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Drip Irrigation emerges to unravel Paddy problem

Pritam Kashyap
Pritam Kashyap
Drip Irrigation emerges to unravel Paddy problem

An Israeli company has developed a drip irrigation system for growing rice to change the flooded paddies that have supplied the planet with rice for generations but cause a surprising level of injury to the environment. 

Rice is that the staple food for quite half the worldwide population, but its cultivation uses 30-40 per cent of the world’s freshwater and is liable for 10 per cent of manmade emissions of greenhouse emission methane, consistent with the UN-backed Sustainable Rice Platform. 

Netafim, a corporation that pioneered drip irrigation decades ago to grow to supply like potatoes and melons across Israel's challenging arid landscape, has just finished a pilot scheme using its technology on 2,470 acres of rice fields in locations from Europe to southern Asia. 

At one such location, at La Fagiana farm in northeast Italy, two fields, side-by-side, grow a bowl of high-quality rice for risotto. One is flooded, covered entirely by up to 15cm of water to take care of temperatures and prevent weeds. 

The other is crisscrossed with perforated pipes delivering to the roots precise amounts of water amounting to but half the number used on the flooded field. 

Michele Conte, whose family has managed La Fagiana for many years and who has adopted the Netafim system on a number of his land said, "We want to extend the assembly without increasing water use or lowering quality." 

For three years the drip irrigation has yielded rice on par and sometimes even better quality than the flooded paddies, he said. It also allows them to rotate crops throughout the year. 

Netafim said it had to find out from scratch the way to achieve an equivalent yield as flooding and it took a decade to make a replacement protocol for watering, fertilizing and planting rice with drip irrigation. 

CEO Gaby Miodownik said, “The growing conditions switch to aerobic from anaerobic, which suggests methane emission "goes to zero.” 

Conte said the schedule for treating the rice still needs some fine-tuning but that it's become a point for environmentally-concerned customers. 

The initial investment in pipes, pumps and filters might be expensive for farmers whose profit margins are, for the foremost part, already thin. 

But the shift faraway from flooding is predicted to realize traction and corporations like India's Jan Irrigation are developing drip irrigation packages for rice also. 

Wyn Ellis, an executive at the Sustainable Rice Platform said, “Demand for rice is predicted to rise 25 per cent by 2050 and rice paddies leave too big a footprint.” 

Drip irrigation was producing impressive results, doubling water productivity, and "getting more grain for each drop". Experts agree rice cultivation must become more sustainable. "The sector needs a change," Ellis added. 

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