These 3 Tech Innovations are Transforming Rice Farming
Green and Seed, a Coastal Communities Solver, has developed Seed Film Cultivation (SFC), an innovative system that increases the sustainability of rice farming. With SFC, farmers can grow rice in dry fields with simple drip irrigation. Hear the full solution pitch!
In this Q&A, Sungjin Choe, CEO of Green and Seed, tells us more about his solution and his experience scaling the organization.
What inspired you to lead this initiative? My mother's family has been cultivating rice for many years, and my grandfather worked on rice farms for about 60 years until he got sick as a result of exposure to herbicides. His illness inspired me to develop new rice farming techniques to reduce farmers’ herbicide exposure.
My mother and father founded Green and Seed Corporation in 2013, and when first starting out, they planted rice seedlings under biodegradable mulch. When I was discharged from the army in 2015, I began helping my father design machines. With these new machines, we developed our current Seed Film Cultivation (SFC) technique, and I became CEO to scale the project even further.
SFC includes three core pieces of technology: biodegradable film, a seed attacher, and a mulcher. The seed attacher is used to attach rice seeds to a biodegradable film. With the mulcher, farmers spread this film in rows in a dry field and cover it with soil. The film protects rice from harmful weeds, so farmers can grow it with simple drip irrigation.
What’s one challenge you’ve experienced along the way, and how did you overcome it? One challenge we’ve experienced is a general misunderstanding about rice plants. People often don’t believe that rice can grow well outside of flooded paddies. However, rice is not an aquatic plant. It’s grown in paddies for two reasons: water protects rice from the aerobic weeds that dominate fields, and it prevents the rain from washing away soil nutrients.
If we can control weeds and protect soil nutrients, we can grow rice outside of water. We’ve already proved this in several pilot projects, but our next pilot will be our most compelling project yet. We're going to run a pilot in a 10-hectare plot of land in Chad, only irrigating rice with natural rain. This project’s success will be a powerful proof point.
What advice do you have for new social entrepreneurs? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Many people did not believe rice could be grown outside of water, and if we hadn’t thought differently, we would never have developed our solution.
What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about rice farming? Many people do not understand that rice cultivation in delta areas is vulnerable to sea-level rise. As sea levels rise, seawater intrusion increases soil salinity, which negatively affects rice production. I wish that more people understood the broader implications of these risks; a decline in rice production affects far more than just local residents.
To support the world’s fast-growing population—9 billion people by 2050—rice production must continue to increase. Delta and coastal regions produce 19 percent of the world's rice and export 40 million tons of rice worldwide. Many countries around the world depend on these rice exports.
Consider the 2008 Rice Crisis, when rice prices doubled in six months in developing countries. The governments of India, Vietnam, and the Philippines began restricting exports and/or stockpiling rice, which resulted in global market panic. Repercussions were felt around the world—one example being the deadly food riots that occurred in Haiti. It’s clear that a decline in rice production in delta and coastal regions causes food insecurity in rice importing countries.
That’s what makes solutions like Green and Seed so important for a more sustainable future.