Sunrise over glassy rice terraces

Photo: LONGDI/Shutterstock

The shiny reflections found in these paddy fields are more than a pretty landscape scene — they represent an ancient agricultural legacy that is now responsible for producing one of the world's most important staple foods: Rice.

This simple cereal grain is the one of the largest agricultural commodities, just behind sugar and corn. It is most consistently found in Asian diets, which isn't surprising considering its history.

Rice paddy farming is believed to have originated in China, where the earliest known paddy field — dating back more than 4,000 years — was excavated. Thousands of years later, this technique is still used throughout Asia and has also sprung up in Europe and the Americas.

Mist over rice terraces

Photo: CHEN WS/Shutterstock

The cultivation of rice has developed over many centuries into a labor-intensive agricultural operation that requires a vast amount of water, most commonly sourced through irrigation, but can also be fed by rain or through location, such as coastal wetlands or places that experience tropical monsoons.

While rice can be grown in dry soil, rice farming in semi-aquatic or deep water environments is generally considered more practical because it helps discourage pests, disease and weed growth.

But there's a price for those landscaping methods; the rice industry accounts for a one-third of the planet's annual freshwater use. Luckily, there's a new farming method on the rise that could help change that statistic. The process, known as the System of Rice Intensification, allows farmers to produce 50 percent more rice using significantly less water.

Golden glassy rice terraces

Photo: isarescheewin/Shutterstock

When you look at these rice paddy fields, you might find yourself cringing at the insane amount of water being used. Even so, it's hard to deny the beauty of these exquisite designs etched into the ground like a topographical map.

Glassy blue rice terraces

Photo: isarescheewin/Shutterstock

Rainbow glassy rice terraces

Photo: CHEN WS/Shutterstock

Greenery around glassy rice terraces

Photo: isarescheewin/Shutterstock

Golden rice terraces

Photo: isarescheewin/Shutterstock

Sky reflected in rice terraces

Photo: isarescheewin/Shutterstock

Sky reflected in glassy rice terraces

Photo: CHEN WS/Shutterstock

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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.