This presentation focuses on Rice. It is designed to describe the cradle to grave lifecycle of Rice, paying particular attention to the social, environmental, and public health impacts of the process associated with the production of Rice. Rice has been promoted as the cure to hunger in these regions, this analysis explores the impacts of such claims to the farmer, consumer, and environment.
Four-fifths of rice produced is consumed by small-scale farmers in most developing countries.
Alone it supplies over seventy percent of their daily calories/protein intake.
Along with grains such as wheat and maize it is consumed by 5.6 billion people world wide. That is four-fifths of the world population.
Unlike wheat and maize 80 percent of rice is consumed by people.
It contains large amounts of calories, high protein content, it has high utilization process (vitamin digestion and absorption).
It contains vitamin A, zinc and iron.
Other uses for Rice:
Waxy rice are used for desserts and as salad dressings.
As baby food, breakfast cereals, rice breads, beer, wines.
As rice paper.
The hulls and excess tillers (stems) are used as feed, compost for the fields, for fuel.
Rice is cultivated and eaten mostly in the “rice bowl” region, which consists of Asia and middle/near east countries.
Rice has been cultivated in these regions for over nine thousand years, which means that it is highly variable and adaptable. Its been grown in the lowlands of India to as high as three thousand meters in Nepal. Lang 1996:5
It just needs enough water and solar energy to be cultivated in most places.
Rice has been cultivated mostly in tropical areas because it lives in water.
Every stage of its growth, it is immersed in water.
Most rice are cultivated and consumed by small-scale farmers and local communities.
Their planting season begin in a month before the monsoon season, usually in May.
They plant the seedlings in irrigated paddies, lowland marshes, or near river beds.
After one month or so the seeds germinate and begin to grow, they then transplant them to larger fields, where they are matured.
The process lasts about 100-120 days.
“ The Green Revolution”
Leading scientists postulated in the 1950s that the world population will grow exponentially and feeding them will be one of the main issues that will entail the population boom.
The International Rice Research Institute was subsequently founded by the Rockefeller Foundation along with the Ford Foundation. And with their success other research organizations had been spawned: The International Rice Commission, Food and Agricultural Organization, United Nation Development Program to name a few.
Researchers proposed that in order to increase yields as well as the quality of the rice, they needed to:
Cultivate rice that has shorter tillers (stems) to combat the torrential downpour common in these regions.
Be resistant to pests.
Robust enough to handle cultivation.
Have an earlier maturation stage, achieve better irrigation methods.
For the most part they were successful in their goals:
They increased the yields annually from 203 million tons to 479 millions tons by the nineties.
They produced rice that has higher nutrient contents such as IR6884 and IR72, which contains higher zinc and iron. IRRI
They also have been able to introduce direct seeding methods that help reduce the cultivation time from 190-220 days to 100-120 days.
They were able to produce hybrid rice that could withstand the monsoon season, have shorter tillers, and be able to yield more grain.
The Aftermath: environmental and social effects
With all their accomplishments there have been set backs.
Mono-culturing was emphasized thus depleting the nutrients in the soil.
The crops became very susceptible to pests such as insects, weeds, and fungus.
The overuse of pesticides, herbicides to combat these pests. And the misuse of fertilizers.
The stagnation of rice production today, along with the marginalization of the local farming community.
The most important environmental issue that concern rice production today is the improper use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers to help increase yields.
The pesticides used in combating rice pests are some of the most toxic in agrochemicals; most are banned in the U.S.
Insecticides such as Methyl parathion are commonly used because they are cheaper but are classified as one of the most toxic by the WHO.
It interferes with the normal functioning of the brain and nerve cells.
Exposure to very high levels of methyl parathion for a short period in air or water may cause death, loss of consciousness, dizziness, confusion, headaches, difficult breathing, chest tightness, wheezing, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, tremors, blurred vision, and sweating.
Farmers are commonly unaware of the effects of these chemicals on themselves as well as others they come into contact with.
They normally wear minimal protective gear when spraying.
They lack the knowledge of proper interval time before reentering the sprayed areas.
They store the chemicals improperly: in their homes near food, areas where anyone has access to them, and they dispose the containers in piles near their farms where they leach into the ground and affect the water base.
Further the overuse of pesticides, herbicides, and artificial fertilizers leaches into the ground water effectively contaminating it.
High levels of nitrates in drinking water can cause health problems such as stomach pains, cholera, and hepatitis.
High nutrient content in water are toxic to aquatic life by encouraging rapid growth of algae, which depletes the oxygen in the water thus suffocating fish and other aquatic life.
The arability of the land is also affected.
Soil salinity is affected by mono-cropping and depletes the soil fertility
Makes the soil too acidic for crops.
The soil structures are altered and are susceptible to erosion. FAO
Development in production methods to help curtail the stagnation on current yields:
The re-introduction of crop rotation in order to increase yields.
Methods in reducing the lost of yields in the post production process.
Research in genetic development of rice to increase yields as well as their nutrient contents.
Data today shows that mono-culturing of rice has stagnated the production of rice. Further, along with pesticide use, it has increased rice’s susceptibility to insects due growing resistance against the pesticides by the insects through mutation and the “survival of the fittest” of the insects.
Researchers are now trying to incorporate crop rotation in order to decrease these effects, which were overlooked at the genesis of the “green revolution.”
Although the possible losses are tremendous in the cultivation of rice due to the unpredictable impact of nature, the majority of losses are actually at the postproduction level process.
The losses are about 30 percent and are attributed to operational, technical, socioeconomic, cultural, political and environmental factors.
Dealing with these issues are now part of the discourse in improving the yields of rice for the future.
The most volatile issue that concern rice production and research today is the genetic alteration of the composition of rice in order to add nutrients and resistance to pests.
Instead of hybridizing different kinds of rice, researchers now are attempting to genetically alter their composition, which has had its success but ultimately have been mired in problems with such rice.
It is also very costly: financially as well as environmentally.
The concentration of research and development by bio tech industries.
Bio tech firms are funding these research projects and are monopolizing the outcomes.
They patent the seeds, making them inaccessible to those who really need them.
By the time they are at the finished stage they are very costly, billions of dollars are funded into their research.
The potential environmental effects are grave according to data on the research so far.
They contaminate other crops.
Have been proven to be toxic in humans.
High contents of vitamin A can cause abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, weight loss.
Herbicides infused with rice are harmful; glufosinate was added to rice and was found that it caused birth defects, behavioral changes, cleft lips and skeletal defects, and miscarriages.
Rice is the most important crop cultivated in the “rice belt” region. For that reason, I feel that current research on developing and altering the composition of rice by genetic modification be hindered and the development and improvements in traditional ways of integrated farming be put at the forefront of discussion. Because there are evidence that the current methods and applications are not surpassing the advancements achieved during the “green revolution.” Further, the mishaps of the revolution should be addressed.
I also want to add that there are aspects of the production process that I did not cover in detail because of the magnitude of the research.