TIMELINE: The story of rice

The story of  rice and how it was first discovered and then spread to all of the major countries on Earth is a fascinating tale that includes mythology, romance, politics, religion, intrigue, heroics, deceit, greed, famine and innovation.


The symbol represents the Chinese/Japanese character for a rice grain. Clockwise from the top English, French, Tagalog, Korean, Spanish/Portuguese, Hindi, Urdu and Greek.


Historical forms of the character 米 Mǐ RICE
Oracle bone script Bronze inscriptions Small seal script Liushutong script
米-oracle.svg 米-bronze.svg 米-seal.svg 米-bigseal.svg


米 meaning:

  • hulled or husked uncooked rice
  • husked seed
  • grain-like things
  • (chiefly Cantonese) Short for 米粉 (mǐfěn, “rice vermicelli”).

Chinese Character Radicals: Origin of  米 Mǐ ;Rice, Corn, Grain

zòng Dumplings
hu Paste
táng Sugar
gāo Cake
zāo The dreges left after ferment wine from grains.
nuò glutinous rice

Chinese Character Radicals: Origin of 禾 Hé ; Seedlings of cereal crops ( rice, corn)

Seedlings of cereal crops
qiū Autumn
zhǒng To plant
gǎn Stalk
miǎo Second
to Accumulate
yāng Seedling
shuì Tax
dào Rice

F irst used in English in the middle of the 13th century, the word “rice” derives from the Old French ris, which comes from Italian riso, in turn from the Latin oriza, which derives from the Greek ὄρυζα (oruza). Via an Indo-Iranian language (compare Pashto vriže, Old Persian brizi) and  ultimately from Sanskrit vrihi-s “rice.”

The Greek word is the source of all European words:  Welsh reis, German Reis, Lithuanian ryžiai, Serbo-Croatian riža, Polish ryż, Dutch rijst, Hungarian rizs, Romanian orez.

The Spanish word Arroz comes probably from Andalusian Arabic  الرَّوْز‎ (ar-rawz), from Arabic أَرُزّ‎ (ʾaruzz, “rice”), the Old Tamil arici and is of Iranian origin.

There are four main varieties of rice:

  • japonica or sinica, a short-grained rice grown in eastern China, Japan and Korea;
  • indica, a long-grained variety common in India, Pakistan, and most of Southeast Asia;
  • aus, grown primarily in Bangladesh; and
  • aromatic or javanica rice, which includes more exotic varieties such as India’s basmati and Thailand’s jasmine.

Scientists have primarily focused on indica and japonica because archaeological findings suggest both have a long history of cultivation. Researchers generally agree that humans living in what is now southern China domesticated japonica between 8200 and 13,500 years ago. The precise locale within southern China is still debated.

Many of these dates are approximate.


Early, up to year 0


15000 B.C.

Possible cultivation of rice in the in Soro-ri, Korea. Archaeological evidence is open to interpretation.


12000 B.C.-11000 B.C.

Evidence of possible rice cultivation in China has been found, but whether the rice was indeed being cultivated, or instead was being gathered as wild rice is still open to interpretation. (legend)


13500 B.C. – 8200 B.C.

Genetic evidence has shown that rice, both indica and japonica, spring from a single domestication of the wild rice Oryza rufipogon in the Pearl River valley region of Ancient China.


8500 B.C. –7700 B.C.

In northern China, the Nanzhuangtou culture on the middle Yellow River around Hebei had grinding tools.


8000 B.C. – 7000 B.C.

Oryza Sativa, appeared in the regions of Java and Bali However, another hypothesis places it in the Cambodian lake regions.


5000 B.C. – 3000 B.C.

Possible cultivation of rice in China. Seeds of long-grained non-glutinous rice were unearthed from the Neolithic ruins in the Yangtze River valley. Archaeological evidence is open to interpretation.

By the Yangshao culture , the peoples of the Yellow River were growing millet extensively, along with some barley, rice, and vegetables; wove hemp and silk, which indicates some form of sericulture; but may have been limited to migratory slash and burn farming methods.

According to legend, rice was first eaten in China, 5000 years ago.

The Hemudu culture around Hangzhou Bay south of the Yangtze certainly cultivated rice. The Hei’anzhuan lists millet, rice, the adzuki bean, the soybean, barley and wheat together, and sesame as the “five” grains.

The various people (such as Baiyue) who succeeded to these areas were later conquered and culturally assimilated by the northern Chinese dynasties during the historical period.


4530 B.C. – 5440 B.C.

Wild Oryza rice appeared in the Belan and Ganges valley regions of northern India respectively.

Possible cultivation of rice in India. Archaeological evidence is open to interpretation.


3500 B.C. – 1200 B.C.

Dry-land rice was introduced to Korea and Japan.


3000 B.C. – 2737 B.C.

Emperor Shennung, Shen Nung, 神農氏, legendary emperor of China and inventor of Chinese agriculture. (legend)


The Longshan culture displays more advanced sericulture and definite cities.


3000 B.C. – 2000 B.C.

In Indonesia, evidence of wild Oryza rice on the island of Sulawesi.

In the Philippines, evidence of rice cultivation in the Banaue Rice Terraces (Tagalog: Hagdan-hagdang Palayan ng Banaue). They are fed by an ancient irrigation system from the rain forests above the terraces on the mountain slope.

In the late 3rd millennium BC, there was a rapid expansion of rice cultivation into mainland Southeast Asia and westwards across India and Nepal.


2200 B.C.

Evidence of wet-rice cultivation has been discovered at both Ban Chiang and Ban Prasat in Thailand.


~2000 B.C.

Rice was cultivated in the Indus Valley civilization. Agricultural activity included rice cultivation in the Kashmir and Harrappan regions. Mixed farming was the basis of Indus valley economy.

There are at least two native (endemic) species of rice present in the Amazon region of South America, and one or both were used by the indigenous inhabitants of the region to create the domesticated form Oryza sp.


1500 B.C. – 800 B.C.

Rice is first mentioned in the Yajur Veda and then is frequently referred to in Sanskrit texts. (India)


1662 B.C. – 1723 B.C.

Emperor Kang Hi had a passion for agriculture. One day the Emperor noticed some stalks in his paddy fields that had matured earlier than usual. Further, and somewhat scientific investigation with his dignatories led to “yu-mi”, the Imperial rice, a rice which was planted and cultivated north of the Great Wall where the cold season arrived early. (legend)


1500 B.C.

The technological, subsistence, and social impact of rice and grain cultivation is evident in archaeological data in Korea and Japan.


1500 B.C.- 800 B.C.

Oryza glaberrima propagated from its original centre, the Niger River delta, and extended to Senegal in Africa.


1000 B.C.

Oryza sativa was recovered from a grave at Susa in Iran at one end of the ancient world, while at the same time rice was grown in the Po valley in Italy.

Rice is a major crop in Sri Lanka.


ca. 1000- 500 B.C.

Shri-Lakshmi has a long history testified by the fact that her first hymn, the Shri Shukta is written in the Rig Veda, one of the oldest Hindu scriptures. Her worship may predate the Vedic culture. (India)


1000 B.C. – 771 B.C.

western Zhou Dynasty was in power, rice had become well accepted and extremely important, as can be seen from Inscriptions on bronze vessels used as containers for storing rice. At this time, rice was a central part of aristocratic banquets.


800 B.C.

The Arabs imposed a tax on rice.


850 B.C. –550 B.C.

Intensive wet-paddy rice agriculture was introduced into Korea shortly before or during the Middle Mumun pottery period.


640 B.C.

Evidence shows that rice was probably traded through the “Pepper Gate” of Alexandria in Egypt before the Arab expansion in the Mediterranean Basin.


712 B.C.

Japanese classic Kojiki -Record of ancient matters, compiled, Susanoo slew the food goddess Ohogetsu-hime. Silkworms came from her head, rice seeds from both eyes, millet from both ears, red beans from her nose, wheat from her genitals, and soybeans from her buttocks.


770 B.C. – 476 B.C.

During the Spring and Autumn Period in China, rice became an important part of the diets for Chinese people.


550 B.C.

Romans dismissed rice with the vague definition “pianta acquatica”; while Plini the Elder erroneously said that rice was the fruit of a fleshy-leafed vegetable. Even the most informed considered it good only for infusions lo cure stomachaches and other ailments.


475 B.C. – 221 B.C.

Books discussing rice agriculture appeared as early as the Warring States Period, demonstrating the long history of China’s agronomy. Daopin (Strains of Rice), by Huang Xingsi, a book specializing in the rice planting techniques of the Ming Dynasty, was widely regarded as a complete collection detailing the improvements of rice through its many strains. The book also illustrates the significance of rice agriculture in traditional Chinese economy.


1st century


300 B.C.- 300 C.E.

Ramayana and Mahabharta were composed, rice is mentioned. India.


344 B.C. -324 B.C.

Rice was known to the Classical world, being imported from Egypt, and perhaps west Asia. It was known to Greece (where it is still cultivated in Macedonia and Thrace) by returning soldiers from Alexander the Great’s military expedition to Asia.


221 B.C. – 206 B.C.

During the period before the Qin Dynasty, rice had become a specially prepared food. It was also used to brew wines and offered as a sacrifice to the Gods. (China)


206 B.C. – 220 C.E.

Later, in southern China, especially with the development of meticulously intensive farming techniques during the Han Dynasty (), rice rose to occupy an important position in Chinese culture.


800 C.E.

The evidence for the earliest cultivation in Indonesia, comes from a stone inscriptions from Java, which show kings levied taxes in rice.


900 C.E.

Divisions of labor between men, women, and animals that are still in place in Indonesian rice cultivation, can be seen carved into Prambanan temples in Central Java.


Muslims also brought rice to Sicily, Italy with cultivation starting in the 9th century, where it was an important crop.


1000 C.E.

Large deposits of rice from the first century AD have been found in Roman camps in Germany.


The Moors brought Asiatic rice to the Iberian Peninsula in the 10th century. Records indicate it was grown in Valencia and Majorca. In Majorca, rice cultivation seems to have stopped after the Christian conquest, although historians are not certain.


11th to 14th century


1203 C.E.

African rice helped Africa conquer its famine.


1300 C.E.

The accounts of the Dukes of Savoy shows a debit of “13 Imperials a pound for rice as sweets and “8 Imperials for honey”. Perhaps Venetian merchants brought rice back from the Middle and Far East. Italy.


1350 C.E.

Ibn Baṭṭūṭa recorded rice couscous in the area of present-day Mali.


1348 C.E. – 1352 C.E.

The decimation of the population- unparalleled in history, left Italy a desolate wasteland; the recovery needed a highly productive agricultural product. Rice, as the Orientals well knew, was just such a product. thus it came to be seen in a different light and lo consolidate its position as an important food in the West. Because of this ascent in the 15th century, rice has been justly described by some scholars as the “Renaissance vegetable”.


1371 C.E.

An italian document placed rice amongst “spices” and gave it the mercantile description “Overseas Rice” or “Spanish Rice”.


1500 C.E.

Rice is noted in the plain of Pisa (1468) or in the Lombard plain (1475), where its cultivation was promoted by Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, and demonstrated in his model farms. Italy.


15th to 16th century


After the 15th century, rice spread throughout Italy and then France, later propagating to all the continents during the age of European exploration.


1685 C.E.

Enterprising colonists were the first to cultivate rice in America. It began quite by accident when, a storm-battered ship sailing from Madagascar limped into the Charles Towne harbor. To repay the kindness of the colonists for repairs to the ship, the ship’s captain made a gift of a small quantity of “Golden Seede Rice” (named for its color) to a local planter.


18th century


1700 C.E.

Rice was established as a major crop for the colonists. That year 300 tons of American rice, referred to as “Carolina Golde Rice,” was shipped to England. Colonists were producing more rice than there were ships to carry it.


1787 C.E.

The invention of the rice mill increased profitability of the crop, and the addition of water power for the mills by millwright Jonathan Lucas was another step forward.


19th century


1849 C.E.

The gold rush brought people from all nations to California. Among them were an estimated 40,000 Chinese, whose staple food was rice. To feed the immigrants, rice production became a necessity.


1884 C.E.

With the revolution of mechanization, established what are today’s major Southern rice growing states: Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas in America.


late 1800s C.E.

Asian rice came to West Africa, and by the late twentieth century had substantially supplanted native African rice.

© Piero Fornasetti

20th century


1920 C.E.

California was a major rice-producing state.


1950 C.E.

Indonesia is forced to import nearly one million tons of rice every year.


During the early 1950s, the International Rice Commission of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of

the United Nations attempted to set up three regional collections for the ecogeographic races:

  • Indicas in India,
  • Javanicas in Indonesia,
  • Japónicas in Japan.


1952 C.E.

The Japanese Matsuo patiently reconstructed the story of rice using genetics.


1960 C.E.

Rockefeller and Ford Foundation representatives discuss the feasibility of establishing International Rice Research Institute- IRRI and its possible location at the University of the Philippines College of Agriculture, later to become the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB).

IRRI is known for its work in developing rice varieties that contributed to the Green Revolution in the 1960s which preempted the famine in Asia.

IRRI, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and BGI (formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute) have identified the exact genetic makeup of more than 3,000 different families of rice for the first time in what is being heralded as a major advancement in rice science.


1965 C.E.

Suharto makes RICE self-sufficiency a major goal. (Indonesia)

1971 C.E.

The Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), formerly known as the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA), is an African organization currently headquartered in Cotonou, Benin.and the biggest agricultural research center in Africa.


1974 C.E.

The Asian Rice Farming Systems Network (ACSN) is launched and subsequently enjoys a 20-year lifespan under continuous funding from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada. The ACSN, under the leadership of Virgilio Carangal, broke new ground institutionally since it was the first organization of its kind in international agricultural research. The ACSN, later to become the Asian Rice Farming Systems Network (ARFSN), put a farming systems approach to research into practice.


1980 C.E.

“New” rice was introduced to feed Indonesia’s increasing population, The Green Revolution- 43 per cent. increase in production. Indonesia exported a few hundred thousand tonnes of rice. There could be three crops of new rice a year, but in fact only two were grown in order to allow the fields to rest in between.


1988 C.E.

First GMO rice.

First generation of GMO- Golden Rice. It is genetically modified to have vitamin A.


1989 C.E.

The Hybrid Rice program in India was launched.


1994 C.E.

GMO rice is commercialized.


1998- 2001 C.E.

Japan and Russia suspended rice imports from the U.S., because of GMO contamination, while Mexico and the European Union imposed strict testing.


21th century


2000 C.E.

The first two GM rice varieties both with herbicide-resistance, called LLRice60 and LLRice62, were approved in the United States. Later, these and other types of herbicide-resistant GM rice were approved in Canada, Australia, Mexico and Colombia.

It has led to an international treaty, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, that was adopted in 2000. Individual countries have developed their own regulatory systems regarding GMOs, with the most marked differences occurring between the USA and Europe.

According to the year 2000 figures, annual exports by them totalled 18 million tons. Apart from the United States- Thailand, Vietnam, China, the United States, Pakistan, India and Burma – account for 70 per cent of the world’s rice exports.

Rice was the first sequenced crop genome, paving the way for the sequencing of additional and more complicated crop genomes. The public rice genome, was made available from Monsanto in 2000 and Syngenta in 2002, and was published in 2006.


2005 C.E.

Golden Rice II was announced, which produces up to 23 times more beta-carotene than the original golden rice.

The Chinese government does not issue commercial usage licenses for genetically modified rice. All GMO rice is approved for research only.


2004 C.E.

Field trials of golden rice cultivars were conducted by Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.


2010 C.E.

The Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) was launched.


2013 C.E.

Anti-genetically modified organism protestors broke into IRRI’s research facilities and destroyed field trials of golden rice.


2015 C.E.

Trials of golden rice are conducted in the Philippines and Taiwan, and in Bangladesh. Protesters destroyed a field in the Philippines.


2017 C.E.

Japan starts growing genome-edited rice plants outdoors.



Controversies surround genetically modified organisms on several levels, including ethics, environmental impact, food safety, product labeling, role in meeting world food requirements, intellectual property, and role in industrial agriculture.

With rising costs in labor, chemicals, fuel, and water, the farmers in irrigated areas will be squeezed between production costs and market price. The latter, dictated by government pricing policy in most countries, remains lower than the real rice price. Meanwhile, urbanization and industrialization will continue to deprive the shrinking farming communities of skilled workers, especially young men.

Such changes in rice-farming communities will have serious and widespread socioeconomic implications. Lastly, control of human population, especially in the less-developed nations, is also crucial to the main- tenance of an adequate food supply for all sectors of human society. Scientific breakthroughs alone will not be able to relieve the overwhelming burden placed on the limited resources of the earth by uncontrolled population growth.

~ Te-Tzu Chang

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Works Cited & Multimedia Sources