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Why is rice so popular? - Carolyn Beans


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Rice contributes over 20% of the calories consumed by humans each year. Korean bibimbap, Nigerian jollof, Indian biryani, Spanish paella, and countless other culinary masterpieces all begin with rice. So how did this humble grain end up in so many cuisines? Carolyn Beans investigates the global expansion of this beloved crop and the unintended consequences of its popularity.

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The Global Significance of Rice

Rice is not just a staple food; it's a cornerstone of global nutrition and culture. Consumed by billions, rice provides over 20% of the world's caloric intake. Its domestication dates back thousands of years, with Asian rice believed to have originated in China over 10,000 years ago. Distinct varieties were also developed independently in Africa and South America. Today, rice cultivation is deeply integrated into many cultures. For instance, rice is central to the 'Annaprashan' ceremony in India and Nepal, marking an infant's introduction to solid food. In Japan, 'Gohan' intriguingly denotes both cooked rice and a meal, underlining the grain's cultural significance.

Rice Cultivation and Climate Impact

While essential for global food security, rice cultivation is also a significant environmental concern. It occupies 11% of the world's cropland and consumes over a third of global irrigation water. More critically, traditional rice farming in flooded paddies creates ideal conditions for methanogens, microorganisms that produce methane – a potent greenhouse gas. These paddies contribute around 12% of human-caused methane emissions annually. This issue is exemplified by traditional rice farming practices in many Asian countries, where fields are flooded throughout the growing season, leading to substantial methane release.

Innovations in Sustainable Rice Farming

Addressing the environmental impact of rice cultivation is crucial for climate mitigation. One promising technique is 'alternate wetting and drying' (AWD), where water levels in paddies are periodically reduced. This practice can cut water usage by 30% and methane emissions by 30 to 70% without impacting yield. AWD has been increasingly adopted in countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, showcasing a major shift in traditional practices. Such innovations are vital in transforming rice cultivation into a more sustainable practice, demonstrating how traditional agriculture can adapt to meet the challenges of climate change while continuing to feed billions globally.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Carolyn Beans
  • Director Na Na Na Studio
  • Narrator Christina Greer
  • Animator Léon Moh-Cah, Andi Concha
  • Music Cem Misirlioglu, Jesse Barnes
  • Sound Designer Cem Misirlioglu
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Producer Sazia Afrin
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Editorial Producer Shannon Odell
  • Expert Consultant Michele Reba

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