All About Rice: Delicious, Versatile and World Heritage

All About Rice: Delicious, Versatile and World Heritage

Delicious, versatile and world heritage

Did you know the rice plantations called the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras has been crowned a UNESCO World Heritage?

The earliest archaeological discoveries around the cultivation of rice date back to 7000–5000 BCE in China. Like other major crops today, such as wheat, rice started as a simple wild grass favoured by early farmers. Through the millennia and selective breeding, we have more than 40,000 different types of rice to choose between.

Today ca. 496 million metric tons of rice are produced each year globally. Though rice paddies can be found in most corners of the world, including Europe, most rice (90%) is still grown in Asia. China is in the lead among all rice-producing countries, producing ca 209 million metric tons in 2019, ca 41% of the global production. In Africa, rice is the fastest-growing source of food. This global rice production is essential. Ca. 50% of the world’s population is dependent on rice for their daily food leading to 95% of all rice produced being consumed by humans.

Cultivation 

Though their use cases and flavour profiles vary, each of the thousands of rice kinds can be divided into two categories: the Japonica and Indica varieties. Japonica rice grains are much shorter, rounder and stickier. These are ideal for foods where such textures are preferable and important to the dish, such as sushi. The Indica varieties are long-grain rice, and an example of this is the Basmati rice. 

All rice (except for upland rice) is grown using water, lots of it. Two examples of common locations suitable for rice plantations are tidal deltas and rivers. From seed to a delicious side to a homemade curry, its lifecycle starts in a rice bed. Here the little seedlings are left to grow for 25 to 50 days. After that, they are moved to large rice paddies where the water is between 5 to 10 cm deep. Early farmers transplanted the tiny plants manually, which remains a viable option for farmers today that don’t have access to modern machinery. For farmers who do, the so-called Rice Transplanter is a helpful hand. The rice transplanter can plant multiple rows simultaneously by taking the seedling and pushing them into the soft waterlogged ground. For the remainder of the growing season, the plants are partially submerged under the water. Keeping the correct water levels is critical, and farmers often manually adjust this irrigation system using dams. Another factor of a successful rice harvest is sunshine, long continuous periods of it. Though sun and water may seem like basic requirements for any crop to grow, it has a much more considerable impact on yields. Rice yields are known to have a substantial variation from 700 to 4,000 kg/hectare.

Harvest

For the growth of the rice plants, water is essential, but during harvest, it is detrimental. Before the harvest can occur, the rice fields must be completely drained of all water that the farmer took such care to keep at exact levels. If the farmer wants to use a harvester or a thresher, the grains cannot contain more than 14% moisture to prevent them from degrading when stored. After the grains have been harvested from the field, further processing steps have to be taken. Each grain of rice has a husk that needs to be removed. Removing the husk is commonly done using a mortar and pestle manually or in a more automated fashion. Under the husk is the so-called bran layer. This layer is darker in colour. Rice that still has this layer when sold is commonly referred to as brown rice. The bran is made up of ca. 8% protein and contains other trace elements such as iron and calcium. When the bran has been removed, we are left with the white rice most of us are familiar with. However, the stems, husks, and bran left after the rice has been processed are not wasted. These stems, for example, can become animal feed, and the bran can be used to create an oil that can be used in anything from cosmetics to frying food.

Disease Management

Like other crops, rice is vulnerable to disease. Bacterial Leaf Blight and Brown Leaf Spot are two examples of these. Bacterial Leaf Bight as given by its name, is a bacterial infection that is believed to prefer conditions of heavy rainfall and wind. This disease has been found to have an enormous impact on yield loss, especially in Asian countries. Brown Leaf Spot is a fungal disease spread from one seed to another and can affect the rice plant as early as its seedling stage. It has been found that damage from Brown Leaf Spot is especially prevalent in nutrient-deficient soil and can be an indicator of soil fertility. 

How can rice cultivations be easier to manage? 

Precision farming can offer practical solutions that give rice farmers greater economic profitability. Seeding and applying fertilizer more precisely has an impact on the quality and size of the yield but are not the only advantages that precision farming has to offer. Correct irrigation is a cornerstone of yield success. To save water waste during irrigation and prevent excessive nutrition loss from too high irrigation levels, fields must be properly levelled. This entails moving soil from one area of the field to another until it is even. Besides optimising irrigation, precision farming can also accurately measure soil fertility. This not only benefits yield outcomes by ensuring the plant’s growth but, as mentioned earlier, has direct ties with the spread of diseases such as Brown Leaf Spot.

From an everyday meal to a prized cultural heritage, rice is a versatile crop that nourishes and sustains billions of people across the globe. 

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