Achieving More with Less: A New Way of Rice Cultivation.
Rice is life. It is the staple food for more than half of the world's population. Moreover, almost a billion households in Asia, Africa and the Americas depend on rice systems for their main source of employment and livelihood. About four-fifths of the world's rice is produced by small-scale farmers and consumed locally. That is why increasing rice production is one of the most powerful pathways to improving household food security and reducing rural poverty. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) allows smallholder farmers to embrace a new way of farming rice by using less seed, land and water, and have significant increase in yields. It is a set of 'good practices' easy enough to be taught to farmers. SRI was initiated in Madagascar in the early 80s and is spreading in Asia and Africa reaching millions of farmers. In 1997, after the food crisis in Madagascar, the IFAD-funded Upper Mandraré Basin Development Project (PHBM) introduced SRI to the Malagasy smallholder farmers.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) - ItalyLead applicant
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations, was established as an international financial institution in 1977 as one of the major outcomes of the 1974 World Food Conference. The conference was organized in response to the food crises of the early 1970s that primarily affected the Sahelian countries of Africa. It resolved that "an International Fund for Agricultural Development should be established immediately to finance agricultural development projects primarily for food production in the developing countries." Working with poor rural people, governments, donors, non-governmental organizations and many other partners, IFAD focuses on country-specific solutions, which can involve increasing poor rural people's access to financial services, markets, technology, land and other natural resources.
Ministry of agriculture livestock and fisheries of Madagascar - MadagascarInitiative partner
Cornell University - United StatesInitiative partner
Cornell is a private, Ivy League university and the land-grant university for New York State. Cornell's mission is to discover, preserve, and disseminate knowledge; produce creative work; and promote a culture of broad inquiry throughout and beyond the Cornell community. Cornell also aims, through public service, to enhance the lives and livelihoods of our students, the people of New York, and others around the world.
Nourishing the land, nourishing the people. Achieving More with Less: A New Way of Rice Cultivation
SRI is both an innovative concept and a philosophy based on solid rice plant, soil and water management. It emphasizes the revival of the natural production potential of rice and values the full potential of rice tillering. SRI is based on 6 basic practices: transplanting, spacing, keeping soil moist, weeding and using compact. With this new system, fields are not flooded as before. Soil is kept alternately dry or wet, plants’ roots take oxygen from the ground thereby reducing weeds. Less water and fewer seeds are needed to produce a higher quantity of rice. 'Producing more with fewer inputs' is the main characteristic of SRI. This flexibility makes SRI affordable to poor smallholder farmers, and its successes enhances its potential for replication. Farmers who adopt SRI are very satisfied with the outcomes, as their rice yield per hectare doubles and even increases fourfold as demonstrated on large scale by PHBM and other IFAD projects.
In Madagascar, a country that had experienced 40 years’ of agricultural productivity stagnation and affected by a political crisis since 2009, IFAD’s investment to support SRI has been highly effective. Before the SRI project was implemented, Madagascar had two consecutive dry years caused by drought in 1991. The Upper Mandraré River Basin, once known as the food basket of southern Madagascar, was at the time an isolated and deteriorated land by years of drought and famine that brought the local population to its knees. It was a struggle to survive. The objective of the project was to ensure food security for the population and to reduce rural poverty. Rice was, and still is, the staple for Madagascar’s 20 million people, and the average annual consumption is about 102kg per person. Many efforts were undertaken to increase the surface area used for rice cultivation, reduce the cultivation time to reach 2 crops per year and to optimize the use of water that was available.
The SRI technique produced impressive results in Madagascar, enabling a region suffering from chronic drought and famine to become the breadbasket of the south. Rice production in the project area increased from 1700 tonnes in 1998 to 9000 tonnes in 2000 to 23,000 tonnes in 2007. This remarkable increase was due to expansion in the cultivated area as well as the intensification of cultivation. The cultivated area increased by 5,100 hectares with yields going from 1.5 tonnes per hectares to 4.3 tonnes. Globally, the project area has achieved rice self-sufficiency and become a rice exporter throughout the southern region. Thanks to SRI, rice is no longer a subsistence crop but an income-generating one. Household income increased by 75 per cent on average, bringing dramatic improvements in the quality of life, improved dwellings, schooling and health benefits for children. Traders and new farmers have increased by 7.5% per year, making Mandraré a real economic development pole.
The aim of the PHBM has been to increase the on-farm and off-farm income of rural inhabitants of the target area in order to improve their living conditions and help to increase food security. More than 109,000 Malagasies have benefited from the project, especially the smallholder farmers living in rural area. The project also made a special effort to help the most marginalized groups such as landless farmers, women and young people to benefit directly from the project's investments and to enable communities, farmers' organizations and locally elected officials to play a greater role in planning, decision-making and development activities. The successes of PHBM were then scaled up by the IFAD country programme in several other projects: PPRR on the east coast (2004-2013), Ad2M on the west coast (2005-2015) and PARECAM (2009-2011) all other the country.
In the case of IFAD-funded projects, project management unit staff played a key role. A special acknowledgement to the IFAD Rome teams (Perin Saint Ange, former ESA Director, Haingo Rakotondratsima, Country Presence Officer and Benoit Thierry, country programme manager), Rudolph Cleveringa (former technical advisor, Water & Rural development, IFAD), the PHBM team (Harifidy Ramilison (project manager) and Andrianaina Rakotondratsima (Ad2M project manager) and the CAPFIDA team in Antananarivo (Sesy Soja and Lucien Ranarivelo). Merit also to smallholder farmers that have contributed throughout the pilot phase in the following IFAD funded projects: PHBM, Padane, Ad2M, PPRR and PARECAM. Finally, supporting networks at the international level facilitated the dissemination of SRI: Norman Uphoff and his team at Cornell University, Declan Mc Cormack who did some of the videos on SRI dissemination.
In Madagascar political turmoil and farmers tradition have been the main obstacle. Farmers initially resisted changed and did not want to give up traditional farming methods. The resistance is also due to the importance of rice in the local culture and tradition. A Malagasy proverb says, “Rice and water are inseparable from the field to the village” and farmers often do not want to be taught how to cultivate a crop that they have grown forr generations. To overcome resistance, constraints and raise awareness about SRI, IFAD adopted a number of measures (education, extension service, inputs provision, trust building ) that have proven successful among farmers. IFAD supported these pioneers who today are leader-farmers and several of them won national awards thanks to their high production.
- Global warming: Worldwide rice production can be quite polluting. Indeed the anaerobic conditions created by excessive flooding of rice, produce huge quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. By using far less water than traditional techniques, accordingly to FAO evaluations, SRI has significantly reduced methane production.
- Water management: SRI uses much less water than other rice production techniques allowing to save water in difficult environment and allowing rice cultivation to be expanded in drier areas. This is significant in a context of worldwide shortage of water.
- Biodiversity: by unleashing the potential of each seed traditional or modern (hybrid), SRI contributes to the conservation of biodiversity by demonstrating that even old varieties can be much more productive than expected.
- Finally, the agronomic technics promoted by SRI, helps farmers to protect and enrich the soil, reducing the risk of erosion and maintaining agricultural land.
The SRI technique applied to the PHBM's has had a remarkable success and offers good opportunities for replication. SRI is flexible, easily adaptable to different needs and contexts and farmers can learn it quickly. Despite country and landscape constraints, SRI reported good results and smallholder farmers who adopted it are happier and satisfied. This led IFAD to promote the new system in other investment programmes and projects. Since 1997, IFAD has successfully facilitated the spread of SRI knowledge to several countries throughout East and Southern Africa. From Madagascar, SRI was brought to Rwanda and then Burundi. All across Asia, people are implementing/improving SRI techniques. It has gone beyond the rice itself and the system is also implemented on other crops, unveiling the potential of wheat, maize, etc…
SRI is expanding throughout the world and is cherished by smallholder farmers as it fits their requirements very well. Dissemination happens primarily from farmer to farmer and Farmer Field Schools are an efficient way to disseminate knowledge by showing the new system. Other means of dissemination are through booklets and radio programmes. IFAD and the Malagasy non-governmental organization (NGO) Tefy Saina, founded by SRI’s pioneer, promoted the new set of practices among farmers and facilitated its dissemination through training visits across borders. Once a group starts practising SRI and other farmers observe results, interest within the community grows. A dynamic of risk-sharing was established, where the farmer takes the risk of trying SRI on their plot of land and the investment programme invests money to purchase the agricultural tools that the farmer will need (such as the rotating hoe).