International Rice Research Institute(IRRI)
IRRI, or the International Rice Research Institute, is a nonprofit independent research and training organization. IRRI is a member of the CGIAR Consortium.
IRRI develops new rice varieties and rice crop management techniques that help rice farmers improve the yield and quality of their rice in an environmentally sustainable way. We work with our public and private sector partners in national agricultural research and extension systems in major rice-growing countries to do research, training, and knowledge transfer. Our social and economic research also informs governments to help them formulate policy to improve the equitable supply of rice.
To reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and consumers, and ensure environmental sustainability through collaborative research, partnerships, and the strengthening of national agricultural research and extension systems.
Reduce poverty through improved and diversified rice-based systems.
Ensure that rice production is sustainable and stable, has minimal negative environmental impact, and can cope with climate change.
Improve the nutrition and health of poor rice consumers and rice farmers.
Provide equitable access to information and knowledge on rice and help develop the next generation of rice scientists.
Provide rice scientists and producers with the genetic information and material they need to develop improved technologies and enhance rice production.
IRRI’s goals contribute to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and ensure environmental sustainability.
They are also aligned with the objectives of the Global Rice Science Partnership that help deliver internationally coordinated research effectively and efficiently with our partners.
What is rice?
Rice is the staple food for more than 3 billion people who eat it everyday.
Rice is a popular cereal crop commonly used as human food. It is actually a type of grass and belongs to a family of plants that includes other cereals such as wheat and corn.
Rice is rich in nutrients and contains a number of vitamins and minerals. It is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates—the best source of energy. However, a lot of these nutrients are lost during milling and polishing, which turns brown rice into white rice by removing the outer rice husk and bran to reveal the white grain.
Two species of rice are considered important as food species for humans: Oryza sativa, grown worldwide; and Oryza glaberrima, grown in parts of West Africa. Both of these belong to a bigger group of plants (the genus Oryza) that includes about 20 other species.
The International Rice Genebank – the world’s largest collection of rice diversity – contains more than 112,000 different types of rice including species of wild rice, the ancestors of rice, traditional and heirloom varieties, and modern varieties.
A brief history of rice
The origins of rice have long been debated. The plant is of such antiquity that the exact time and place of its first development will perhaps never be known. It is certain, however, that domestication of rice ranks as one of the most important developments in history. Rice has fed more people over a longer period than has any other crop.
Pottery shards bearing the imprint of both grains and husks of the cultivated rice species O. sativa were discovered in the 1960s at Non Nok Tha in the Korat area of Thailand. Rice plant remains from 10,000 B.C. were discovered in Spirit Cave on the Thailand-Myanmar border. In China, extensive archeological evidence points to the middle Yangtze and upper Huai rivers as the two earliest places O. sativa was cultivated in the country. Rice and related farming implements dating back at least 8,000 years were found there and rice cultivation seems to have spread down these rivers over the following 2,000 years.
From early, perhaps separate, beginnings in different parts of Asia, the process of diffusion has carried rice in all directions and today it is cultivated on every continent except Antarctica. In the early Neolithic era (10,000 to 8,000 B. C.), rice was grown in forest clearings under a system of shifting cultivation. The crop was direct seeded, without standing water—conditions only slightly different from those to which wild rice was subject. A similar but independent pattern of the incorporation of wild rice into agricultural systems may well have taken place in one or more locations in Africa at approximately the same time with O. glaberrima.
Puddling the soil—turning it to mud—and transplanting seedlings were likely refined in China. Both operations became integral parts of rice farming and remain widely practiced to this day. Puddling breaks down the internal structure of soils, making them much less subject to water loss through the drainage of water through the soil. In this respect, it can be thought of as a water-saving management practice.
The combined forces of natural and human selection; diverse climates, seasons, and soils; and varied cultural practices (dryland preparation with direct seeding and puddling of the soil with transplanting) led to the tremendous ecological range where rice is grown now especially in Asia.
Within the last 2,000 years, dispersal and cultivation of the cultivated rice varieties in new habitats have further accelerated the diversifications process. Today, thousands of rice varieties are grown in more than 100 countries.
Why grow rice?
Rice is unique because it can grow in wet environments that other crops cannot survive in. Such wet environments are abundant across Asia where rice is grown.
Irrigated lowland rice, which makes up three-quarters of the world rice supply, is the only crop that can be grown continuously without the need for rotation and can produce up to three harvests a year—literally for centuries, on the same plot of land. Farmers also grow rice in rainfed lowlands, uplands, mangroves, and deepwater areas.
Rice plays an important role in many cultures. For thousands of years different parts of the rice plant have been used in religious and ceremonial occasions, as medicine, and as inspiration and medium for a great number of artwork. Rice shortages affect society far beyond the cold statistics that price, caloric intake, yield growth rates, and international trade suggest. Any significant disruptions of rice supplies can and do have far-reaching social and political ramifications.
Rice and food security
One fifth of the world’s population—more than a billion people—depend on rice cultivation for their livelihoods. Asia, where about 90% of rice is grown, has more than 200 million rice farms, most of which are smaller than 1 hectare. Rice-based farming is the main economic activity for hundreds of millions of rural poor in this region. In Africa, rice is the fastest growing staple. This increase in the demand for rice is also true for Latin America and Caribbean countries.
In most of the developing world, rice is equated with food security and closely connected to political security. Changes in rice availability, and hence price, have caused social unrest in several countries.
To keep rice prices stable and affordable at around $US300 a ton, IRRI estimates that an additional 8-10 million tons of rice needs to be produced every year.
The challenge, above anything else, is to produce this additional rice with less land, less water, and less labor, in more efficient, environmentally-friendly production systems that are more resilient to climate change, among other factors.
Rice and poverty
Rice is the most important food crop of the developing world and the staple food of more than half of the world’s population, many of whom are also extremely vulnerable to high rice prices. Worldwide, more than 3.5 billion people depend on rice for more than 20% of their daily calories.
In 2009, nearly one billion people were living in poverty, including 640 million in Asia where rice is the staple food. Rice is so closely linked with poverty that in 2008, when rice prices tripled, the World Bank estimated that an additional 100 million people were pushed into poverty.
Rice consumption can be very high, exceeding 100kg per capita annually in many Asian countries. For about 520 million people in Asia, most of them poor or very poor, rice provides more than 50% of the caloric supply. In sub-Saharan Africa, urban dwellers who only a few decades ago rarely ate rice now consume it daily. Per capita consumption has doubled since 1970 to 27kg. In South America, average per capita consumption of rice is 45kg. In the Caribbean it has already risen to over 70kg.
Asia, where about 90% of rice is grown, has more than 200 million rice farms, most of which are smaller than 1 hectare. Rice-based farming systems are also the main economic activity for hundreds of millions of rural poor, many of whom do not own their own land. For the extreme poor (less than $1.25/day), rice accounts for nearly half of their food expenditures and a fifth of total household expenditures, on average. This group alone annually spends the equivalent of $62 billion (Purchasing Power Parity – PPP) for rice.
In Africa, rice is the fastest growing food staple. The gap between demand and supply in sub-Saharan Africa, where rice is grown and eaten in 38 countries, reached 10 million tons of milled rice in 2008, costing the region an estimated $3.6 billion for imports. Rice is also one of the most important and fastest growing staple foods in Latin America, especially among urban consumers and particularly the poor. Like Africa, the region is a net importer of rice, with a projected annual deficit of 4 million tons by 2015.
Rice production and processing
Rice goes through a lot before it finally reaches your dinner plate (or bowl). This page discusses the varied rice environments where rice is grown and how rice is typically grown.
Where is rice grown?
Rice is grown in more than a hundred countries, with a total harvested area in 2009 of approximately 158 million hectares, producing more than 700 million tons annually (470 million tons of milled rice). About 90% of the rice in the world is grown in Asia (nearly 640 million tons). Sub-Saharan Africa produces about 19 million tons and Latin America some 25 million tons. In Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, almost all rice is grown on small farms of 0.5−3 hectares.
Rice yields range from less than 1 ton per hectare under very poor rainfed conditions to more than 10 t/ha in intensive temperate irrigated systems. Small, and in many areas shrinking, farm sizes account for the low incomes of rice farm families.
Rice grows in a wide range of environments and is productive in many situations where other crops would fail. Rice-growing environments are based on their hydrological characteristics and include irrigated, rainfed lowland, and rainfed upland.
Irrigated rice environments
Worldwide, about 80 million ha of irrigated lowland rice provide 75% of the world’s rice production. These systems remain the most important rice production systems for food security, particularly in Asian countries.
Irrigated rice is grown in bunded fields with ensured irrigation for one or more crops a year. Farmers generally try to maintain 5–10 centimeters (cm) of water (“floodwater”) on the field. By and large, irrigated rice farms are small, with the majority in the 0.5 to 2 ha range. In many humid tropical and subtropical areas, irrigated rice is grown as a monoculture with two or even three crops a year.
Significant areas of irrigated rice are also grown in rotation with a range of other crops, including about 20 million ha of rice-wheat systems. Irrigated rice receives about 40% of the world’s irrigation water and 30% of the world’s developed freshwater resources. At present, average irrigated yields are about 5.4 t/ha. In temperate climatic regions, a single irrigated rice crop is grown per year, with high yield that can reach 8–10 t/ha or more.
Rainfed lowland environments
Rainfed lowland rice is grown in bunded fields that are flooded with rainwater for at least part of the cropping season. About 60 million ha of rainfed lowlands supply about 20% of the world’s rice production. Rainfed rice environments experience multiple abiotic stresses and high uncertainty in timing, duration, and intensity of rainfall.
Some 27 million ha of rainfed rice are frequently affected by drought. Up to 20 million ha may suffer from uncontrolled flooding, ranging from flash floods of relatively short duration to deepwater areas that may be submerged under more than 100 cm of water for a few months. Deepwater rice and floating rice are found in flood-prone environments, where the fields suffer periodically from such excess water. Further constraints arise from the widespread incidence of problem soils with poor physical and chemical properties. Salinity is widespread in coastal areas.
Rainfed lowland rice predominates in areas of greatest poverty: South Asia, parts of Southeast Asia, and essentially all of Africa. Because the environments are so difficult and yields so unreliable, farmers rarely apply fertilizer and tend to not grow improved varieties. Thus, yields are very low (1–2.5 t/ha) and farm families remain trapped in poverty.
Rainfed upland environments
Upland rice is grown under dryland conditions in mixed farming systems without irrigation and without puddling. It covers about 14 million ha but, because of many constraints that cause low yields (typically only about 1 t/ha), it contributes only 4% of the world’s total rice production.
Upland environments are highly variable, with climates ranging from humid to subhumid, soils from relatively fertile to highly infertile, and topography from flat to steeply sloping. With low population density and limited market access, shifting cultivation with long (more than 15 years) fallow periods was historically the dominant land-use system. Some 70% of Asia’s upland rice areas have made the transition to permanent systems where rice is grown every year and is closely integrated with other crops and livestock.
In Central and West Africa, the rice belt of Africa, upland areas represent about 40% of the area under rice cultivation and employ about 70% of the region’s rice farmers. As market access remains limited, most of the world’s upland rice farmers tend to be self-sufficient by producing a range of agricultural outputs. Poverty is widespread in these upland areas.
World Rice Statistics is a compilation of national and subnational data on rice area, production, and yield over time of major rice-producing countries. It includes information on rice imports, exports, national farm-level and world rice prices, and other rice supply and demand statistics.
Data are compiled from international and national statistical sources such as FAO and USDA, agricultural and statistical yearbooks, responses to IRRI questionnaires , and secondary data sent by our national partners.
Genetic diversity is the foundation of the genetic improvement of crops. IRRI seeks to understand rice genetic diversity and uncover new genes and traits in rice that will help rice producers face challenges brought about by climate change, pests and diseases, and other unfavorable conditions.
Although the vast catalogue of more than 40,000 rice genes has been mapped as a result of recent advances in biotechnology, most of their functions remain largely unknown. Thousands of undiscovered genes may have the potential to benefit rice productivity and quality and we are now working to decipher their functions using cutting-edge science. This work draws together conservation of different types of rice, diversity analysis, gene discovery, and dissemination of advanced genetic and breeding resources.
It presents a unique opportunity to maximize the use of conserved traditional and wild types of rice and modern rice varieties.
IRRI is home to the International Rice Genebank, the world’s largest repository of rice genetic diversity, containing about 110,000 different types of rice from all over the world. With international treaties and agreements ensuring the equitable and responsible sharing and use of rice genetic diversity, IRRI provides seeds for free to farmers and researchers.
IRRI’s genetic diversity work is part of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), Theme 1: Harnessing genetic diversity to chart new productivity, quality, abnd health horizons.
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