Civil Eats discusses whether changing rice farming methods could be a climate solution?. Farmers are on focusing on ways to reduce methane emissions and save water to further reduce the staple crop’s climate footprint.
Rice may be having a moment. Until recently, the average American ate only about a half a pound of the grain annually, while people in some Asian countries eat upwards of eight pounds a year. By early March, however, one data firm found that sales of rice and other staples were up 84 percent. And, as significant questions have arisen about the short-term future of meat production, this grain could become a more significant part of the U.S. diet.
As one of only a few commodities grown in the U.S. that go directly to feed people, rice also has a much smaller environmental footprint than many other foods.
“People underestimate rice. It’s a small grain,” says Meryl Kennedy, who is the daughter of a Louisiana rice farmer, the CEO of Kennedy Rice Mill, and the founder of 4Sisters Rice. During a pandemic, however, it can feed a lot of people efficiently.
But rice farming isn’t perfect. In fact, global rice production accounts for at least 10 percent of agricultural emissions. It’s responsible for producing large quantities of methane—a greenhouse gas that’s 24 times more potent than carbon dioxide. But, as it turns out, that’s more a factor of quantity than it is about growing method. Rice provides one fifth of the world’s calories, and research shows that, per calorie, it actually has one of the lowest emissions footprints compared to meat, fruit, vegetables, wheat, and corn.
Now, there is growing attention to practices that further reduce the climate impact of rice. And, given that it is the fourth largest crop grown in the world, those changes could amount to a significant climate solution.
In the 2020 Drawdown Review, which analyzes the impact of various climate solutions across industries using the latest scientific research, the nonprofit thinktank Project Drawdown includes two methods of shifting rice production.