Helping the climate: joining forces for sustainable rice

Joining forces can stem climate change in agriculture. An alliance for sustainable rice shows how this can work – and farmers benefit too.

Climate change is having a double impact on agriculture: farmers are suffering the effects of global warming, while the agricultural sector must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to achieve the international community’s climate goals. Agriculture is therefore a priority area at Climate Week NYC 2019, which is being held in September in the run-up to the next UN Climate Change Conference.

Rice farming is a key factor in the switch to sustainable agriculture. Rice is a staple food for 3.5 billion people, and demand is increasing. To bring about a major change of course, sustainable farming methods need to be attractive and viable for millions of smallholders.

An alliance of international organisations, businesses and research institutions illustrates how climate-friendly rice farming can be achieved: the Sustainable Rice Platform has developed its own standard for rice. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is supporting this work on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU). Other partners include the UN Environment Programme, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and companies such as OLAM International, MARS Food and Ebro Foods.

Smallholders who participate in the platform are awarded points based on various criteria, for example if they use new farming and irrigation methods. The traditional method of shallow flooding irrigation keeps the paddy fields permanently flooded; the still water emits the greenhouse gas methane. However, emissions can be reduced by alternating between wet and dry cultivation periods. The points systems allows farmers to provide evidence that they use sustainable farming methods – they are awarded a certificate, which they can use to market their rice.

Farmers in Thailand are already harvesting rice grown using the new technique. The method helped to save up to a fifth of the water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 50 per cent. What is more, the farmers use fewer pesticides and their income has increased by up to 25 per cent. MARS Food already buys 97 per cent of the rice for its Uncle Ben’s brand from rice farms that are working on more sustainable farming methods through the platform. Since 2011, the alliance has reached around 600,000 farmers in 24 countries.

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