Rice-wheat cropping systems in South Asia: issues, options and opportunities

Ahmad Nawaz, Muhammad Farooq*, Faisal Nadeem, Kadambot H.M. Siddique, Rattan Lal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

76 Citations (Scopus)


The rice (Oryza sativa L.)-wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) cropping system is the largest agricultural production system worldwide, and is practised on 24 Mha in Asia. Many factors have threatened the long-term sustainability of conventional rice-wheat cropping systems, including degradation of soil health, water scarcity, labour/energy crises, nutrient imbalances, low soil organic matter contents, complex weed and insect flora, the emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds, and greenhouse-gas emissions. Options for improving the yield and sustainability of the rice-wheat cropping system include the use of resource-conservation technologies such as no-till wheat, laser-assisted land levelling, and direct-seeded aerobic rice. However, these technologies are site- and situation-specific for example, direct-seeded aerobic rice is successful on heavy-textured soils but not sandy soils. Other useful strategies include seed priming, carbon trading and payment, the inclusion of legumes, and eco-friendly and biological methods of weed control. Irrigation based on soil matric potential using tensiometers can be useful for saving surplus water in direct-seeded, aerobic rice. These options and strategies will contribute to resolving water scarcity, saving labour and energy resources, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, increasing soil organic matter contents, and improving the soil-quality index. Seed priming with various substances that supplement osmotic pressure (osmotica) is a viable option for addressing poor stand establishment in conservation rice-wheat cropping systems and for increasing crop yields. To strengthen the campaign for using resource-conservation technologies in rice-wheat cropping systems, carbon-payment schemes could be introduced and machinery should be offered at affordable prices. The persistent issue of burning crop residues could be resolved by incorporating these residues into biogas/ethanol and biochar production. Because rice and wheat are staple foods in South Asia, agronomic biofortification is a useful option for enhancing micronutrient contents in grains to help to reduce malnutrition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-427
Number of pages33
JournalCrop and Pasture Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • grain biofortification
  • Indo-Gangetic Plains
  • laser land levelling
  • residue burning
  • weed management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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