About three years ago, a fourteen-year-old kid on the Internet decided to embark on a journey to answer the question, “What tasty food would be [disgusting] if eaten over rice?”. He topped good ol’ steamed rice with fruit flavoured Mentos, pumpkin pie, Jell-O, spaghetti, and even Rice Krispies cereal (which is essentially rice). His rice obsession and ratings out of ten, which were based on overall texture and flavour, made him an Internet sensation – “10/10 with rice”.
The 10/10 with rice meme blew up for two reasons – it was funny and relatable. Funny, because somewhere, somehow, someone thought that pumpkin pie—with a rating of 9/10—would pair well with plain, steamed white rice. Relatable, because rice is a kitchen staple grown all over the world from “Minnesota to Myanmar.” It can be used in all five courses of a meal: the soup, appetizer, salad, main course, and dessert. Think Mulligatawny Soup from India, Arancini di Risa (rice balls) from Sicily, brown rice salad from Mexico, shrimp fried rice from China, and chicha de arroz (a fermented beverage from rice) from Venezuela—a five-course meal made of rice.
From Paddy to Plate
No doubt, rice is a traditional part of many cultures across the world—if it’s not in your kitchen pantry, it’ll probably be in your takeout box this evening. It has been around for a long time, having been cultivated for the first time over 10,000 years ago. But how exactly does the single grain of rice get from the paddy to your plate (or takeout box)?
The first step in growing rice is selecting the seed correctly. A good quality seed can increase yields by 5-20%, increase crop emergence, reduce replanting, lead to uniform plant stands, and create more vigorous growth in the early stages, thereby reducing weed problems and strengthening the crop’s resistance to pests and diseases. The seed must also be of a suitable variety of rice for the environment in which it will grow.
Once the seed has been selected, the soil must be brought to the best physical condition for crop growth. This involves plowing and harrowing to mix and level the soil. By tilling the soil, seeds can be planted at the right depth, which increasingly helps control weed development. Finally, the land is leveled to allow seeds to establish within the soil more easily and to increase grain quality and yields.
From there, the seeds can either be transplanted or seeded directly—the former meaning that already germinated seedlings are moved from the seedbed to the wet field. Alternatively, by direct seeding, the seeds (whether pre-germinated or dry) are spread (or broadcasted) in deep-water ecosystems.
After the rice crop has matured, the rice can be harvested manually or mechanically. Manual harvesting is done by cutting the rice crop with hand tools and is rather labour intensive. For those with the money and access, machinery exists to aid in quicker harvesting.
The rice is then dried, milled, packaged, and transported for sale.
The Relationship Between Rice and Water
Rice fields around the world are feeling the impact of climate change. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) reports that by 2050, rice prices will increase by at least 30% because of climate change. Additionally, yield losses in rice could be between 10 to 15%.
In Vietnam, the world’s second largest rice exporter after Thailand, 90% of exported rice is grown in the Mekong River Delta. The Delta, however, has become vulnerable to encroaching salt water from the surrounding sea. Sea levels have steadily increased by three millimeters each year, impacting the wider area. Additionally, the shifting of the timing of increasing rainfall levels, coupled with an increase in salinity and drought, has endangered the Delta and the food security associated with it.
“Genetically Modified” Rice
So how exactly are rice farmers around the world preparing for the negative impacts of climate change? The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and DuPont Pioneer have partnered together to conduct research on a commercial Pioneer brand rice hybrid seed that would prosper in soil with higher salt levels. This improved rice seed, known as PHB71, has improved roots, rigorous growth rates, and yields that are 30-40% higher than self-pollinating seeds in open fields. What’s more, these enhanced seeds are also more resistant to diseases and bacteria.
The Supportive Family “Tree”
In 2017, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) commissioned the World Agroforestry Centre to create a manual to assist and guide farmers in Southeast Asia on how to incorporate trees in rice farming. This manual is based on evidence from the 2013 Regional Rice Initiative for Asia in improving policies and strategies and promoting sustainable management of rice ecosystems. The Initiative evaluated the role of trees in rice landscapes in places like Indonesia and the Philippines, yielding evidence that trees can help improve the environmental conditions for rice growth.
The manual outlines that trees on agricultural land can provide food and non-food products, including rice plantations, with proper support to adapt to climate change, while simultaneously increasing biological diversity, regulating hydrological and nutrient cycles, protecting soil, and improving nutrition and income. Trees, which are strong and resilient to storms, floods, and droughts, can help spread/reduce the risks of climate change and the impacts felt by farmers. In extreme situations, trees can also act as an alternative food source when a storm or flood has destroyed rice crops.
With the climate changing, the future of our food sources is uncertain. Every meal has a story and every grain matters! Learn more about how to make the most of every bit of your meal!
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