It’s Time to Invest in Sustainable Rice.

  • A Vietnamese rice farmer weeds her field by hand. (Image: Bryon Lippincott/Flickr) 

    Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region has served as the country’s breadbasket for years. Known for fertile soil, the area grows more than half of all rice produced in the country, a staple in the Vietnamese diet. In 2016, however, the delta experienced a devastating drought, leaving 600,000 people without access to fresh water. Rice yields had already been falling for seasons, but the drought represented a tipping point for many farming families. Degraded land, lack of water and pollution caused nearly 1.1 million people to migrate from the region. 

    Climate change threatens rice cultivation worldwide

    Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of what’s to come worldwide. Climate-induced crises are threatening farmers’ livelihoods and exacerbating global hunger. Approximately 3.5 billion people rely on rice as a staple in their diet, and the grain provides around a third of the calories consumed in low- and middle-income countries. Rice is also becoming increasingly popular in the West, now commonly found in pet food, beer, cereals and other items to meet the rising demand for gluten-free products. 

    All of this is impacted by the exponential growth in the global population, and with it, the demand for rice. Rice production will need to increase by an estimated 25 percent by 2050 in order to meet global needs. Meanwhile, approximately 15 million to 20 million hectares of land may suffer water scarcity due to rising temperatures, threatening to greatly reduce the yields and nutritional value of rice harvests. 

    Increased water scarcity events would be devastating for rice cultivation, as the crop is extremely water-intensive, each kilogram requiring between 2,000 and 5,000 liters of water (40 percent of the world’s total irrigation water). Rice paddy fields and reservoirs have caused a 233 percent increase in manmade wetlands while natural wetlands have declined by 35 percent, throwing everything out of balance. 

    Rice is also a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In fact, rice’s carbon footprint is similar to the international aviation industry. Emissions are largely caused by the conventional field flooding farming method, which prevents oxygen from penetrating the soil and leads to the growth of harmful, methane-emitting bacteria. Additional methane is released from the rotting rice straw left over from the crop in conventional rice farming. 

    rice paddies in Vietnam - sustainable rice farming
    Rice paddies in Lai Châu, Vietnam. (Image: Adam Cohn/Flickr)

    There is a better way, but the private sector needs to invest in it

    If we continue cultivating rice using these methods, climate change-related weather incidents and exhausted resources will certainly cause a shortage, likely leading to a hunger disaster on a global scale. 

    After years of research, trial and error, there are now proven methods of sustainable rice production that are adaptive and resilient to climate change, and produce the same yields as conventional cultivation. A study in the An Giang province in Vietnam, the world's fifth largest rice producer, compared harvests between farmers using the more sustainable wetting-and-drying (AWD) field method to those using the conventional field flooding approach. Yields were almost identical, and the AWD method emitted less greenhouse gases and required fewer seeds and fertilizer. 

    These green farming techniques are the only pathway that can maintain rice productivity and adapt to rising global temperatures. But more private-sector finance is needed to support and grow these programs. Fortunately, it is no longer a risk for companies to shift to these sustainable methods. In fact, it’s a business imperative. 

    At the Global Environment Facility, investments totaling over $600 million continue to grow from the initial cluster of Asian countries and into West Africa under our programs — demonstrating scalability, replicability and financial support from the private sector, which is a vitally needed element for equitably transforming systems.

    vietnamese rice farmer  - sustainable rice farming
    (Image: Adam Cohn/Flickr)

    Why invest in sustainable rice?

    Here are some of the top reasons why the time is now to invest in sustainable rice. 

    Reducing GHG emissions. There are now proven methods to mitigate rice’s methane emissions by up to 70 percent using simple changes in farming techniques. These modifications include removing rice straw from the fields after harvest, new fertilization and soil amendment regimes, and careful control of the timing, duration and extent of rice field flooding. These transitions are possible through the training and support of rice farmers at the ground level.  

    Blended-finance to de-risk investments. There is growing attention on blended finance opportunities to de-risk private-sector investment. Instead of pure grants, which are always in short supply, these investment tools catalyze private-sector investment and foster replicable projects. By combining private and public finance sources — such as commercial investors, donors, and/or multi-lateral trust funds like the Global Environment Facility — project design teams can deploy credit lines, loan guarantees, equity investments and other innovative approaches. Many investments can be aggregated into a larger facility or funding program to help scale and attract private finance in markets where the risks are too high for conventional financial products or local institutions alone. 

    Climate resilience. Researchers have discovered effective methods of reducing rice’s reliance on water that are significantly more efficient than conventional farming techniques, creating more climate resilience. For example, a sustainable rice program in Vietnam used a micro-irrigation system that allows water to drip slowly to plant roots instead of the conventional field flooding method. This resulted in water savings of 60 percent to 70 percent and highlighted the power of technical farming assistance to reduce resource exhaustion and provide more consistent yields. 
    A global network of support. Sustainable rice farming programs are backed by a network of international organizations including the United Nations, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and my organization, the Global Environment Facility. Programs such as the Sustainable Rice Landscape Initiative are well underway to help private companies make the shift from conventional rice farming to green techniques in order to meet the Paris Agreement’s GHG emission targets. The Sustainable Rice Platform helps create customized finance approaches and climate transition blueprints. 

    Small farmers are ready. Training and capacity-building for farmers and smallholders have been underway for several years now, paving the way for a systemic transition to sustainable rice production and providing additional assurance for private investors who were reluctant to invest in a country that is too early in this process. Support for farmers can take many forms, such as teaching mechanized harvesting methods in Nigeria, which prevented almost half a ton of food loss and increased farmer profits by approximately $200 per hectare. 

    The time is now for the private sector to invest in sustainable rice production — not only to meet global climate policy requirements, but also to ensure that rice farming is able to adapt to our changing planet and that businesses remain profitable. Conventional rice farming methods are a ticking time bomb. The foundation has been laid in terms of developing proven techniques, working with governments to shift national policies, and training farmers around the world. It’s time for CEOs to take the leap, not only to save their businesses, but also to prevent climate and hunger disasters. 

  • Sustainable rice farming helps Vietnam reduce global warming

  • Rice -- Asia's most important staple -- is to blame for around 10 percent of global emissions of methane, a gas that over two decades, traps about 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide. Scientists say that if the world wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, rice cannot be ignored. Vietnam has been showing efforts to reduce methane from rice cultivation by removing straw from the fields and turning it into mushrooms and organic fertilizer.

  • Finding more sustainable ways to cultivate rice crops

  • Rice farmers depend on phosphorous fertilizers to maximize their yields of this major staple food, which helps nourish more than half of the world's population. However, there is a finite supply of the nutrient available to be mined.
    Using the ultrabright light of the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan, German researchers examined soil samples from paddies in China in the hopes of learning how silicon can reduce the need for phosphorus-based fertilizers and make rice farming more sustainable.
    Dr. Joerg Schaller and colleagues discovered that silicon, which is also known to play a key role in growing rice, can replace phosphorus in soil and mobilize it to be available for absorption by the plants that need it. Phosphorus binds to iron in soil, rendering it unavailable to plants.
    "If all the building places are occupied with silicon, there is no space for phosphate to bind (in the soil). It means you need only half of the fertilizer," said Schaller, who is with the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF).
    By taking multiple soil samples from rice paddies that have been used to cultivate rice for between 50 and 2,000 years and examining them using scanning transmission X-ray microscopy at the CLS, Schaller and his colleagues were able to better understand how and why silicon and phosphorus bond to the soil.
    The wide range of paddy soil gave Schaller's team a precise look at how long it takes soil to be depleted of silicon and saturated with phosphorus.
    "It's really valuable (to be able to study so many samples)," said Schaller. "Rice cultivation, they've done it for a really long time…it's really interesting, to use such samples."
    Because phosphorus is critical to the growth of rice and so many other crops, finding a more sustainable solution to promoting rice growth—like using cheaper and more available silicon-based fertilizers to prevent phosphorus saturation—is critical for the world's food supply.
    "This is really important for humankind," Schaller said. "If we could decrease the need for phosphorus fertilization, this is a really important thing."
    The research is published in Scientific Reports.
  • Pakistan’s rice sector lagging behind in productivity

  • Pakistan’s rice sector lagging behind in productivity LAHORE   -   Pakistan’s rice sector is lagging behind in productivity and facing high cost of production as compared to other rice-producing countries, said Shahid Tarer, Director Galaxy Rice (Pvt) Ltd.
    He was speaking at a seminar on ‘Water Productivity (WAPRO) Project’ organised by his firm in collaboration with SDC, Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation, Westmill Foods (A division of Associated British Foods & Grain Products Ltd. UK, MARS food & RPL).
    WAPRO project is aimed at improving water efficiency and sustainable rice production in Pakistan. A large number of farmers attended the event. Shahid Tarer stressed the need for promotion of global best practices for improving resource use efficiency. He also spoke about the vision of SDC’s long-term commitment to global food security and mitigating water scarcity & climate change scenario of Pakistan.
    Imran Sheikh, Project Manager, highlighted the objectives and strategy of the WAPRO project and Galaxy’s Farmer Connect (GFC) program regarding regular advisory service to the farmers and promotion of rice cultivation as per Sustainable Rice Platform’s standard.
    Rao Muhammad Tariq, Senior Manager Fouji Fertilizer Company, shared his views about fertilizer application. He emphasized on balanced fertilizer application and its role in productivity and profitability.
    Dr Arjumand Nizami, Country Director Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation, capacitated the farmers regarding water efficiency as a business case. She quoted the pilot study of 21 rice farmers of head, mid and the tale of irrigation minor in district Sheikhupura. Dr Muhammad Sabir, Director Rice Research Institute KSK, briefed the audience about research updates and development projects.
    Dr Tahir Hussain Awan shared his experience about direct seeding rice and shared the set of the new technology of weed management in DSR.
    Dr Anjum Ali Buttar, Director General Agriculture (Extension), threw light on the ongoing extension projects and also discussed the agriculture policy 2018.
    Dr Muhammad Afzal, Country Director Crop Life, told the farmers about the role of responsible use of pesticides in rice ecosystem for ensuring resource use efficiency, food security and export of residual free quality rice. Dr Abdul Ghafoor, Member Plant Sciences PARC, stressed the need of increasing water use efficiency and promoting the model such as WAPRO project to save water and ensure food security not only for current but also for future generations.
  • Precision plant breeding could boost sustainable rice production 25 percent

  • rice farmer fertilizer 327327 Corteva Agriscience, Agriculture Division of DowDuPont, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) [recently] announced a multi-year framework agreement on collaborative rice research, deployment of new breeding technologies and development of breeding programs Rice is the world’s most important staple food, directly feeding more than any other crop. To meet the demand of a growing global population, rice production needs to dramatically increase by 25 percent over the next 25 years. Yet increased competition for dwindling resources such as land and water, unpredictable climates, farm labor shortages and lack of technical expertise are some of the issues threatening the future of rice …. The agreement provides both parties with access to advanced technologies, including IRRI’s germplasm, hybrid and inbred rice programs and Corteva Agriscience’s precision breeding technologies …. “Our shared goal for this partnership is to help rice farmers to become more productive and sustainable,” said Peter Ford, Corteva Agriscience’s president, Asia Pacific. “Our collaboration will allow us to offer farmers a broader suite of high-performing products and effective science-based innovations that will optimize yield and crop quality. Partnerships such as this create the power of scale and will drive positive change for rice farmers. Read full, original article: Securing the Future of Rice: Corteva Agriscience, Agriculture Division of DowDuPont, and IRRI Ink Partnership to Develop Advanced Rice Technologies and Programs
  • Uncle Ben’s orders up 100 per cent sustainable rice

  • Fresh from unveiling a new $1bn sustainability strategy, food giant Mars has today confirmed that all the basmati rice sold under its Uncle Ben's and Seeds of Change brands will soon be sustainably certified. The company said the rice is now sourced exclusively from farmers who are working towards the Sustainable Rice Platform's (SRP) standard for sustainable rice. The programme aims to encourage farmers to embrace agricultural and environmental best practices, with one trial in Pakistan delivering an eight per cent increase in yield, alongside a 30 per cent reduction in water use and a 32 per cent increase in net income for participating farmers. "We've shown that sustainable rice can sustain a farmer's livelihood," said Luc Beerens, global sustainable sourcing director for Mars Food, in a statement. "These innovations, if adopted throughout the industry, could fundamentally shift how rice is grown today, helping to protect the environment, lift farmers out of poverty, and meet future demand worldwide."

    The company said that in addition to deploying the 46 performance indicators developed by the SRP, it would also invest in programs to address human rights and women's empowerment in its rice supply chains. 

    The milestone comes just weeks after Mars launched its new $1bn Sustainable in a Generation (SiG) Plan, which sets a raft of environmental targets for its own operations and supply chains.
  • IFC Partners with AMRU Rice to Promote Sustainable Rice Production

  • The FINANCIAL -- IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, and AMRU Rice, one of the leading rice export companies in Cambodia, on June 20 launched a joint advisory project in Phnom Penh. As part of this partnership, IFC will support AMRU Rice over a three-year period to implement the developed Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) standards and practices in the company’s supply chain.  Building on the success of IFC’s work in the rice sector, IFC and the World Bank are implementing a four-year project with local agricultural exporters to improve the competitiveness, build an enabling environment for the agribusiness sector, and facilitate more and higher value agricultural exports.  In this partnership with AMRU Rice, IFC will train and coach at least 2,000 contracted farmers in AMRU’s supply chain in Kampong Cham Province. The training will equip them to implement the SRP standards and practices. By adopting the SRP standards, AMRU Rice will be equipped to meet the requirements of international buyers and respond to global market trends of sourcing rice products in a more sustainable manner, according to IFC. “IFC brings in significant global experience of delivering knowledge and expertise in agriculture to help businesses grow sustainably and improve farmers’ livelihoods,” says Song Saran, AMRU Rice’s CEO. “Adding SRP rice fits our strategy of expanding its niche market with higher value and sustainable products. Thanks to IFC’s great support over the past years, we are delighted to work with IFC to achieve the next milestone”.  AMRU Rice started its rice trading activities in 2011 and gradually integrated other steps in its rice value chain. Over time, the company established its own semi-processing facilities and then ventured into contract farming with farmer cooperatives in Kampong Cham, Preah Vihear and Battambang provinces.  Since 2010, IFC — in partnership with the European Union, Enhanced Integrated Framework and other donors — has been supporting the Cambodian government by working with its clients and industry associations to create industry standards, improve export procedures, promote private sector participation in the seed industry, and enhance efficiency of rice millers and re-processors. “Over the past seven years, IFC has intervened on key levels such as farming, milling and exporting to promote Cambodia’s place on the global rice market map. IFC’s support has brought about a transformational change in the country’s rice sector, increasing its export volume from less than 100,000 tons in 2010 to more than 500,000 tons in 2016,” said Kyle Kelhofer, IFC Country Manager for Vietnam, Cambodia, and Lao PDR. He added, “Our partnership with AMRU Rice will help farmers along the rice supply chain to access necessary skills, markets and services, and significantly improve their livelihoods.”  SRP is a multi-stakeholder platform established by the United Nations Environment (UNEP) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). It aims to promote resource efficiency and sustainability in trade flows, production and consumption operations, and supply chains.
  • FAO and IRRI Combine Forces to Combat Rice Insecurity

  • A new agreement to promote sustainable agriculture in developing countries was signed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The organizations will share scientific and technical knowledge, promote capacity building activities, and assist in government strategizing, with an emphasis on benefiting small-scale farmers and women.

    “With over 3 billion people across the globe eating rice every day, rice is critical to global food security,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General. “Ensuring sustainable rice production is a key contribution to the global goal of ending hunger. By teaming up with IRRI, already a long-standing partner, we will be able to scale up, complement and amplify our work towards reaching this goal.”

    The stated goals of the FAO are to eradicate hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition, eliminate poverty while promoting economic and social progress for all, and sustainably manage and use natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations. Currently, two major rice-related FAO efforts are underway. First is the Asia and Pacific’s Regional Rice Initiative, and second, the Partnership for Sustainable Rice Systems Development in Sub-Saharan Africa. These are sharing technology, agricultural and pest management practices, and strategies to increase rice resilience and production efficiency.

    “The world faces very significant changes over the next few decades to produce the volume and quality of nutritious food to feed a global population heading for 10 billion people,” said Matthew K. Morell, IRRI Director-General. “Addressing these issues relies on global partnerships, and today, IRRI is delighted to be reaffirming through this Memorandum of Agreement our commitment to work with FAO to enhance sustainable rice-based production and food systems through awareness raising, capacity development, knowledge exchange, and evidence-based analyses for policy support.”

    IRRI is a nonprofit research and educational institute founded by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations and the Philippine government in 1960. Its goals are to reduce poverty and hunger through rice science, improve rice farmer and consumer health and welfare, and ensure the environmental sustainability of rice production. Today, IRRI has offices in 17 countries and collaborates with a variety of research partners including the food security research partnership CGIAR. Working with the United Nations Environment, IRRI developed the Sustainable Rice Platform to promote resource efficiency, sustainability, and affordability through policy development and voluntary market transformation initiatives.

    By working together, the FAO and IRRI seek to increase availability and use of improved and adapted rice variety seeds. To increase nutrition and improve the income of small-scale farmers, they will develop and commercialize rice by-products. Through farmer field schools and other forms of outreach, they will better educate farmers in best-practices, including pest management. They will also work to improve working conditions for rice farmers and improve women participation and entrepreneurial opportunities.



    LOS BAÑOS, Philippines – Experts gathered at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in early May to design a training strategy to support smallholder adoption of sustainable best practices. The Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP), an alliance of 70 stakeholder institutions convened by IRRI and UN Environment, will launch an assurance scheme targeting smallholders, based on the SRP Standard and Performance Indicators for Sustainable Rice Cultivation—the world’s first sustainability standard for rice. Following the launch of the standard and performance indicators in October 2015, multi-country field pilots were implemented. Training needs have since grown and become more differentiated, necessitating a comprehensive, unified framework. "The workshop involved 35 participants from SRP member organizations both in Asia and across the world. This first SRP Training Strategy Workshop exceeded expectations both in terms of member participation as well as progress in developing a common framework for a training curriculum,” said Peter Sprang, SRP's Technical Coordinator. With the participation of GLOBALGAP, UTZ, and Control Union, the workshop also discussed the forthcoming revision of the SRP Standard and Performance Indicators, as well as a road map for the rollout of the SRP’s planned assurance program revision. The SRP is the world’s first global sustainability standard for rice production. It was developed with expert input from IRRI and the UN Environment, along with more than 60 government agencies, private companies, NGOs, and research agencies. The SRP aims to encourage 1 million smallholder farmers to adopt climate-smart sustainable best practices by 2021, as a contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. To get in touch with the SRP, contact Lea Las Pinas ( or Peter Sprang ( 
  • The System of Rice Intensification’s Role in Hunger, Climate Change

  • Norman Uphoff is the Senior Advisor for the SRI International Network and Resources Center (SRI-Rice), a program at Cornell University engaged with the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which is a climate-smart, yield-increasing agriculture methodology that is being utilized by more than 10 million smallholder farms in over 55 countries. Uphoff is working to expand SRI’s international network and strengthen the knowledge base for SRI and its extension to other crops. Here he explains the basic principles of SRI, the implications of the methodology, and the role it can play in agriculture in the future.  More at: The System of Rice Intensification’s Role in Hunger, Climate Change, and Communities
  • Reinventing Rice for a World Transformed by Climate Change

  • UC Davis plant geneticist Pamela Ronald wants to create rice varieties that can survive in harsher conditions, including more frequent droughts.

    • by James Temple
    • May 4, 2017
    • Plant geneticist Pamela Ronald in her lab’s greenhouse at UC Davis.
    More at: Reinventing Rice for a World Transformed by Climate Change
  • IRRI and FAO step up joint efforts to globally bolster sustainable rice production

  • Focus is on food security and helping poor farmers by enhancing crop resilience and adapting to climate change.

    FAO and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) have agreed to cooperate more closely to support sustainable rice production in developing countries to improve food security and livelihoods while safeguarding natural resources.An agreement signed today seeks to better pool the scientific knowledge and technical know-how of the two organizations so that they can expand and intensify their work globally. The partnership primarily aims to enhance sustainable rice-based farming systems through capacity building activities - including assisting governments draw up and implement national and regional policies and strategies - to the benefit of small-scale farmers, especially women. “The world faces very significant changes over the next few decades to produce the volume and quality of nutritious food to feed a global population heading for 10 billion people,” said IRRI Director-General Matthew K. Morell. “Addressing these issues relies on global partnerships, and today, IRRI is delighted to be reaffirming through this Memorandum of Agreement our commitment to work with FAO to enhance sustainable rice-based production and food systems through awareness raising, capacity development, knowledge exchange, and evidence-based analyses for policy support.”
    The world faces very significant changes over the next few decades to produce the volume and quality of nutritious food to feed a global population heading for 10 billion people.

    Matthew K. Morell, director-general, International Rice Research Institute

     “With over three billion people across the globe eating rice every day, rice is critical to global food security,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General, Climate and Natural Resources. “Ensuring sustainable rice production is a key contribution to the global goal of ending hunger. By teaming up with IRRI, already a long-standing partner, we will be able to scale up, complement and amplify our work towards reaching this goal.”

    Making the rice value chain more sustainable

    In many countries around the world rice is a staple crop for food security and consumption trends are growing. At the same time rice production is vulnerable to the increasing impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events such as droughts and floods. Both FAO and IRRI are actively promoting more sustainable rice practices throughout the value chain - production, marketing and consumption - to optimise its nutritional properties and as a means of improving livelihoods and tackling poverty, particularly in rural areas.   
    FAO has developed the Regional Rice Initiative for Asia and Pacific which promotes enhanced crop resilience while increasing efficiency and farmers’ income.
    In Africa and in Latin America the UN agency is engaged in scientific and technical cooperation including the sharing of technologies and best practices to increase production and productivity, including reduction of post-harvest losses and improved grain quality. IRRI is engaged in strengthening capacities of all rice sector actors through its capacity development activities, including IRRI Education and the Sustainable Rice Platform. The Sustainable Rice Platform is a global alliance to promote resource efficiency and sustainability in trade flows, production and consumption operations, and supply chains in the global rice sector. The Sustainable Rice Platform recently established the world’s first standard for sustainable rice. Through the Sustainable Rice Platform, IRRI aims to use environmental and socio-economic benchmarks to maintain yields for rice smallholders, reduce the environmental footprint of rice cultivation and meet consumer needs for food safety and quality. At the same time, IRRI Education works to build capacity through-out IRRI’s extensive partnership network.

    Improving varieties, transferring knowledge

    FAO and IRRI will together assist rice producing countries to adopt improved and adapted rice varieties, enhance availability of certified seeds and also the transfer of knowledge - including on pest management - through participatory approaches such as farmer fields schools. The two organisations will also seek to strengthen partnerships for post-harvest handling, and help farmers and other rice producers add value by developing and marketing rice by-products rich in proteins and micronutrients, and explore the appropriate use of rice by-products to generate energy, animal feed and other agricultural products. In addition, FAO and IRRI will work together to ensure that women farmers can participate in viable, safe and dignified entrepreneurial opportunities in the rice value chain, and that there is an improvement in work conditions in the rice sector.