Dry-Season Flood-Recession Rice in the Mekong Delta

Rice is one of the most important crops grown in the world. Many, especially Asian cultures rely on a large amount of rice every day to sustain life, supplemented with vegetables and in good times some meat. Therefore the growing of rice as a commodity is an absolutely essential aspect of the sustenance of life. Rice then becomes one of the most essential crops for the development of technology to improve production as well as to ensure that such mass production does not decrease nutrition to such an extreme that it cannot sustain the millions of people who see it as their main source of food. Rice additionally can only be grown under specific conditions and often requires high numbers of acres to grow, a lot of water and a relatively high number of people to plant, maintain and harvest it. This work will briefly discuss the ways in which technology and demand have changed rice production over the last few years. First by Answering several case study questions and then by expanding to discuss agricultural technology through topical research. (WWF, “Agriculture and Environment: Commodities: Overview Rice,” NP)

How extensive and important is the production and global trade of this crop? Rice is an essential crop, utilized by a large majority of food consumers in the world. Unlike the U.S. And other Western societies, who subsist mainly on wheat crop products, Asian, African and Indian consumers rely on rice as a staple crop that makes up more than 50% of their diet.

Rice, Oryza sativa, also called paddy rice, common rice, lowland or upland rice, not including American wild rice, Zizania palustris L., is the major caloric source for a large portion of the earth’s population.

Smith & Dilday, 2003, p. vii)

New demands on rice production are vast, making it a highly prized commodity, with a rich history, that is becoming far more limited than it has been in the past, as more urbanized cultures demand higher yields for lower prices.

It is the demand for rice as a cheap food that is winning out over traditional varieties. Globally, the population of rice consumers is increasing at the rate of 1.7% per year compared to overall population growth of 1.3% (Khush 2000). Half of the world’s projected population of 8 billion in 2025 will be rice consumers. (WWF, “Agriculture and Environment: Commodities: Overview Rice,” NP)

Due to Rice’s increased demand and more limited variety of production it has become an issue that is being fed by a great deal of agricultural technology, including attempts to decrease the labor, increase yields, decrease variety, reduce prices and decrease the amount of water utilized to grow it. (Worldwatch, December 2007, “More Rice for Less Water”)

What are the major environmental impacts related to its production and processing? One of the most important environmental impacts of rice production, and especially high yield production has been over utilization of the water supply. Water is a scarce commodity in many nations, even some of those who are high producers of rice, such as India, where extensive drought has threatened its place in the global rice production and distribution market. (Latham, 1998, p. 11) New Technology and programs are being created and implemented daily to support higher yields with less water use. (Worldwatch, December 2007, “More Rice for Less Water”)

What are the significant global trends in how, where, and/or why this crop is produced and traded? With the growth of technology, increase in urbanized populations and increasing populations in general the changes is rice crops has created far fewer regional varieties as well as mass production of high yield of only a few variety forms with high demands for lower prices. (WWF, “Agriculture and Environment: Commodities: Overview Rice,” NP)

This food grain is produced in at least 95 countries around the globe, with China producing 36% of the world’s production in 1999, followed by India at 21%, Indonesia at 8%, and Bangladesh and Vietnam each producing about 5%.

Smith & Dilday, 2003, p. vii)

The crop is produced and traded to meet the growing demand for rice, across diversified and global populations, but especially in highly urbanized locations in Asia where rice is a major source of caloric intake. In short, wherever the population is growing, it seems across the globe there is a greater demand for rice, as a staple crop.

What other significant social or economic impacts are related to this crop? The social impact of rice, is a historical one as the history and variety of local rice diets has been sustained for thousands of years, even prior to recorded history. Rice is a cultural aspect in many regions where it is grown and is a big part of how individuals and communities see themselves and sustain their lives. One example of this would be this brief historical overview of how rice is viewed in Japanese culture:

Wet-rice agriculture was introduced into Japan around 400 B.C., and gradually supplanted the previous hunting-gathering subsistence economy which began with the first occupation of the archipelago around 200,000 B.C. Wet-rice agriculture provided the economic foundation for the Yamato state and what later became the imperial family Post-war scholarship revealed that rice was primarily the food for the upper class throughout most of history, and was not a ‘staple food’ for most Japanese until recently. However, it has always been the most important food for ritual occasions for most Japanese. (Ohnuki-Tierney, 1995, p. 227)

In many ways rice production has followed the same line as wheat production did in colder European climates, where a heavy diet of bread became the cultural norm. Economically speaking rice and rice sales in many developing nations outweigh almost all other agricultural production areas in importance. Whole histories of nations can be mapped, at least to some degree in rise and decline based on rice production, import, export and yields. (Latham, 1998, pp. 16, 30, 46, 52-60, 69) (Che, Kompas & Vousden, 2006, p. 277) There have even been attempts in the modern global market to paten techniques and high yield varieties as well as monopolize the source of seeds for high yield rice and other staple crops, which threaten historical hot beds of rice production across the world. (Clement, 2004, p. 15)

The history of the water-rice debate, regarding management, rain water dependence and even highly technologically advanced collection and water distribution plans, such as those seen in China’s Mekong Delta have been as much at the center of rice production as almost any other issue. (Fox & Ledgerwood, 1999, p. 37) Local and regional varieties of rice have been optimized to meet the demands of the earth, so as to create sustainable yield with consideration of the environmental conditions where the crops grow and yet more recent high yield varieties, until very recently have relied heavily on controlled flood (high water use methods of growth). (Worldwatch, December 2007, “More Rice for Less Water”) (Bonnis & Steenblik, 1998, p. 29)

In a world where clean, drinking water is scarce and where modern agricultural technology relies heavily on tactics utilizing herbicides and pesticides as well as untimely soil amendments to develop high yield crops, water pollution is an extreme issue. (Greenhalgh & Faeth, 2001, p. 71)

Nearly one-sixth of the world’s population — 1.2 billion people — lack access to drinking water that is safe. Understanding the need for clean water and why it is plentiful or scarce are core elements in the study of global health and wealth distribution. (Smith, 2005, p. 307)

Changes have been implemented in many nations and centers of agriculture, but in areas where agriculture is one of the only means of labor production, the issue becomes mute as higher yield, of crops like rice (especially considering lower prices and higher demand) is simply an economic issue of supporting a household. Subsistence agricultural economies become trapped in situations where water quality is not the top priority, and therefore utilization of as much amendment chemicals as can be afforded is the rule of the game.


Rice is an essential crop, relied upon by masses of people in the world. Global economies and challenges have faced the crop, and the people and areas that grow it for a long time, as have changes in cultural and regional demographics. The massive movement toward urbanization has created a shift in the desire of regions to obtain high yield limited variety crops for lower prices, creating limited opportunies for small growers to sustain their lives simply on agriculture. One of the most important issues of rice growth is water utilization, as most means of production of rice are water dependant, and require significant investment and maintenance to support, if rains are not appropriate. It is therefore the trend, and has been for centuries to support highly technological forms of irrigation and planting to help increase yields. Wars have been one and lost over food and water and rice in such high demand has often been at the center of such controversies. With the changing global economy this is unlikely to change any time soon.


Bonnis, G., & Steenblik, R. (1998). Water, Agriculture and the Environment. OECD Observer, a (212), 28-30. Readers Guide to Periodical Literature

Che, T.N., Kompas, T., & Vousden, N. (2006). Market Reform, Incentives and Economic Development in Vietnamese Rice Production. Comparative Economic Studies, 48(2), 277. Retrieved October 22, 2008, from EBSCOhost database

Clement, M. (2004, February). Rice Imperialism: The Agribusiness Threat to Third World Rice Production. Monthly Review, 55, 15. Retrieved October 22, 2008, Academic Search Premier

Fox, J., & Ledgerwood, J. (1999). Dry-Season Flood-Recession Rice in the Mekong Delta: Two Thousand Years of Sustainable Agriculture?. Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, 38(1), 37. Readers Guide to Periodical Literature.

Greenhalgh, S., & Faeth, P. (2001). Trading on Water. Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy, 16(1), 71. Readers Guide to Periodical Literature.

Latham, a.J. (1998). Rice: The Primary Commodity. London: Routledge. [Books Electronic] Retrieved October 22, 2008, from Questia database

Ohnuki-Tierney, E. (1995). Structure, Event and Historical Metaphor: Rice and Identities in Japanese History. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 1(2), 227. Readers Guide to Periodical Literature www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=111953832

Smith, C.W. & Dilday, R.H. (Eds.). (2003). Rice: Origin, History, Technology, and Production. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. Books in Print

Smith, D.J. (2005). Global Health in the Social Studies Classroom. Social Education, 69(6), 307. Retrieved October 22, 2008, from EBSCOhost database.

WORLDWATCH (December 1, 2007) More rice for less water. Geographical Retrieved October 22, 2008, from EBSCOhost database.

World Wildlife Federation (2008) Agriculture and Environment: Commodities: Overview

Rice. http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/what_we_do/policy/agriculture_environment/commodities/rice/index.cfm

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