Singapore-Based Startup Promises to Fix Methane Problem in Rice Farming


Many are not aware that rice farming is responsible for about 10% of global methane emissions. Rice crops are largely grown in flooded fields as a weed-avoidance practice because other grasses aren’t adapted to live under flooded conditions. The water cuts off soil and organic matter from oxygen, leading to the production of methane.

Despite a solution to tackle emissions that has existed for decades, farmers have yet to embrace it. Rize, a startup based in Singapore, has found a way to get farmers on board with a method that can reduce harmful emissions. Rize has raised 14 million USD in Series A funding, a round co-led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, GenZero, Temasek, and Wavemaker Impact.

Rize plans to tackle the issue by helping farmers use a simple method called alternate wetting and drying. This technique involves drying out rice paddies for brief periods throughout the season. As the rice canopy grows, it becomes safe to dry out the field and thus reduce methane emissions.

According to Ben Runkle, an associate professor at the University of Arkansas’ Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, the farming method is a proven one yet farmers aren’t implementing it because they have no incentive to.

Chief Executive Officer Dhruv Sawhney says that Rize gets around the hurdle by selling seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, and other inputs to farmers for a slightly lower price than local farm stores in exchange for implementing the practice. Rize can offer a lower price by buying supplies in bulk at wholesale discounts that smallholder farms can’t get.

Marie Cheong, founding partner of Wavemaker Impact said, “Farmers are taking a risk on their livelihood every time they change an agricultural practice, especially one like changing your irrigation practice. So we had to really think through what would be the right incentive model for farmers adopting this practice to be worthwhile.”

Investors at Rize conducted on-the-ground research with farmers and discovered three things that influence farmer behavior. Those were improving the yield, helping increase sales prices, and cheaper inputs. With this information, the investors put together a plan for what would become Rize and brought in a team to execute the vision.

Rize is currently working with farming co-ops in Indonesia and Vietnam and plans on expanding to other parts of South and Southeast Asia. The startup also plans on expanding its revenue stream as early as this year to include the sale of carbon credits Rize will generate from the resulting methane emissions reductions. According to Sawhney, Rize is planning to split the revenue with farmers.

Rize is now in its third farming season and services about 2,500 hectares. Early tests made by the company showed methane emissions reduced by as much as 50%. Sawhney stated that farmers working with Rize haven’t noticed any drop in yield and bottom line. It has contributed to the startup’s 98% farmer retention rate.

Cheong said that with the Series A funding secured, Rize plans to increase the number of hectares using its tools by 25 times. Scaling alternate wetting and drying is not a completely risk-free method of abating methane emissions. Predicting and quantifying how much methane emissions are avoided at a large scale is still an open question, according to Runkle. If not done correctly, there’s a risk of drought stress and disease which could hurt farmer retention and uptake. Scientists have also been researching genetically engineered solutions as another avenue to curtail methane production.

Eventually, Rize hopes to pilot other technologies and agricultural practices with its network of farmers to reach its goal of eliminating 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.

Rize is also considering piloting parametric weather insurance targeted at key risks for farmers, which is a growing area of climate tech investment. “Our role is to be that platform, that operating system, where all these technologies can come in,” Sawhney stated.