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LCA methods reveal benefits of organic rice farming

Recent applications of life cycle assessment methods to rice production in Japan have revealed that organic rice production offers many possible benefits.

NISTPASS writes,

Public concern about the sustainability of food production has increased recently because of the rise in world population and the growing scarcity of natural resources. Many cultivation practices have been improved in order to decrease environmental burdens of paddy rice production in Japan. Therefore, the importance of life cycle assessment (LCA) to assess the environmental impacts of whole production systems particularly that of rice production has increased.

Although LCA has been applied to agricultural systems, especially in European countries, the applications of LCA to rice production are still limited despite the fact that rice is the staple food in Asian countries. The recent increase in organic rice production may necessitate the assessment of the overall environmental impacts of agricultural practices. S. Hokazono, K. Hayashi and M. Sato from National
Agricultural Research Center, National Agriculture and Food Research Organization have applied LCA to organic and sustainable (environmentally-friendly) rice production in Japan, and compared the two systems by using global warming and eutrophication potentials as indicators.

The comparative study on rice production systems from a life cycle perspective reveals that organic and sustainable rice production systems have the potential to mitigate global warming and eutrophication. Organic farming reduces environmental burdens but at the same time is capable of generating farm income, while sustainable farming reduces environmental burdens and results in increased food production due to higher grain yields. These findings indicate that the environmental and economic performance of organic and sustainable farming is higher than that of conventional farming. In addition, scale expansion of the area and the development of technologies for organic farming are expected to further reduce the environmental burdens.

Implications

LCA methods have immense potential to rethink food production systems, especially as criticisms of hybrid rice intensify. LCA methods applied to such practices could reveal the true environmental costs of raising rice yield, and this information could be more damning if rice yield increases are overhyped (see http://rfsearchlight.clearsignals.org/node/274). LCA could also give ballast to arguments for more traditional – or at least, less mechanized – rice cultivation practices, such as SRI (see http://rfsearchlight.clearsignals.org/node/265) or organic farming. Regarding the last point, NISTPASS writes, “The development of the indicators for biodiversity will be important in appropriately assessing the positive impacts of organic farming.”

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Sources:

NISTPASS, Nov 2010 page 9,10:
http://newsletters.clearsignals.org/NISTPASS_Nov2010.pdf#page=9

S. Hokazono, K. Hayashi and M. Sato, Potentialities of organic and sustainable rice production in Japan from
a life cycle perspective. Agronomy Research 7 (Special issue I), 257–262, 2009.
http://www.eau.ee/~agronomy/vol07Spec1/p7sI18.pdf