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Dry Rice Cultivation

Rice was domesticated thousands of years ago and since then has become one of the most important crops in the world. This grain is grown all over the world, but primarily in South, Southeast and East Asia. Rice is the second largest cultivated crop worldwide. The growing of rice is typically labor-intensive and consumes large amounts of water. With water becoming increasingly scarce for agricultural uses, alternative ways to grow rice are being explored to farm this staple food more sustainably. One of these methods being looked into is dry rice cultivation.


Context within NORA

Relationships to Needs

Rice is a widely used grain that is a staple food for many populations, especially in Asia. This food contributes to a significant portion of these people's diets making it vital to their nutrition, and therefore their physical health.

Most rice farmers come from families that have made an occupation of cultivating this crop for many generations. Because of this, many farmers feel a sense of spiritual connection to their work.

Dry rice farming is a particular form of cultivation that farmers have practiced for centuries.  This type of labor fulfills a meaningful livelihood for many rice producers. The income received from this work gives economic stability to the farmers, providing the farm families a sense of security.

Participating in economic and political decision-making is important for rice farmers to preserve the economic, social and political conditions that allow them to successfully pursue their farming livelihoods.

It is particularly vital for dry rice farmers to always be actively searching for opportunities to learn. This will allow improvements to make this form of farming successful.


Relationships to Organizational Forms

Dry rice cultivation is primarily a form of natural resource management. This includes the conservation of the biological environment and resources such as water on the controlled land.

Much of the rice the farmers produce is sold. Some farmers use individual sales, adhering to singular customers; others engage in committed sales or services where the rice is sold to service providers with a long-term contract. Most farmers partake in self-provisioning, which entails the farmers growing the rice to consume themselves.


Relationships to Resources

The dry cultivation of rice involves agricultural practices to utilize and grow living things. This includes the crop being farmed and any animals used in the process. Air and atmosphere, water, and land are all resources affected by this form of cultivation. These resources affected must be conserved in order for these agricultural methods to be sustainable in the long run.

Physical, human-made assets are any equipment or machinery that is used in producing rice. The most common of this is equipment that uses animal power as a form of energy to prepare the land for sowing. Human energy is expended in the form of manual labor through preparing the land and weeding among other things.Increasingly, machinery powered by fossil fuels is being used as well in rice fields.


Understanding patterns of abundance and scarcity

In rice production, water is one of the most important components for growth. The availability of water is becoming scarce, leading to questions of how long the current rate of water usage can sustain current agricultural production levels. Increased competition for water usage, decreasing levels of groundwater, pollution and salinization of water, and faulty irrigation systems are all contributing factors to this problem.

Ways to cultivate rice without the large amounts of water needed are becoming more prevalent, but there are still downsides to many of these systems. Many of these water saving systems have lower crop yields, which is why many farmers are hesitant to switch to these processes. Although several of these methods can competitively produce yields comparable to those of the flooded rice fields, many farmers see no reason to change their ways while there is still water available. Lowland farmers in particular have the greatest access to water, giving them no incentive to amend the way they have been farming for generations.  Another weakness is that many of the lowland farmers use cultivars of rice that would do very poorly in dry cultivation practices. While many upland rice cultivars are better suited to these water management methods, the problem of getting these cultivars of rice to the lowland farmers arises. These difficulties as well as various other obstacles still plague the path toward more sustainable practices of rice cultivation.

Water Saving Systems

Cultivation with Mulching

One system that looks to be promising is the non-flooded mulching cultivation of rice. Much of the time farmers burn the crop residue, releasing air pollution, but using it as straw to mulch can be beneficial to the crops and soil. This technique can increase the organic matter within the uppermost top soil, enriching it over time with carbon and nitrogen as it slowly decomposes. Not only can it improve soil fertility, but also help prevent erosion. By preventing erosion, mulching can help retain higher levels of water. With this efficient water usage and other benefits of mulching, high yields are obtainable. This method of rice cultivation is an ecological alternative to traditional flooding practices.

Advanced Irrigation Systems

Alternate Wetting and Drying Irrigation

One of the most successful water-saving irrigation systems has used alternating between wetting and drying the fields. In this process, the field is supplied with water, then let completely dry before the next watering. Not only does this cut down on water usage, but it also minimizes the methane gas that is produced due to anaerobic decomposition of organic matter in flooded fields. It also helps support the growth of the rice because it allows for more rigorous root growth and a healthier abundance of aerobic organisms in the soil that help plant growth.

Pressurized Water Application Methods

Using pressurized technology, such as sprinklers is a water conserving technique that is already practiced in other agricultural industries in the world. These technologies can give more precision with how much water is being applied to crops leading to less waste. Some of this technology can measure how wet or dry the soil is and automatically supply the fields with how ever much water is needed. These advancements may not be available, however, to the mass majority of farmers who have smaller operations and cannot afford such systems.

Upland Cultivars of Rice

One of the most important resources needed for dry rice farming is cultivars of rice that are suited to grow in drier climates. These water saving techniques will be unsuccessful if breeds of rice accustomed to flooded conditions are grown without the amounts of water needed. Many of these cultivars of rice that are adapted to growing with vast amounts of water are lowland breeds. This is because the lowlands have the most readily available access to water. Many upland areas do not have as easy access to usable water leading to breeds becoming naturally more resistant to drought like conditions. Using these cultivars is important to growing productive rice.

Related approaches to creating greater abundance

Drought tolerant rice cultivars


Environmentally-friendly herbicides & pesticides

Agricultural subsidies/ tax breaks

Seed Saving Networks

Water Management

Progressive Farming Methods



The World Bank- Achieving More with Less: A New Way of Rice Cultivation

The International Rice Research Institute

Thierry Facon. 2000. Water Management in Rice in Asia: Some Issues for the Future. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

B.A.M. Bourman, R.M. Lampayan, and T.P. Toung. 2007. Water Management in Irrigate Rice: Coping with Water  Scarcity. International Rice Research Institute.

Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research- Growing Rice With Less Water

Voice of America- Filling the World's Rice Bowl with Less Water



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Tuong, T.p. "Effect of water-saving irrigation on rice yield and water use in typical lowland conditions in Asia." Agricultural Water Management: 193-210. Print.
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