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Food

Improved Rice Cultivation

Rice is the staple food of 3 billion people, providing one-fifth of calories consumed worldwide. Its cultivation is responsible for at least 10 percent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and 9 to 19 percent of global methane emissions. That is because flooded rice paddies are ideal anaerobic environments for methane-producing microbes that feed on decomposing organic matter, a process known as methanogenesis.

There are four general techniques, best used in combination, to improve rice production and reduce emissions:

  1. Water: Mid-season drainage and alternate wetting and drying improve aerobic conditions.
  2. Nutrients: More balanced application of nutrients reduces methane emissions while supporting yields.
  3. Plant varieties: Rice varieties (cultivars) that are less water-loving can be used in more aerobic environments.
  4. Tillage: Techniques for seeding rice without tilling the ground maintain stable soils.

These techniques can make rice production efficient, dependable, and sustainable, helping to meet growing demand for this staple food without causing warming. Mid-season drainage alone reduces methane emissions by 35 to 70 percent. Given that many rice farming methods are long-entrenched customs, change requires helping farmers see what results are possible, cultivating necessary knowledge and skills, and implementing incentives that make new methods compelling.

Technical summaries for each solution will be available May 1, 2017.

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