Innovation That Matters

| Photo source Nice Rice

Can we transform rice farming with methane-cutting methods?

Agriculture & Energy

A startup is working with farmers to bring sustainable rice to the supermarket


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Spotted: Rice – a staple food for more than 3.5 billion people worldwide – is responsible for 1.3 to 1.8 per cent of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions. This hefty climate footprint is due to the way the crop is typically cultivated and a very specific problem this creates with methane – a greenhouse gas with 28 times greater global warming potential than CO2 over a 100-year period.

Rice fields are normally flooded throughout the growing season to help control weeds. However, a side-effect of this process is that it makes the soil in rice paddies ‘anaerobic,’ meaning it contains no oxygen. This, alongside the presence of organic matter, creates ideal living conditions for microbes that produce methane as a by-product. As a result, it’s estimated that rice cultivation is responsible for around 10 per cent of the world’s methane emissions.

Thankfully, there are simple practices farmers can adopt to avoid this and other negative environmental impacts associated with rice farming, and UK startup Nice Rice is working with Indian farmers to accelerate their adoption. The company is bringing sustainable rice products to supermarket shelves that are produced according to the Sustainable Rice Platform Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation (SRP).

This standard contains many elements but one of its most important environmental aspects is a practice called alternate wetting and drying, where farmers let their fields dry once or, ideally, twice during the growing season. This prevents the methane-producing microbes from getting a grip on the soil, thereby reducing methane emissions. Chemical use is another key concern of the SRP, and the farmers Nice Rice works with are focusing on reducing their chemical use and avoiding some specific chemicals altogether. They also do not burn the leftover rice stubble at the end of the season, as is standard practice on many farms.

All these practices result in products that offer a saving of 1.23 kilogrammes of CO2-equivalent per kilo of rice compared to conventional alternatives.

Nice Rice currently pays its farmers a small premium to commit to the SRP long term, and its ultimate goal is to catalyse the take-up of sustainable practices – which are not widely adopted today – by creating consumer demand. Its products are available in Waitrose stores across the UK and online.

Other rice-related innovations spotted by Springwise include the use of UV light to boost the growth of rice, a startup helping Asian rice farmers access funding for sustainable practices, and a children’s stacking game made of waste rice husks.

Written By: Matthew Hempstead




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