To feed the world, we need sustainable rice

Rice field with tall green plants

It’s difficult to overstate the global significance of rice. First grown in the Yangtze River valley around 10,000 years ago, this tiny, starchy cereal grain is a staple food for more than half the world’s population. But rice production is slowing—and the way we cultivate it isn’t helping.


Bowl of rice filled 1/5 full

By some estimates, rice accounts for about one-fifth of global calorie consumption. As the world’s population grows, rice production will need to swell significantly to ensure global food security—as will our need for more sustainably grown rice crops.

of the world’s rice is eaten in China, India, and Indonesia.

If temperatures keep climbing and weather becomes more erratic, rice yields could decrease by 40% by the end of the century.

A high-cost staple 

After rice is harvested, farmers often leave the remaining straw and stubble to decay in flooded fields—a process that generates methane—or burn the plant matter to make way for new crops, which emits carbon dioxide and other GHGs. As a result, rice fields account for up to 1.5% of total GHG emissions.

Sustainable solutions

In India, a new tractor-mounted machine called the Happy Seeder cuts and turns crop residue into mulch that boosts crop yields, increasing farmers’ profits by 10% to 20%. An initial study showed that the machine also cuts air pollution and reduces gas emissions by more than 78% per hectare compared to burning.

Emissions from burning
Emissions from Happy Seeder

Man checking rice field

An uncertain future

A semiaquatic plant that requires a lot of water to thrive, rice is traditionally grown in low-lying coastal plains, tidal deltas, and river basins—ecosystems where crops are vulnerable to sea level rise, higher temperatures, droughts, and flooding.

Another way

WWF partners with famers in Malaysia, India, and Lao PDR to promote System of Rice Intensification (SRI), an agricultural method that requires less water and land clearing than conventional rice growing.

Explore More

World Wildlife magazine provides an inspiring, in-depth look at the connections between animals, people and our planet. Published quarterly by WWF, the magazine helps make you a part of our efforts to solve some of the most pressing issues facing the natural world.

View all issues