Today, resilient rice farming is an increasingly popular aspect of strategies that attempt to overcome the challenges faced by agriculture as a result of climate change.
Rice is a staple food for more than half of the world’s population, with record consumption figures in recent years. However, in the face of growing demand, production is often insufficient.
There are numerous reasons for this that vary depending on the area of the world. Yet what affects agricultural production in particular, albeit in different ways, is climate change.
In recent years, climate change has accelerated beyond the predictions of theoretical models. This has had major consequences, including increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, more frequent floods and prolonged droughts. These climate variations threaten world agriculture and in particular rice production, jeopardising the food security of billions of people.
Although rice grows in a wide variety of environments, it is particularly sensitive to weather conditions and temperature changes. In many regions of the world, the effects of climate change are already visible and have had a noticeable impact on rice production. For example, the rise in average global temperatures can accelerate the growth of rice. Although this effect may seem positive, it is actually counterproductive, as it reduces the ripening period and consequently the yield.
In addition, floods and rising sea levels—phenomena closely related to climate change—can submerge rice fields, destroying crops and rendering land unusable.
Drought is also a growing threat. Water is a key resource for rice cultivation and a lack of water can seriously affect production. In recent years, this has become evident even in areas that historically have never had a problem, such as in Piedmont.
Finally, while the increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere may boost plant growth through its fertilising effect, it could alter the nutritional quality of rice, with a potential impact on human health.
In this context, the challenge is to be able to tackle climatic difficulties by investing in agricultural policies that can safeguard production and support farms so sufficient production will meet food needs.
Not only should politicians immediately commit to measures that contribute towards protecting the planet, but they must also work equally hard to foster resilient agriculture.
The term resilient agriculture, which is also relevant to rice farming, refers to the ability of an agricultural system to cope with critical situations and to continue to function productively, even in the face of significant changes. This may include not only climate change but also a broad range of critical issues, such as plant diseases, market changes, and social and economic pressures.
Resilient agriculture is particularly important in the age of climate change, as the acceleration of this now unstoppable phenomenon leads to increasingly unpredictable and extreme consequences. Strategies to increase resilience may include the cultivation of more resilient crops, the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices, crop diversification, technological innovation and continuous learning.
One of the responses of resilient rice farming is to cultivate rice varieties that are naturally able to tolerate stressful conditions, such as drought, extreme temperatures, soil salinity or disease.
These resistant varieties can derive either from ancient types of rice that, although less productive under optimal conditions, have shown greater adaptability over time, or from new varieties that have been developed through genetic improvement techniques.
Using different varieties increases the biodiversity of the ecosystem, which is a fundamental characteristic of a resilient agricultural system. On the other hand, the intensive cultivation of a single variety can lead crops to become more vulnerable to diseases and pests, especially in the context of climate change. This varietal diversity also allows greater flexibility in responding to new challenges presented by climate change, such as the emergence of new diseases or adaptation to new climatic conditions.
This approach is part of a broader framework of organic and sustainable agriculture that views varietal diversity and the adoption of environmentally friendly practices as fundamental tools for ensuring sufficient and nutritionally adequate food production without compromising soil and ecosystem health. In the specific case of rice farming, choosing resistant varieties can reduce the need for pesticides and fungicides, with benefits in terms of both the environment and the quality of the final product.
Agroecology is a practice that focuses on developing sustainable and resilient agricultural systems while preserving biodiversity and promoting social equity. In the context of climate change and rice farming, agroecology is a key strategy in promoting resilience.
In this approach, every aspect of production is considered in a global sense, from soil management and efficient water use to the conservation of biodiversity and respect for local traditions and knowledge. These practices enhance the genetic diversity of rice in every respect, making it possible to harness the natural adaptability of different rice varieties to changing climatic conditions.
Agroecology techniques of particular interest include crop rotation, the use of organic fertilisers and efficient irrigation techniques to save water. Although it may seem like a return to the past, today the ability to use more advanced technological tools and machinery makes it possible to optimise production methods, making rice systems more robust in response to the challenges of climate change.