Sustainable Landscape: How To Reduce Rice Methane Emissions?


Erica Sánchez

In traditional rice cultivation practice, rice is grown in waterlogged soils. The anoxic conditions of soils leads to the emission of methane. Rice cultivation is responsible for 11% of methane emissions worldwide. Alternate wetting and drying (AWD), a principle promoted by SRI, reduces the duration in which soils are waterlogged. This increase in the time period when soils are aerobic can significantly reduce the methane emissions from soils (20 to 60%) as compared to continuously flooded rice fields. That was the solution that Juna Shrestha and Benjamin Huber, co-founders of ClimateRe, presented and what ultimately brought them to be named as 2016 MIT Climate Colab Judge’s Choice Winners.

- How the idea came to life?

A friend from Nepal has been working on System of Rice Intensification projects, an alternative rice growing methodology, and a couple of years ago he showed us a SRI rice field. We were impressed with the SRI practice as it led to higher yield, lower pests and weather damage, and less irrigation water. The farmers were very happy with the results, however, most of the projects ended up as pilot projects and did not spread to other farmers. The conversion to SRI from traditional rice cultivation needs intensive technical support as well psychological encouragement to overcome fear of unsubstantiated risks. Successful implementation of SRI requires 3-4 years of technical backstopping. However, when grant periods are over the farmers do not receive supports and thus scaling up and even keeping up of SRI practice has been low.

To get over the complete dependency on external grants, we came up with the financing mechanism through carbon offset. SRI significantly reduces methane emissions and thus SRI has a potential to be developed as a carbon offset program. The revenue generated from carbon credits will make the project financially self-sustainable even after the grant periods are over and it will be possible to scale up to other geographical regions and even countries.

- What are the steps to start implementing it?

There are two main components in the projects, first is the change in rice cultivation practice and second is the accreditation of the project as carbon offset program. A scoping study, the initial phase, to identify the possible opportunities and challenges in both components have been already carried out.

In order to change the rice cultivation practice from traditional waterlogged rice fields to SRI rice fields, the first step is to train the farmers on SRI. The trained farmers will undertake the SRI practice in the next cultivation season. In the next season, technical backstopping to the farmers practicing SRI and training to another batch of new farmers will be provided.

The processes for accreditation of the project as carbon offset program will also be initiated. The whole process will require one to two years.

- Where are all these actions taking place?

The initial phase of the project is planned for Terai, the south flat lands in Nepal. The scoping study of the project focused mainly on Terai but is also applicable to any region of Nepal.

- Interesting. And, is this project profitable and scalable?

One of the important features of this project is its adaptability to all the rice growing countries around the world. The increasing awareness regarding GHG emissions from agriculture and the need to reduce the emissions from this sector makes it further interesting to be developed as carbon mitigation program.

Regarding profitability, the project will generate income and is self-sustainable after 4 years of implementation. The project should be regarded as social entrepreneurial activities which have possibilities to make a small amount of gains that are reinvested in the project to expand to other regions and countries.

For more information about this project click here

For more info on MIT’s Climate CoLab, see:

Erica Sanchez