by erratic weather patterns and extreme events, pose a direct threat to rice cultivation worldwide. Unpredictable rainfall, prolonged dry spells, and the ingress of seawater in coastal areas disrupt conventional farming practices involving waterlogged conditions, jeopardizing yields. Moreover, intensive rice cultivation has exacerbated methane emissions, contributing to greenhouse gas buildup. To preserve rice as a sustainable and climate-resilient crop, transformative approaches are urgently needed. Some of the practices that can reduce methane emissions are:

Direct-Seeded Rice

Direct-seeded rice (DSR) is a promising alternative to traditional flooded rice cultivation methods. In DSR, rice is sown directly in moist fields, reducing water usage by up to 35% compared to puddled fields. Weed control is achieved through the judicious application of herbicides, leading to substantial labor and cost savings. DSR also boasts faster maturity, making it an attractive option for regions with erratic rainfall patterns. In India, some state governments are offering INR 1500 to INR 4000 per acre to farmers for switching to direct-seeded rice cultivation.

System of Rice Intensification (SRI)

The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is a revolutionary farming method that offers an eco-friendly alternative to conventional rice cultivation. SRI emphasizes a set of agronomic practices designed to optimize plant growth and productivity while minimizing environmental impact. Some of the key components of SRI include:

  • Transplanting young and single seedlings at the 3-leaf stage with wider spacing to promote robust root systems.
  • Maintaining intermittent soil moisture through carefully controlled irrigation, avoiding continuous flooding.
  • Incorporating organic matter into the soil to enhance its fertility and water-retaining capacity.
  • Weeding through mechanical or manual means to minimize herbicide usage.

SRI not only reduces methane emissions by up to 60% compared to traditional flooded rice fields but also enhances water use efficiency and promotes soil health. However, successful implementation of SRI requires the selection of appropriate rice varieties that respond well to these methods and the use of appropriate machinery for scaling operations. 

Please check my blog on Sustainability in Bali: Through the lens of perennial wisdom

Farmer Suweden growing rice adopting SRI method in Bali

Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) Methods

Another effective approach to reducing methane emissions is the implementation of Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) methods. Unlike continuous flooding, AWD allows for periodic drying and re-flooding of rice fields, maintaining an aerobic environment that suppresses methane production. By alternating the water level in the fields, AWD significantly reduces methane emissions while still supporting healthy rice growth.

Dryland or Rainfed Rice Cultivation

Recognizing the challenges posed by water scarcity and irregular rainfall patterns, dryland or rainfed rice cultivation methods offer viable solutions. In these systems, rice is grown without continuous flooding, relying solely on natural precipitation or limited irrigation. These methods not only save water but also contribute to lower methane emissions.

Selecting Appropriate Seed Varieties

Adopting eco-friendly rice cultivation practices necessitates choosing suitable seed varieties that respond well to SRI, AWD, dryland, or rainfed conditions. Scientists and agricultural experts are continuously developing climate-resilient rice varieties that thrive under varying water regimes. By selecting high-yielding, drought-tolerant, and submergence-resistant varieties, farmers can ensure sustainable rice production in the face of changing climatic conditions.

Climate change poses significant challenges for rice production, demanding innovative and sustainable solutions. Embracing eco-friendly technologies such as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) methods, alongside dryland or rainfed rice cultivation, is crucial in reducing methane emissions and conserving water resources. Additionally, the selection of appropriate seed varieties enhances the resilience of rice crops in the changing climate. By collaborating closely with researchers, farmers, seed companies and policymakers, rice producing countries can achieve a greener and more sustainable rice revolution, safeguarding its agricultural heritage for generations to come.

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