Rice farming, harmful to the climate

According to a recent study, the negative effects of occasional flooding of rice crops have been underestimated. This is an issue that concerns many African countries.

Rice is a staple food in many African countries, but it is not all about quality. In an article published on Monday, the Bloomberg news website used the conclusions of a study carried out by the New York-based NGO Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), according to which rice farming is particularly bad for the climate. In their report, published at the end of 2018 and entitled « Global risk assessment of high nitrous oxide emissions from rice production », EDF researchers explain that « methane (CH4) from rice crops represents about 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions from a crop », and that as such, « rice has the greatest impact on the climate of all agricultural products per unit of calories ». Worse still, « the impact of rice farming on climate has been significantly underestimated because, until now, nitrous oxide emissions from occasionally flooded rice farms were not included, » the authors of the study point out. A problem that directly concerns the African continent where, because of water supply difficulties, rice fields are often flooded only occasionally… Calculated on a global scale, the short-term impact on global warming of these newly counted emissions would represent the equivalent of 1,200 coal-fired power plants.

However, EDF’s teams believe that this situation is not irreparable. Thus, to reverse this trend over time, the authors of the report recommend consuming more alternative cereals, such as maize and wheat, which leave fewer ecological footprints. Not sure, however, that the message will be heard. With a rapidly growing population (+2.5% per year), Africa – which has an average coverage rate (local needs/production) of only 55% – is consuming more and more rice, while in the West more and more people are adopting vegetarian and vegan diets compatible with this cereal.

World rice production since 1960 (in millions of tonnes)
Source : United States Department of Agriculture – USDA