Since September, supermarket chain Lidl has been selling the first rice with a Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) label in the Netherlands.

According to the platform, the product is the first truly sustainable rice.

Sustainable rice is not that big in the Netherlands yet, but maybe it will follow the bananas.

Worldwide 3.5 billion people eat rice.

This makes the crop one of the most consumed foods, according to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

There are 144 million - mostly small - rice farmers, mainly in China, India, Thailand and Vietnam.

The lion's share is for the local population: only 5 to 6 percent of the rice is traded on the world market.

The sector has major problems in the field of fair prices and sustainability.

According to the IRRI, approximately 2,000 to 5,000 liters of water are needed for 1 kilo of rice.

In addition, there is a lot of loss, which has a huge impact on the climate.

"All the emissions for the production of wasted rice were unnecessary. Rice causes about 10 percent of all CO2 that is unnecessarily emitted worldwide through food losses," says Heike Axmann, expert in setting up sustainable chains and researcher at Wageningen University & Research.

What can you as a consumer do?

"As a consumer, you can contribute to sustainable rice cultivation by buying rice with a quality mark," says Axmann.

The sustainability of rice is gradually getting underway.

This is partly due to the work of the SRP, which was started ten years ago by the IRRI and the United Nations Environment Program and is now going to carry a quality mark.

The SRP focuses on the environment and socio-economic aspects. External parties assess the 41 conditions set by the quality mark. What's the matter? On average, the 500,000 farmers who are affiliated with SRP consume 20 percent less water and emit 50 percent less, according to results from 2020. The income of the affiliated farmers has increased by 10 to 15 percent.

"Our goal is to connect a million rice farmers to us by 2025," says Nic Jooste of the SRP.

"It goes farm by farm, but we are starting to grow. We are now working with major players such as Olam Rice, Mars, Kellogg's and Lassie. Lidl will be affiliated in 2020 and talks are underway with Ahold Delhaize - the parent company of Albert Heijn - and with other Dutch supermarkets. There it is a lot of 'yes, but' and 'too busy'. While Lidl is already rolling it out to more countries, currently Denmark and Belgium."

Rice with a sustainable label at Lidl.

Rice with a sustainable label at Lidl.

Photo: NU.nl

Fairtrade and organic are other quality marks

There are also other labels.

For example, Fairtrade International works together with approximately 10,000 rice farmers in Thailand, Pakistan and India, 2,500 of whom supply rice to the Netherlands.

"Fairtrade mainly focuses on including farmers in cooperatives that supply rice at a fixed minimum price," says Jos Harmsen of Fairtrade Nederland.

"For example, they are not dependent on price fluctuations in the country. We also give premiums to farmers for sustainable projects, such as the construction of forests. In this way we also contribute to a better environment."

“Fairtrade bananas were also a niche twenty years ago, now the supermarkets are full of them.

Everything starts small.”

Heike Axmann, expert and researcher

Then there is the organic label.

"Requirements are set, such as zero pesticides," says Bas Bouman of the IRRI.

"That is different with the SRP. That does not mean that you cannot use pesticides, but it is: do everything you can to reduce them. Reducing them to zero is something that Western countries demand. But that is not possible everywhere. The SRP keeps prefer fertilizer manufacturers on board to be able to make agreements about sustainability."

What does that mean for your wallet?

At Albert Heijn, 400 grams of own-brand basmati rice costs 1.49 euros.

You pay 2.39 euros for the organic label and 1.89 euros for the Fairtrade label.

Lidl charges 1.19 euros for 500 grams for rice with the SRP quality mark.

Affordable rice in your own country

The fact that rice with a quality mark is often more expensive is not always convenient for the rice farmers themselves. "This rice is hardly sold in the countries of origin or only in the big cities," says Bouman. "Fairtrade rice farmers and the organic label mainly grow for export. That is different at the SRP. Rice of lower quality is eaten by the residents themselves. The SRP also wants to make rice cultivation more sustainable." Rice with the Fairtrade label is indeed mainly produced for export, Harmsen agrees.

According to Jooste, quality marks do not have to be mutually exclusive.

"I am for all quality marks. It is not inconceivable that an SRP farmer also starts with fair trade or organic or vice versa."

Harmsen of Fairtrade hopes that the organizations will cooperate more and that the quality marks may even come together.

Can a sector as large as rice cultivation actually be made more sustainable?

Axmann: "Twenty years ago, Fairtrade bananas were still niche, but now the supermarkets are full of them. Everything starts small."

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Keywords: lidl, rice, srp, farmers, product, bananas., label, sustainability, heike axmann, netherlands, shops, lot, goal, jos harmsen, platform