Improving resource use efficiency in rice production

Rice is the staple food for more than half the world’s population. Intensive rice production is associated with high consumption of irrigation water and fertilisers. At the same time, freshwater resources are becoming increasingly scarce in many parts of the world, while high fertiliser use results in undesirable nutrient runoff to the environment and additional costs for farmers.

Our research

Researchers of Wageningen UR design and develop new agro-production systems for growing rice with a highly resource use efficiency, and assess the consequences of such systems on the improvement of local livelihoods and regional food production and resource use. We use field experiments and advanced models to ascertain the effects of changed water and nutrient use efficiency on rice production.

Field experiments show that, with proper management, water input can be reduced by thirty to fifty per cent without major effect on rice yields. Using a hydrological model for the Citarum Basin in Indonesia, we showed that such water saving management in rice fields is a more effective way for water use efficiency than improving the operational management of irrigation systems or changing cropping patterns, i.e., converting flooded rice fields into vegetables or fruits. Nitrogen inputs in fertiliser within irrigated rice systems in China can be as high as 300 kg/ha, which results in water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Using a combination of experimental and model work, one of our Chinese PhD students showed that these high rates can be reduced by one third without affecting yield levels. This is beneficial for the environment as well as for the farmers’ profit as nitrogen fertilisers are becoming increasingly expensive.

Our partners

Our research is carried out in the major rice bowls of Southeast Asia and in cooperation with researchers from China, India, Indonesia and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. It therefore also contributes to the strengthening of research capacity in these Asian countries.


As our research is firmly embedded in local research organisations, various Asian countries have started large-scale programmes to enhance water use efficiency in rice cultivation. For example, 400,000 ha of rice were placed under water-saving management in the state of Tamil Nadu (India) during the 2008/2009 season as a direct outcome of our project results.

More information

PhD theses

Peer reviewed articles

Peer reviewed articles