Rice – a staple food threatened by climate change

A recently published article in The New York Times highlights how climate change threatens global rice production and how farmers and researchers are working to adapt cultivation to new conditions.

Rice is a staple food for half of humanity but is now threatened due to the effects of climate change. Unpredictable weather conditions with droughts, floods, and high temperatures are negatively impacting rice production worldwide. To meet the challenges, farmers and researchers are exploring innovative methods to grow rice in a more sustainable and climate-adapted way.

Global challenges for rice production

Extreme weather is expected to lead to reduced global rice production this year. In Vietnam’s rice region, the Mekong Delta, farmers are forced to abandon land due to climate change and reduced water flows caused by dams upstream. At the same time, India has restricted its rice exports out of concern for domestic food security, and harvests in Pakistan have been wiped out by heat waves and floods.

Plant breeding and new rice varieties

To meet the climate threats, plant breeders are working to develop new rice varieties. At Arkansas State University in the USA, researchers are looking for genes in old rice varieties that can give plants better resistance to warm nights. Researchers in Bangladesh have developed rice varieties that can grow in floodwater and soils with high salt content.

Reducing methane emissions

Rice production accounts for an estimated 8 percent of human-caused global methane emissions. In Arkansas, research has shown that methane emissions can be reduced by 60 percent by allowing rice fields to dry between irrigation cycles instead of keeping them constantly water-covered.

The New York Times article provides a good overview of the serious threats climate change poses to globally important rice production.

The innovative solutions that researchers and farmers are developing, such as new resilient rice varieties and ways to reduce methane emissions, provide some hope.

At the same time, it is clear that more support is needed to spread sustainable and climate-adapted cultivation methods on a large scale, especially to poor smallholder farmers.

As the article shows, we in rich countries have a responsibility to reduce our emissions and support climate adaptation in rice-producing regions.

Otherwise, increased poverty, hunger, and instability are risked in vulnerable parts of the world when a staple food for billions of people is threatened.

Picture of Per-Olof Hall

Per-Olof Hall

Writes about health and sustainability, combining unique insights with over 15 years of experience as owner and consultant at PlanetPeople AB.