Floating Rice Fields, the quest for solutions to combat drought floods and rising sea levels

Lim Soon Heng, Founder President (Society of FLOATING SOLUTIONS Singapore)

Rice fields cover almost 170 million hectares of land around the world. It is a crop that is highly dependent on water supply and vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In January 2020, the Thai ministry of agriculture declared that rice farmers in 22 provinces might not have enough water to grow rice in an area over 3600 sq. km in size (2.25 million rai.) This because the extraction of subterranean water to grow rice is prohibited as there is insufficient water for drinking and for industries. In 2011, 20,000 sq. km of the Thai nation was inundated for six months affecting 13.6 million people and resulting in economic damages worth US$46.5 billion according to the World Bank.The same devasting droughts and floods and their impact on rice farmers is repeated year after year across Asia and will only get worse.

Rising sea levels threaten rice production. Most rice are grown in river deltas which have become saline if not totally eroded by the sea. According to Scientific American referencing Bangladesh, “A three-foot rise in sea level would submerge almost 20 percent of the entire country and displace more than 30 million people—and the actual rise by 2100 could be significantly more.” Bangladesh is not alone. Many parts of the coastline and riverbanks of Asia where rice is produced face similar problems. Locusts destroy tens of thousands of hectares of rice each year worth tens of millions of dollars. Development of genetically modified salt tolerant rice is reassuring. They too will benefit from floating structures to survive droughts and floods.

The paper seeks to draw attention to the idea of floating rice field to overcome these problems. It proposes the use of water containment floating mega structures on which (ordinary, not genetically modified) rice may be grown. The system will include water storage facility beneath the rice field to retain non-saline water for use during prolonged dry spells. Economic viability is critical. The design needs to maximize the use of locally available material and skill sets to keep cost low. The cost of crop failure due to drought, flood and salinity should be factored into the economic feasibility equation. Locust and other insects can be excluded by intermittent gas fumigation within a suitable enclosure. Mechanical systems to aid planting of seedlings and harvesting of mature grains may be incorporated. To enhance the economic viability, aquaculture (oyster farms?) and eco-tourism features may be added.

Keywords – Rice, Drought, Flood, Salinity, Climate-resilient

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Lim Soon Heng is the Founder President of The Society of FLOATING SOLUTIONS (Singapore). A Fellow of the Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology in the UK, he graduated in 1968 with a degree of in Mechanical Engineering.

His career is largely associated with Keppel Offshore and Marine, one of the leading offshore rig builders of the world. He has lead engineers in the design, building and conversion of ships and shipyards and published. He has delivered papers on floating solutions in various countries and peer reviewed many more by international authors. He believes Singapore has reached an inflexion point in space creation and must shift from massive land reclamation in the past to floating solutions in the future.

The Society of FLOATING SOLUTIONS (Singapore) has members dealing with an array of activities related to floating structures including their design, classification, construction, towing, mooring and commissioning. It held the first World Conference on Floating Solutions, WCFS2019 in April 2019 at the National University of Singapore.

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