Black Farmers Are Taking the Lead in Regenerative, Organic Specialty Rice

Over the past century, the number of Black farmers has significantly declined in the US, from one million farmers (14 % of all farmers) in 1920 to only about 45,000 (1.4% of all farmers) in 2017. Black farmers managed only 4 million acres of land or (0.4% of the total of 910 million acres of farmland) in 2017.

The consistent downward trend is not a coincidence but a result of systematic discrimination against Black land ownership since the end of slavery, including decades-long bias by the USDA, still ongoing. Jubilee Justice works to strengthen the Black farming community, focusing on regenerative farming practices, cooperative ownership, and financial security; starting with rice.

The choice of rice is deeply rooted in history, as its initial cultivation in the US during the 17th century was built on the rich expertise brought with the enslaved peoples from Africa and on their forced labor, contributing significantly to the economic growth of the American South. Rice cultivation in South Carolina declined sharply after emancipation, as a result of the loss of the enslaved people’s’ labor and expertise, combined with a decline in the rice-growing infrastructure. US rice production expanded during the late 19th and 20th centuries into the Mississippi Delta region. This is where most US rice is produced today as a commodity, using large-scale conventional methods that require heavy use of agro-chemicals and large quantities of water. Organic rice production covered only 1.6% of the harvested acreage in 2019.  The growing demand for locally produced organic specialty rice provides an opportunity for smaller-scale producers.

Jubilee Justice set out to fill that void. Apart from the financial benefits of growing organic, regenerative specialty rices for a domestic market, Jubilee Justice consciously reconnects Black smallholder farmers to their rice-growing heritage, both from the pre-civil war South and from their origins in Africa.