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Rainbow Rice
the New Concept of Rice-for-Wellbeing in 2050

by Apichart Vanavichit

 

Bangkok Metropolitan Area (BMA) The city where I was born, live and work for more than 60 years. BMA is the center of economic growth, in particular, internet marketing.  

My target on organic rice farming is in the Northern part of Thailand.  Because Rainbow rice varieties are highly pigmented rice both on leaves and grains, the target production site is in the cool Northern part of Thailand.   In 2016, 12 Riceberry Valleys were developed mainly in the Northern part of Thailand for the production of a new purple, non-waxy rice called Riceberry. I think pigmented rice best adapted to the cooler region and such high organic matter land as in the North.

 

 

Thailand, the land of smile, located in the rice bowl of Asia. Thailand has been the number one exporter for more than a century but recently dropped to the second place due to flooding and drought. Thai Hommali Rice is the world-renown product from Thailand to the global market. However, Thai farmers in the Northeast have faced several hardships such as low soil fertility, lack of irrigation system, and insect outbreak causing high pesticide residue. In addition, Thai consumers are among the fastest weight gaining in Asia causing malnutrition by overconsumption of well-polished rice and grains.

Organic Agriculture in Scenic Northern Thailand

Terrace rice on rolling hills with sweeping mountains backdrop illustrates scenic Northern Thailand. Its lush green forest of the North is from where the grand Chaophaya river, the most important river in Thailand, is originated.  With relatively cool weather than the rest of Thailand, Chiangmai and the Northern cities attract more tourists from local and abroad. Northern culture style known as Lanna is highly unique and vibrant.  Lanna style is expressed in the local dialect, housing, dress, and local foods. Northern tourism earns approximately 150 billion Thai Baht yearly.

Rice is life in the Northern area. The rice cultivation area in the North is the largest among crops grown in the North which occupies about 27,500 km2.  Because rice paddy in the North is well irrigated, it can be used for growing various crops such as soybean, tobacco, vegetable, herbs, and floral.  The Northern part is also Thailand’s richest rice biodiversity including pigmented rice, sticky rice, upland rice, and terrace rice.   Sticky rice is the most popular among locals.        

Northern Thailand has high potential to become the hub of organic agriculture.  Thai farmers hold about 280,000 Rai (448 km2) of organic land mostly grown as Thai Hommali Rice, Riceberry, Red Rice, and local varieties. In 2016, 12 Riceberry Valleys were supported by the Ministry of Commerce as the first organic ground for the new Riceberry rice, the most popular purple rice from Thailand, in the Northern and Northeast of Thailand.  The total 27,500 km2 can be transformed into an organic system in 2050.

 

The Market Place

BMA is the city model where every generation lives together in a complex manner. Most people in BMA eat in restaurants or street vendors located around BMA. Although BMA covers only 3% of the country area but contributes 29% of the Thai GDP. BMA is not only the home of 6.5 million Thais but also hosts 20 million visitors every year. Bangkok is named the most popular city for international tourists in 2017 and the must-visit city in the world for three years in a row. Therefore, BMA is a huge market place for healthy products from organic farms.

 

Thailand has rapidly become an aging population. In 1975, the average aging was 18 years old but will be 30 years older in 2050. As elderly people have rapidly been increasing, the Thai population becomes more susceptible to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as obesity), diabetes (T2D), cardiovascular disease (CVD). Particularly, the prevalence of T2D has increased rapidly from 6.5% in 2015 to 10.7% in 2030 with the largest increase among the elderly population (72%). NCD will become the biggest burden among the elderly as the income gap becomes wider in the aging population compared to the younger generation. And the burden is on the younger generation because most elderly people in Thailand depend heavily on their children.  The challenge is to find the simple cause and cure to slow down the NCDs in 2050.

 

There is a high correlation between the consumption of well-polished rice, bread, and bakery products and T2D. In Thailand, consumers’ preference is white, well-polished rice, bread, and bakeries. Hardness and the lack of after-taste are among the consumer’s most dislike characteristics of whole grain rice and cereals, in particular among the elderly population. Knowing that whole grain rice and cereals are good sources of dietary fiber, vitamin, proteins, and minerals, promoting whole-grain consumption is sensible to prevent such NCD as T2D. It seems like if we can find new nutrient-rich rice varieties with soft-texture and good taste, all problems can be solved. Still, most consumers find other attributes related to whole grain to complain about. So, improving good attitudes for the whole grain consumption is the most critical step to lay down in the younger generation to have a stronger impact on the older generation.

 

Another challenge is how to access whole-grain nutrient-rich rice products at a reasonable price. Although white polished rice has an additional cost, high-quality whole grains, in general, are more expensive. An additional cost to consumers if they want whole grain organic products because of the low productivity of the current organic agriculture in Thailand. As a consequence, the cost of whole- grain, nutrient-dense, organic rice products are 50-100% more expensive than normal white rice. Only breeding to improve natural immunity and productivity under organic farming could be one of the great challenges when climate change will have a stronger impact on agriculture in 2050.

 

Climate change will complicate rice farming in 2050.  High air temperature and limited water supply during the summer will prevent rice farmers to grow rice.  In particular, nutrient-rich rice is more sensitive to global warming and the outbreak of disease and insect pests. Our experience in breeding heat tolerance during reproductive stage revealed that most resistant lines are inferior in physical grain quality.  Therefore, we expect climate change will be more challenging in 2015.

 

 

The consumer normally eats rice as grains. The major nutrient density status of the whole grain is related to the nutrient status of leaves. By comparison, fresh leaves contain significantly higher micronutrients, total dietary fiber, protein, and antioxidants than grains.  Significantly, fresh leaves contain no starch. Such rapid digestible starch as in white rice and wheat is a major cause of OB and T2D.  Additionally, some local purple rice produces dark purple leaves which adds even more antioxidant properties to fresh leaves.  Because of their highly productive, products developed from fresh leaves, in general, cost less than those made from grains. Research linking the functional properties of a fresh leaf to NCDs will open up new opportunities to utilize it as a vegetable, herb, and food ingredient to reduce risk factors associated with NCDs.    

 

 

In the MBA, because people live in high-risk factors from fast foods and polluted environments, NCDs will be the biggest threats to Bangkokian. Access to diet therapy will be limited because of the expensive price. The poor elderly population will be hard hit and life expectancy will be lower.  In Northern Thailand, organic rice will be drastically reduced as a limitation on labor.  

 

 

In order to feed 9.8 billion people in 2015 and cope with increasing NCDs, breeders, engineers, farmers, food industries, nutritionists, and consumers must join hands to combat NCDs and develop more efficient organic agriculture by growing a new rice concept. As consumer normally eats rice as grains, the new rice concept namely “Rainbow Rice” provides anthocyanin-rich, nutrient-dense leaves and grains.  As Rainbow rice leaves contain arrays of glycosylated anthocyanin such as peonin, cyaniding, and delphinidin, together with chlorophyll, nutrient status of leaves will be accumulated and protected in the largest biomass of the rice plants. The major nutrient density status of the whole grain is related to the nutrient status of leaves. By comparison, fresh leaves contain significantly higher micronutrients, total dietary fiber, protein, and antioxidants than grains. Significantly, fresh leaves contain no starch. Such rapid digestible starch as in white rice and wheat is a major cause of OB and T2D. Additionally, some local purple rice produces dark purple leaves which adds even more antioxidant properties to fresh leaves. Because of their highly productive, products developed from fresh leaves, in general, cost less than those made from grains. Research linking the functional properties of a fresh leaf to NCDs will open up new opportunities to utilize it as a vegetable, herb, and food ingredient to reduce risk factors associated with NCDs.

 

          In the new system, farmers can harvest Rainbow rice leaves during the tillering stage where new leaves can regrow rapidly to replace the cut. No leaf harvesting is allowed after the maximum tillering to the reproductive stage. Dark purple rice grain can be harvested for consumption.

 

          As Rainbow rice leaves are rich in anthocyanin, antioxidant, protein, and micronutrients, in particular Fe, functional ingredients can be easily developed and used as sources of dietary fiber, micronutrients, antioxidants, etc. to prevent NCDs. We expected to harvest Rainbow rice leaves two times before the maximum tillering.

 

 

 

           In 2050, labor force will be very limited, to expand organic rice from currently 450 km2 to at least 27,500 km2, comprehensive equipment and tools developed with artificial intelligence must be developed for the new generation of smart farmers.  The robotic arms can prepare the land, perform seeding, weeding, insect/disease control, leaf-cutting, spraying, and harvesting. Production cost will be drastically reduced while improving the productivity of Rainbow rice under sustainable agriculture.

 

https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/the-nutrient-rich-whole-grain-strategies-to-simultaneously-combat-double-malnutrition-mitigate-climate-change-and-energy-saving

 

 

 

 

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