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A short history of rice farming

Rice hasnít always been a domestic plant, deliberately cultivated for human consumption. Go back about 12,000 years and we find it growing in the wild. The plant became identified by people as food and began to be collected.

Archaeological evidence has indicated that wild rice collection was a means of subsistence in China around this time. In India, there is evidence of wild rice dating back some 7,500 years, and in Indonesia some 5,000 years. It appears, then, that rice consumption may have originated not in any single, central place from which it spread further afield, but sprang up independently in different locations across Asia.

When it comes to domestication of the plant, archaeologists generally agree that this began in China, in the region of the Yangtze River: the third-longest river in the world and the longest in Asia, flowing almost 4,000 miles from western Chinaís Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to Shanghai and the East China Sea. The first recorded mention of rice as a cultivated crop comes in 2800 B.C.E., with the establishment of annual rice ceremonies in China by the then-emporer Shen Nung, although there is evidence to suggest that rice-growing had been going on for at least 5,000 years before then.

Itís possible that the activity also arose indigenously in India not so very long after this, in the upper reaches of the Ganges drainage system, from where it spread down the Ganges valley and into the northern plains. In any case, the late 3rd century B.C.E. saw a great expansion of rice cultivation across the whole of Southeast Asia.

O. sativa appears to have been introduced into the Middle East some few hundred years B.C.E. and (probably in consequence of Alexander the Greatís conquest of the Persian empire) was known to Greek writers of the period. It seems also to have been known to Roman writers, and was even cultivated in the Po Valley of Northern Italy.

Aside from this, rice doesnít look to have arrived as a crop in Europe until brought by Moors to the Iberian Peninsula in the 10th century. It was spread throughout the continent (and others besides) during the European ďAge of ExplorationĒ beginning in the 1400s (one place it couldnít become established, though, was England, whose climate wasnít congenial).

Rice is thought to have completed its westward journey in 1694, arriving in America on a British ship coming from Madagascar.