Rice is the most important food crop of the developing world and is grown on over 155 million ha worldwide. Food security of the poor, especially in Asia, depends critically on rice availability at an affordable price. In this brief we examine the environmental constraints to, and impacts of, smallholder rice production systems in South Asia (SA) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), noting where the analysis applies to only one of these regions. We highlight crop-environment interactions at three stages of the rice value chain: pre-production (e.g., land clearing), production (e.g., water and other input use), and post-production (e.g., waste disposal). At each stage we emphasize environmental constraints on production (e.g., poor soil quality, water scarcity, crop pests) and also environmental impacts of crop production (e.g., soil erosion, water depletion, pest resistance). We then highlight best or good practices for minimizing negative environmental impacts in smallholder rice production systems. Evidence on environmental issues in smallholder rice production is uneven. Far more research is available for Asian rice production systems, as compared to African rice systems. And with the possible exception of the evidence on water limits to increasing productivity, conclusions on the strength of published findings on crop-environment interactions in rice depends on one’s weighting of economic versus ecological perspectives, physical science versus social science, academic versus grey literature, and quantity versus quality of methods and findings.
This review is one in a series that examines crop-environment interactions drawing on both the academic literature and the field expertise of crop scientists. Other briefs in this series include:
- Agriculture & the Environment: Overview (EPAR Technical Report #254)
- Agriculture & the Environment: Cassava Systems (EPAR Research Brief #228)
- Agriculture & the Environment: Maize Systems (EPAR Research Brief #215)
- Agriculture & the Environment: Sorghum & Millet Systems (EPAR Research Brief #213)
- Agriculture & the Environment: Wheat Systems (EPAR Research Brief #212)
- Agriculture & the Environment: Yam & Sweet Potato Systems (EPAR Research Brief #225)