Growing rice with drip irrigation is a possible miracle, as demonstrated by one startup Israeli active inprecision farming.
This solution saves huge quantities of fresh water but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Rice, global production
The rice, Oryza sativa, is one of the most important and consumed crops in the world. Approximately 787 million tons are produced per year for an area of 162 million hectares. (1) It represents the staple food for two thirds of the world's population. China, India, Japan and Indonesia account for 90% of the total rice demand and production.
Also for Italy rice is a very important product. 50% of the rice circulating in Europe is produced in our country. And for this cereal we are able to cover the internal needs in a self-sufficient way. The main rice fields are found in Piedmont and Lombardy, which cover 90% of production, and then in Emilia-Romagna and Sardinia where mainly seed rice is grown. (2)
Rice cultivation: unsustainable?
always rice is grown by flooding the soil before or after planting with about 10-15 cm of water. This practice serves to prevent the plant from suffering from sudden changes in temperature or lack of water and to protect it from weeds. However, this practice which has remained unchanged for 5000 years has consequences from an environmental point of view.
According to a study (K. Kritee et al.) Published on Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (3),
- rice fields use about 40% of the world's fresh water
- standing water in crops generates methane equal to a fifth of global emissions,
- where intermittent flooding occurs, 45 times more nitrous oxide is emitted than permanently flooded rice paddies, a highly polluting and long-lived greenhouse gas.
The emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from rice paddies would have the same impact on global warming as about 600 medium-sized coal-fired power plants, according to an analysis by theEnvironmental Defense Fund. (4)
Drip irrigation in rice cultivation
To revolutionize cultivation of rice after 5000 years Netafim took care of it. The Israeli firm has employed its pioneering technology, drip irrigation, in rice paddies. With huge benefits.
With the same production, compared to traditional rice paddies:
- water consumption is more than two-thirds lower,
- fertilizers are reduced by 30%,
- energy is reduced by 36%,
- the emissions of methane gas and nitrogen peroxide are eliminated, since there is no longer the need to flood the ground.
Testing in the LaFagiana company
Drip irrigation in the cultivation of rice it was applied in an Italian farm, The Pheasant, located near Venice. Emissions have decreased enough for the company to obtain the necessary certification to be able to sell its carbon credits.
"If even just the 10% of rice farms switched to drip irrigation, the reduction in emissions would be equivalent to taking it off the road 40 million cars”, says Gaby Miodownik, president of precision agriculture for Netafim.
"Netafim is very proud to lead this initiative. When it comes to climate change, the only way forward for sustainable agriculture is to grow more with less. Less land, less water and far fewer emissions".
The convenience of investments
For drip irrigation system you need to install pumps, pipes and sensors. It is therefore normal that there are hesitations on the part of farmers, especially in rice cultivation which has always been the same for many years. However, Netafim is convinced that the new method could become the norm.
According to John Farner, Global Chief Sustainability Officer of Netafim, the convenience of the investment depends on many factors, such as “from where you are in the world, what is your yield, the cost of water, which is different globally, and the cost of fertilizers".
However, again for Farner, if a company decides to invest time and money in making its company more sustainable, it is important to find a way to offset its investments.
Another opportunity that drip irrigation brings with it is the possibility of growing rice on land that was previously unsuitable. In fact, the practice of flooding requires flat land, which is sometimes leveled with a laser to avoid stagnation. With drip irrigation, even sloping land can be cultivated with rice. (5)
Footnotes to the story
(1) Faostat data for 2021 https://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QCL
(2) Ente Risi Italia, http://enterisi.it/upload/enterisi/documentiallegati/La%20risicoltura%20e%20la%20filiera%20risicola%20in%20Italia%202014_13660_369.pdf
(3) K. Kritee, D. Nair, D. Zavala-Araiza et al., High nitrous oxide fluxes from rice indicate the need to manage water for both long-and short-term climate impacts. PNAS, 10.9.2018 https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1809276115
(4) K. Kritee, J. Proville et al., Global risk assessment of high nitrous oxide emissions from rice production. Environmental Defense Fund and partners. 10.9.2018 https://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/documents/EDF_White_Paper_Global_Risk_Analysis.pdf
(5) J. Jeffay, A better way to grow rice, after 5,000 years of paddy fields. Noamels. 18.12.2022 https://nocamels.com/2022/12/a-better-way-to-grow-rice-after-5000-years-of-paddy-fields/
Graduated in Law from the University of Bologna, she attended the Master in Food Law at the same University. You participate in the WIISE srl benefit team by dedicating yourself to European and international research and innovation projects.