Earth & Conservation

The Surreal Landscapes of Rural China

There's more to China than its overpopulation and polluted skies.

Vineyards are picturesque and orchards have a certain rustic beauty to them, but rice fields must also be ranked among the most breathtaking agricultural landscapes. Whether terraced on a hillside or splayed across a stretch of valley, shocking vibrance and glimmering pools of rice are bound to captivate.

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Rice is cultivated in complex, precise fashion. The fields must be perfectly level to prevent uneven watering or water loss. Laser-guided grading equipment is sometimes used to get this just right. The land is fertilized and furrowed and the drainage system is put in place about a month prior to planting. Rice seeds are often sprouted in one location, then added to a recently flooded field to finish growing. The plants eventually reach a height of about three feet with the water level kept at a consistent five inches. The fields are drained for harvest, which may involve special harvesting machines that remove the plants gently and quickly. Drying, threshing, cleaning, and storage follow.

For the 7 billion people inhabiting our world, rice is a very important resource. In many populations, this single food makes up the majority of their caloric intake. Problems with rice yields caused by climate change and increased demand could have far-reaching geopolitical implications. So far, one answer may be to try out genetically modified rice seeds, many of which are specifically engineered for flood-resistance. Future seeds may also be drought resistant, heat tolerant, and imbued with added nutrients.

Check out more of Thierry Bornier's photography

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