Posts Tagged ‘rice’


From Waste to Food to Fuel: Rice Production and Green Charcoal in Senegal

Pin It

By Andrew Alesbury

Inadequate management of human waste is a dire problem in much of the developing world. Swelling urban populations can make matters worse by exposing increasingly dense populations to illnesses carried by human waste. Some, however, are making good use of the surplus sewage. Rather than allow the urine and fecal matter to lie fallow, some have taken to utilizing it for agricultural purposes in lieu of synthetic or inorganic fertilizers. This practice not only makes fertilizer more readily available to farmers who might not have easy access to it in conventional forms, it is also significantly less expensive than using inorganic and synthetic fertilizers, which are often imported. Furthermore, the use of human fertilizer can sometimes be a crop-saving tactic when water is in short supply.

Leftover rice husks and straw can be used to produce green charcoal. (Photo Credit:

It is with these benefits in mind that groups like AgriDjalo, a small limited liability company focused on rice cultivation, are looking to start projects in Senegal that use urban biomass (primarily human waste) to fertilize rice fields. With over 40 percent of Senegal’s almost 13 million inhabitants living in urban areas, there is an abundant supply of human fertilizer.

AgriDjalo’s project could have the added benefit of decreasing reliance on rice imports. In 2012 alone, Senegal imported 820,000 metric tons of rice, accounting for over 6 percent of its total imports and presenting a considerable strain on the nation’s trade balance. As the second largest rice importer in Sub-Saharan Africa and one of the top ten worldwide, Senegal has much to gain, both in terms of income generation and decreased import dependency, from an increase in domestic rice production.



Global Grain Production at Record High Despite Extreme Climatic Events

Pin It

By Danielle Nierenberg and Katie Spoden

Global grain production is expected to reach a record high of 2.4 billion tons in 2012, an increase of 1 percent from 2011 levels, according to new research conducted by the Nourishing the Planet project for our Vital Signs Online service. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the production of grain for animal feed is growing the fastest—a 2.1 percent increase from 2011. Grain for direct human consumption grew 1.1 percent from 2011.

Global grain production is expected to reach a record high of 2.4 billion tons in 2012 (Photo Credit: The Urban Homemaker)

In 2011, the amount of grain used for food totaled 571 million tons, with India consuming 89 million tons, China 87 million tons, and the United States 28 million tons, according to the International Grains Council. The world relies heavily on wheat, maize (corn), and rice for daily sustenance: of the 50,000 edible plants in the world, these three grains account for two-thirds of global food energy intake. Grains provide the majority of calories in diets worldwide, ranging from a 23 percent share in the United States to 60 percent in Asia and 62 percent in North Africa.

Maize production in the United States—the largest producer—was expected to reach a record 345 million tons in 2012; however, drought in the Great Plains has altered this estimate severely. Maize yields for the 2012–13 growing season are now expected to decrease 13 percent from 2011 production, for a total production of 274.3 million tons.

The reliance on grain crops for food security is threatened by more-extreme climatic events, especially droughts and floods. According to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction, the World Food Programme, and Oxfam International, some 375 million people will be affected by climate change-related disasters by 2015. By 2050, the FAO notes, 10–20 percent more people will be subject to hunger based on the changing climate’s effects on agriculture, and 24 million more children are expected to be malnourished—21 percent more than if there were no climate change.

The relationship between food security, grain production, and climate change is especially important in 2012. The recent drought affecting the United States and the rest of the world show the need to reduce price volatility, move away from fossil fuel–based agriculture, and recognize the importance of women farmers to increase resilience to climate change.

The drought taking place in the Midwest and Great Plains of the United States is considered the country’s worst in 50 years, coming close to matching the late-1930s Dust Bowl. The drought is expected to cost many billions of dollars and could top the list as one of the most expensive weather-related disasters in U.S. history. The global market will be most affected by this drought, as so much of the developing world relies on U.S. corn and soybean production. Food prices have already begun to increase due to lower yields, and price fluctuations will inevitably affect food security around the globe.

Further highlights from the report:

  • The FAO expects global maize production to increase 4.1 percent from 2011, reaching an estimated 916 million tons in 2012.
  • Global rice production achieved an all-time high of 480 million tons in 2011, a 2.6 percent increase from 2010.
  • World wheat production is projected to drop to 675.1 million tons in 2012, down 3.6 percent from 2011, with the largest declines in feed and biofuel utilization.
  • Since 1961, grain production has increased 269 percent and grain yield has increased 157 percent, while the grain harvest area has increased only 25 percent. This is due largely to the Green Revolution and the introduction of high-yielding grain varieties.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE.


Five Sustainable and Fascinatingly Fun Pest Management Techniques

Pin It

By Ioulia Fenton

According to a recent report by the Pesticide Action Network, the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture is costly to human health and biodiversity: the effects of excessive exposure range from skin and eye irritation to disruptions of the immune system and death by poisoning. It is also increasingly expensive for farmers who have to keep up with pests’ natural ability to adapt to chemical formulas and resilience. But many farmers are abandoning chemicals for more natural methods that are not only chemical-free, but are also fascinating and fun.

Today, Nourishing the Planet presents five natural pest management innovations from around the world that use novel insect control techniques:

1.           Ducks in South Africa. No one likes to chew on a grape the way a snail does. Vineyards are prone to snail infestations that can threaten entire harvests, leading ordinary wine producers to rely on pesticides for protection. South Africa’s Avondale Wines, however, uses an entirely different method to control the slimy pest.

Every season, one hundred adult ducks wobble their way through 247 acres of Avondale vineyard rows, happily eating snails. “It is a natural alternative to your usual toxic, chemical-based snail control…and it works much more effectively,” says Avondale’s Johnathan (Jonty) Grieve in a YouTube video. The ducks are not only more efficient at getting rid of snails, but also do not leave behind the chemical residues unavoidable with traditional methods. Moreover, the duck’s precision—they only eat the snails, leaving the vineyard otherwise intact—helps preserve the harvest and maintain the natural harmony of the plants, animals, and organisms in the immediate environment.

2.           Arachnophilia in China’s cotton growing by the Yangtse. Protecting the health of farmers while helping them protect their crops is the mission of Dr. Zhao Jingzhao, President of China’s Hubei University. Building on ancient Chinese biological pest control methods and through nationwide research, he set out to find natural predators to the boll weevil, the major insect plaguing cotton farms near Wuhan on the Yangtze River, 1,000 kilometers south of Beijing. Dr. Zao found that the 600 natural enemies of the boll weevil that his team identified included over 100 varieties of spiders. Upon the discovery, the team immediately began to show farmers of the Hubei Province how to attract the eight-legged arachnids to their cotton fields—digging small holes in fields before planting the rice and providing plenty of grass cover for the spiders to hide in. As a result, the farmers have been able to cut down on chemical use by 80 percent, while their yields have increased. Read more in this article by Horizon Solutions.

3.           The Bug Wars in Thailand. According to the Thai Tapioca Starch Association, cassava—a woody, shrubby plant, widely cultivated in the Tropics for its starchy root—is worth around US$1.5 billion a year to Thailand’s farmers. But people are not the only ones who find this rich vegetable delicious—it is also eagerly devoured by an unruly pest called the mealy bug. According to the New York Times, in 2010, the infestation was so serious that it become nothing short of a plague. To fight this onslaught, the Thai government released a quarter of a million tiny parasitic wasps—the mealy bug’s natural predator—in the cassava fields of the Nakhon Ratchasima district to successfully control the problem.

4.           Spicing things up in Guatemala. To save money and help heal the land, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Guatemala is helping farmers discover ways to make pest-control preparations using free or cheap locally available ingredients. In workshops that engage community leaders, local representatives of FAO hold practical demonstrations that combine water with large amounts of crushed garlic and chiltepes—pinky-fingernail-sized highly spicy local chili peppers. The end result is an all-natural pesticide that can be sprayed regularly on plants to deter unwanted insects, birds, and animal gorgers naturally with its pungent odor and painful spice.

5.           Natural methods to minimize rice storage losses in India. It is not just on the farm that insects and other creatures can claim a share of a harvest. Storage of perishable goods such as rice, produced in India and other countries, is also prone to pest and fungi attacks. According to the German Transport Information Service, flour, drugstore, and spider beetles, as well as moths, rats, and mice, are all attracted to rice. The damage they cause leads to increased grain respiration—a chemical reaction that releases water vapor and warmth in the process of breaking down glucose into energy for the plant’s cells—which increases moisture and heat levels that facilitate bacteria growth and mold. Large losses of stored crops can occur if these are left unchecked. Meanwhile, fungicide and pesticide-treated grain—rice is often fumigated with an insecticide called methyl bromide—leaves chemical residues that could harm human health.

A global consortium of rice farmers and scientists recently found a mixed technology solution to this problem. The team came together under the EURIKA project, a multi-governmental European research initiative. According to the project, their novel combination of insect traps, better refrigeration, and use of natural gases to slow down pest development has been so successful—it saw a 95 percent decline in rice lost to pests during storage and transportation—that four companies are already using it to great effect. The method is also undergoing research into the solution’s applicability to reduce storage and transportation losses of many other grains besides rice.

Of course, using a single method to control one pest is not a panacea. In fact, even the most seemingly natural alternatives come with their own tradeoffs and possible negative side effects. According to National Geographic, for example, the introduction of the cane toad to control pests in Australia in the 19th and 20th centuries led to tragic consequences for many native species. Most of the methods above, however, are compatible with the wider principles of Integrated Pest Management that views the farm as an integrated, whole ecosystem and therefore uses natural methods of pest control that do not upset its overall balance.

Do you know of other fascinating, natural techniques that farmers use to control pests? Please share them in the comments below.

Ioulia Fenton is a Food and Agriculture Research Intern with Nourishing the Planet.

Nourishing the Planet has written extensively on integrated and reduced input pest management and other techniques. Check out these articles: What works: Reduced Input Pest Management; Innovation of the Week: Handling Pests with Care Instead of Chemicals; Five Ways to Get Rid of Pests Without Using Chemicals ; For Pest Control, Following Nature’s Lead, and Tiny Bugs to Solve Big Pest Problem.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.



Five Organizations Sharing Local Knowledge for Success Across the World

Pin It

By Jenna Banning

As Nourishing the Planet has witnessed first-hand, small-scale farmers and local communities have developed innovative ways to meet the challenges facing people across the world. But until recently, they have often lacked the ability to share their solutions, or their knowledge has been overlooked by governments and international groups.

Nourishing the Planet Director Danielle Nierenberg meets with farmers at the Ecova-Mali center. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five organizations that recognize the valuable contributions farmers can share with their neighbors, with policy makers, and with people across the world.

1. AfricaRice Center:

Created in 1971 by eleven African countries, the Africa Rice Center now works with 24 countries across the continent, connecting researchers, rice farmers, and rice processors.

AfricaRice has been developing learning tools that focus on reaching as many farmers as possible, aiming to both “decentralize and democratize learning within the rice sector.” One powerful method has been farmer-to-farmer videos, which feature local experts sharing their knowledge about seed drying and preservation, rice quality, and soil management with viewers. These videos have been translated into more than 30 African languages, with great impact.

Reaching even beyond the continent, the African Rice Center has also created a set of four videos on seed management with rural women in Bangladesh, helping to further facilitate valuable knowledge exchange between rice farmers.



Citywatch: Japan’s Earthquake

Pin It

By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well-being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

The world is still reeling and shaking from afterthoughts of what happened in March, 2011 when Japan was hit by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, which exposed how vulnerable all basic institutions have become when Nature acts up—something bound to happen anywhere or anytime in this era of climate change and global transmission of hard-to-treat infectious diseases.

The aftermath of Japan's 2011 earthquake. (Photo credit:

Lessons from a tsunami are a terrible thing to waste, so last week, the Food Policy Research Initiative based at University of Toronto and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health hosted a symposium of Japanese food and agricultural experts and Toronto public health leaders to survey what others can learn from Japan’s response to the crisis.

Crises can provoke multiple breakdowns in government institutions and practices, keynote speaker Yoko Niiyama of Kyoto University told the crowd, so crisis preparation and management cannot just be about damage control.

The violent earthquake and tsunami killed over 15,000 people and destroyed or damaged some 400,000 buildings in short order, said Niiyama, who has helped design government communication strategies. But the longer-lasting human aftershocks included everything from destruction of prime agricultural land from salted ocean water, to a nuclear horror show and release of radioactive radiation, to widespread mistrust of government information, especially as relates to the safety of the food supply.



2007-2008 Food Crisis: Causes, Responses, and Lessons Learned

Pin It

By Jameson Spivack

The world food crisis of 2007-2008 caused a substantial rise in the cost of food, especially staple foods such as rice, wheat, and corn. This rise in price had a devastating effect on hungry people in the developing world.

When food prices rise, poor people in developing countries are hurt the most. (Image source: IFPRI)

Between 2005 and 2011, world prices for rice, wheat, and maize rose 102 percent, 115 percent, and 204 percent, respectively, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). With price increases, people with less disposable income must spend a larger percentage of their earnings on essential staple grains, and less on other food and non-food items. This can have a significant impact on nutrition.

In seven Latin American countries, this increase in price led to an average 8 percent decrease in the amount of calories consumed. Before the crisis, 35 percent of households in Ecuador received an adequate amount of calories; afterwards, only 22 percent were receiving healthy levels of calories. In developing countries, if prices rise 50 percent across the board, and there is no rise in income, iron intake will decrease by 30 percent, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). In the Philippines, this 30 percent decrease in iron consumption would mean that only 5 percent of women have adequate levels of iron.



Five Sustainable Innovations in Aquaculture

Pin It

By Laura Reynolds

Aquaculture, or the rearing of fish in captivity, is the world’s fastest-growing protein-producing activity, with nearly 50 percent of all seafood being farmed rather than caught in wild fisheries. This rapid growth has provoked questions of sustainability in the global aquaculture industry, including how to handle the massive amounts of salt water being imported inland for fish farms. While researchers warn of dangerous overfishing and decline in the world’s wild fish population, aquaculture stands as a potentially sustainable alternative, and recent innovations promise to enhance the efficiency, safety, and sustainability of aquaculture while improving the lives of its fish farmers.

Fish farms like this one in Cote D’Ivoire can offer sustainable alternatives to fishing in the wild. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Today, Nourishing the Planet examines five innovations that are improving the sustainability of aquaculture around the world.

1. Integrating rice-and-fish farming: In many parts of Asia, rice farming provides a major source of income. Rice paddies and fish have long coexisted incidentally, since many fish species find their way into flooded rice fields and actually prefer the fields for reproduction and habitation. But, recently farmers have intentionally imported fish into their rice fields. The advantages of integrated rice-fish farming include a more productive and nutrient-rich rice crop, because fish increase the availability of phosphorous and nitrogen in soils; a reduction in disease-carrying aquatic weeds and algae, which compete with rice for nutrients but are a favored food among fish; and an extra source of income for farmers who can find markets for their fish.

Rice-fish farming in action: In Bangladesh, where approximately 80 percent of its total cultivable land is devoted to rice farming, two researchers from Charles Darwin University in Australia studied the benefits of integrating fish into rice cultivation in 2010. They found that for aman, the most popularly raised rice variety in Bangladesh, the yield was 12 percent higher in integrated systems than in rice monocultures, and fertilizer and pesticide inputs were reduced. In addition, another researcher from Shimane University in Japan found that rice-fish farmers had 5–11 percent higher revenue than farmers of rice monocultures.



Nourishing the Planet TV: Messages From One Rice Farmer to Another

Pin It

In this week’s episode, Nourishing the Planet research intern Emily Gilbert discusses the Africa Rice Center‘s knowledge sharing, “Farmer to Farmer” videos, a video series that seeks to educate and instruct rice farmers on new production and storage techniques being developed by smallholder rice farmers around the world.


To read about the Africa Rice Center’s “Farmer to Farmer” videos, see Innovation of the Week: Messages from One Rice Farmer to Another

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.


Innovation of the Week: Researchers Find Farmers Applying Rice Innovations to Their Wheat Crops

Pin It

By Matt Styslinger

The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is an innovative method of increasing the productivity of irrigated rice with very simple adjustments to traditional techniques. It involves transplanting younger seedlings into the field with wider spacing in a square pattern, irrigating to keep the roots moist and aerated instead of flooding fields, and increasing organic matter in the soil with compost and manure. The SRI method of crop management has been shown to increase yields in over 40 countries, while simultaneously reducing costs, labor, and the need for inputs of chemical fertilizers and water.

By allowing the roots of wheat crops to develop more fully, farmers are seeing higher yields with less water, fertilizer, and labor. (Photo credit: Cornell University)

Lead SRI researchers, Norman Uphoff and Erika Styger, are spearheading new research on applying SRI methods to wheat cultivation. The methodology—dubbed System of Wheat Intensification (SWI)—is improving wheat yields for small-scale farmers in India and Mali, while reducing costs and labor. In Mali, wheat farmers can increase their yields by 15 to 20 percent, and Indian farmers have seen yields 2 and 3 times higher than those from conventional methods. SWI practices have spread quickly in India, and farmers have spontaneously begun applying the principles to other crops, such as millet, mustard seed, soybean, eggplant, and maize. Collectively, these practices are becoming known as System of Crop Intensification (SCI).

“Two years ago there were 400 farmers—most of them women, and most of them illiterate and landless—who used SWI,” says Uphoff. “The next year it was 25,000, and this year it was 50,000. To go from 400 to 50,000 in two years is unprecedented.” Uphoff believes that this is because the methodology is well-suited to the needs of small-scale farmers in India, and that it is making big improvements to the food security of farming families. “[The state of] Bihar is where we’ve seen the most excitement generated by farmers who say that between SRI in the summer and SWI in the winter, they’ve gone from producing three months’ supply of food for their families to 6 or 7 months.”

Uphoff says that the method is about managing the crop, soil, and nutrients to promote a vibrant soil system that, in turn, promotes larger root systems. With adequate spacing and loose soil, the roots of the crop can grow deeper than from conventional cropping methods. “The extra root activity keeps the soil from compacting,” he says. “It’s really a less is more strategy.” By using fewer plants and reducing the amount of inputs, each plant is hardier and can grow to its natural potential.

“What’s more is organic matter,” he explains. “By adding plenty of organic matter to the soil, you get a lot more bacteria, fungi, mites, and earthworms. That makes the soil a well-aerated system, allowing more air and water to penetrate the roots.”



Madagascar’s “Magic Rice” – Dista Rice

Pin It

By Mara Schechter

Rice is Madagascar’s main staple crop, eaten at nearly every meal. Dista rice, which is cultivated in the Toamasina province near Lake Alaotra, is named after the farmer who discovered it. The rice, a pale pink color, smells like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, is very nutritious and yields are double that of other varieties. Dista rice also shatters less when milled, helping reduce post harvest losses and increasing farmers’ income.


Rice is Madagascar's main staple crop. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Dista yields are also high for another reason—farmers are using the Système de Riziculture Intensive, or System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to cultivate it. SRI practices include transplanting seedlings when they are very young and growing them widely apart, adding compost from organic matter to the soil, weeding regularly, and using a minimum amount of water instead of flooding fields. This helps create deep root systems that are better able to resist drought, while also increasing yields, strengthening the plant, and enhancing its flavor.

Malagasy farmers have been successful in not only growing the rice, but in selling it, as well. Farmers in the Koloharena Cooperative (KH), which is a countrywide network of local groups, began selling their rice to Lotus Foods in 2009. The farmers jointly bought equipment, including weeders and organic fertilizer, to scale up production for the company. Koloharena means “preserve our heritage,” and the households participating in KH incorporate conservation into their agricultural methods. Using SRI to grow Dista rice, KH farmers have reduced the need for expensive fertilizers and pesticides and they’ve made their land more productive without damaging the environment.

­ Mara Schechter is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.