Issue 37: May-June 2011 - Rice

In this issue

   
 

Freshly harvested in Victoria, Calauan, Laguna, Philippines

 

According to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), one fifth of the world’s population – more than a billion people – depend on rice cultivation for their livelihoods.

About 90 per cent of the world’s rice is grown in Asia and the Pacific region, which is endowed with wet environments that are suitable for rice cultivation. Rice-based farming is the main economic activity for hundreds of millions of poor rural farmers in the region.

Due to the importance of rice cultivation for these farmers as both producers and consumers, volatility in rice prices as a result of changes in the supply and availability of rice can have an enormous impact on their lives and their families. To keep rice prices stable and affordable so that both producers and consumers can benefit, IRRI estimates that an additional 8-10 million tons of rice need to be produced every year.

But how to produce this additional rice when the amount of suitable land is reduced or lost due to, for example, urbanization or climate change? And with less water due to changes in precipitation patterns and intensity? And with less labour as farmers move out of the agriculture sector? And how to ensure more efficient and environmentally friendly rice production processes? This newsletter offers a range of interesting examples that address some of these challenges.

Charles Bevan shares the ongoing research of arsenic contamination of groundwater in Bangladesh – the fourth largest rice producer in the world – and approaches to minimize the uptake of arsenic by rice plants. Edward Mallorie describes key technologies used in Bangladesh to reduce the cost of rice production for farmers by making more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizer and irrigation water.

Limited access to good-quality seeds and technologies has long hindered farmers from achieving good harvests, especially farmers working in rainfed and unfavourable rice environments. Elenor de Leon, Digna Manzanilla and David Johnson from the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE) encourage the development of community seed banks to address seed security concerns, especially in fragile rice ecosystems.  Md. Khairul Alam shares a story of a farmer in Bangladesh who, with the correct techniques and skills, could produce and store paddy seeds on his farm, hence becoming an example for other farmers in his village.

People living in the uplands of the north-eastern Himalayas of India continually struggle to manage their rice landscapes and improve rice productivity to ensure food for their families. Vincent Darlong talks about initiatives to test and validate agricultural technologies to improve upland and lowland rice varieties and rice productivity. In Orissa state of India, both unfavourable environmental conditions and conflict pose challenges to rice farmers. Suresh Chandra Patnaik and Susanta Nanda share their programme strategies to address these important issues and to enhance rice productivity.

Rice is a major staple crop in Fiji. However, the rice industry is very small and most rice is being imported. Vikash Kumar describes the efforts of Fiji’s government to expand domestic rice production to meet the growing demand for rice, increase income and ensure food security. Ly Ngo from Viet Nam explains how her project supports rural people, especially the Khmer minority, in Tra Vinh province to grow and market high-quality rice.

Shantanu Mathur highlights an outstanding partnership between Asia and Africa that led to testing and validating New Rice for Africa (NERICA), a hybrid which combines the ruggedness of African rice with the high-yielding traits of modern Asian varieties.

The Asia and the Pacific Division continues to work with international research centres such as IRRI to bring solutions to rice farmers in the region. The Division was also represented at the third International Rice Congress 2010 on  ‘Rice for Future Generations’ last year in Viet Nam, where it contributed to the discussions around the latest rice research, future technologies, trade issues and policies that will define the future role of rice in supporting poor rice-dependent rural families.

Martina Spisiakova, Newsletter Coordinator, Asia and the Pacific Division

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Research to mitigate the uptake of arsenic by rice in Bangladesh

   
 

Researchers and participating farmers at a trial site in Chandpur District in Bangladesh. Photo: Charles Bevan

 

Arsenic contamination of groundwater used for drinking is a serious problem in parts of Bangladesh. The use of arsenic-contaminated groundwater for irrigation could also result in the uptake of arsenic by crops, leading to reduced crop yields and potential risks to human health. A project called ‘Reducing Risks from Arsenic Contamination for Poor People in Bangladesh’ is addressing these issues.

In Bangladesh, many wells which produce contaminated water have been painted red as a warning to villagers to not use them for drinking water. Such warnings are reported to cover some 30 per cent of the country, mainly in the southern regions.  

There is also concern that the use of arsenic-contaminated groundwater for irrigation could result in the uptake of arsenic by crops. A build-up of arsenic in the soil might eventually reduce crop yields. Arsenic absorbed by the crops may also pose risks to human health.  

It is therefore important to investigate cost-effective ways of minimizing the uptake of arsenic by rice plants.  Recognizing this need, IFAD has been supporting the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to carry out a programme of arsenic mitigation trials, under a small grant project called ‘Reducing Risks from Arsenic Contamination for Poor People in Bangladesh’, which commenced in October 2008. 

In the 2008/09 boro season (cropping season for winter paddy), field trials included the use of alternate wetting and drying (AWD) irrigation to see if reducing the application of water to paddy would also reduce the amount of arsenic taken up in the rice. The trial results show that the use of AWD with reduced irrigation (30 per cent less water applied) led to a 32 per cent reduction in the uptake of arsenic by the popular BR29 rice variety.

The project is also carrying out trials to see if the choice of variety has an influence on uptake of arsenic by paddy in both the boro and aman (late monsoon) seasons. Other mitigation approaches are being tested, such as:

Although these techniques can reduce the amount of arsenic taken up by the irrigated boro crop, compared with AWD, they are not so easily or widely applicable at the farm level as they are in the research station, where more complex methods for arsenic removal can be tried. 

The project is carrying out a survey to gather information on the perceptions of farmers regarding the arsenic issue. It is also researching uptake of arsenic by livestock.

Charles Bevan, Agronomist

Useful links:
                       


More rice at a lower cost: improved technologies in Bangladesh

   
 

Motiar operating the USG planter

 

Bangladesh is the fourth largest rice producer in the world. But rice production faces challenges such as increasing demand as the country population grows and reduced or lost land for paddy cultivation due to urbanization and climate change. To continue to increase rice production at a lower production cost so that it is affordable for poor consumers, IFAD supports key technologies such as urea super granules (USG), leaf color chart (LCC) and alternate wetting and drying. These technologies aim to reduce the cost of rice production for farmers by making more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizer and irrigation water.   

Rice is the staple food for over 140 million people in Bangladesh. Since gaining independence in 1971, Bangladesh has tripled its annual rice production from approximately 10 million tons to over 30 million tons – making it the fourth largest rice producer in the world. This ‘Green Revolution’ has enabled Bangladesh to meet the demands of a growing population. Although Bangladesh still imports some rice, especially when natural disasters strike, in normal years the country is largely self-sufficient in rice.  

However, the country faces significant challenges in sustaining this achievement. The demand for rice is growing as the population increases and incomes rise, while the land available for paddy cultivation is being reduced due to urbanization and competition with other agricultural sub-sectors – such as high-value vegetable crops, aquaculture and intensive poultry raising. 

Rice production is also under threat from the impacts of climate change in Bangladesh, with land being lost to rising sea levels, river water becoming saline, and an increased frequency of extreme climatic events – floods, droughts and cyclones. Bangladesh could import an increasing proportion of its rice supply. However, this is likely to mean higher prices for consumers and would have a major adverse impact on poverty reduction, with the poorest segment of the population being landless and reliant on purchased food. It is therefore vital that rice production continue to increase and that production costs be kept down so that rice is affordable for poor consumers.  

The IFAD-supported Micro-Finance for Marginal and Small Farmers Project (2005-2011) is being implemented by the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) through 25 of its non-governmental organization (NGO) partners. The project has successfully extended the reach of microfinance to the agricultural sector, including seasonal loans for crop production. This is now being scaled up by PKSF throughout the country. 

   
 

IRRI scientist demonstrating the use of LCC. Source: IRRI

 

Partner NGOs are providing technical support alongside their financial services, focusing on a number of key technologies, together with the development of market linkages. Three of these technologies – urea super granules (USG), leaf color chart (LCC) and alternate wetting and drying – aim to reduce the cost of rice production by making more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizer and irrigation water.   

Participating farmers, supported by technical officers of the 25 partner organizations, demonstrated these technologies during the 2009-10 boro season.

Urea super granules

USG are large granules of urea made from normal urea prills using a briquetting machine.  The resulting ball of USG, about 1.5 cm in diameter, is placed in the soil of the paddy field about 7.5 cm below the surface, and midway between four hills of transplanted seedlings. Such deep placement reduces the rate of urea nitrification (and thus loss to the atmosphere or in irrigation water), and increases the efficiency of nitrogen fertilizer uptake from 30 to 70 per cent. 

Results of this demonstration were obtained from ten partner organizations that demonstrated the technology at 33 locations with 1,337 farmers over an area of 205 hectares. Table 1 shows the average results for the 33 locations. The use of USG has resulted in a reduction of 37 per cent in the amount applied (from 263 to 166 kg per hectare), with the cost of this fertilizer being reduced by 26 per cent (USG is slightly more expensive due to the cost of making briquettes).  

Applying USG is significantly more costly due to the need to ‘plant’ super granules below the soil surface. This additional labour cost offsets the savings in the cost of fertilizer and means that the total cost of nitrogen fertilizer and its application was 9 per cent higher for the USG plots compared with conventional broadcast urea. However, other production costs were slightly lower (farmers reported reduced weed growth and so less weeding costs when using USG), so total costs were very similar.  

Despite receiving less nitrogen fertilizer, the USG plots produced an extra half ton of paddy per hectare (6.55 tons compared with 6.03 tons). Yields increased at 32 out of the 33 locations and can be attributed to the more continuous supply of nutrients directly to the root zone of the rice plants. Although this increase of 9 per cent in yield is less than the 15 to 20 per cent increase often claimed for USG, net income was 19 per cent higher – with farmers earning another BDT 7,629 (US$105) per hectare.  

Results of USG demonstrations

 

 

USG

US$

Urea

US$

Change(%)

Amount of N fertilizer applied

kg per ha

166

 

263

 

-37

Cost of N fertilizer

BDT per ha

2 329

32

3 153

43

-26

Cost of N fertilizer application

BDT per ha

1 721

24

553

8

211

Total cost of N fertilizer applied

BDT per ha

4 050

56

3 706

51

9

Other costs

BDT per ha

40 965

561

41 452

568

-1

Total cost

BDT per ha

45 015

616

45 157

618

0

Crop yield

kg per ha

6 551

 

6 032

 

9

Total income

BDT per ha

93 328

1 278

85 841

1 175

9

Net income

BDT per ha

48 313

661

40 684

557

19

 
The major drawback in using USG is the additional labour needed for application – between 5 and 15 person-days per hectare. Although, on average for all locations, the additional cost of application exceeded the savings in using less fertilizer, at 14 of the 33 locations (42 per cent) the extra cost of application was lower than the fertilizer value of the fertilizer saved, so there was an overall cost saving. Such savings may become more widespread as farmers learn how to apply USG more efficiently – using only around 5 person-days per hectare. In addition, this problem may be alleviated if a suitable application machine can be developed. A USG applicator has been developed by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, and the project purchased two of the machines, which were given to two partner organizations, JAKAS and GRAMAUS, which in turn taught some of the demonstration farmers how to use them. So far reports on the performance of the machines are favourable, and they are likely to cost about BDT 3,000 (US$ 41) per machine – about the same as a knapsack sprayer that many farmers either own or hire.

Farmer pioneers USG

Mr Motiar Rahman lives in Dugorpara village of Panchbibi Upazila, Joypurhat district. He has a medium-size farm with 1.4 hectares of cultivated land, which is used to grow boro rice. In 2007 Motiar became a member of the Dugorpara Proush Samity (Dugorpara Men’s Society), which was formed by JAKAS Foundation in 2007 to provide farmers with access to microfinance and links to technical support.

Motiar is a successful member of this group and has taken and repaid seven seasonal loans from JAKAS. Since he joined the group he has purchased a power thresher and a power tiller. Motiar attended a training class on using USG. He was interested in trying to USG on his own land and took the opportunity to participate in a demonstration of USG on a 2-hectare block organized by JAKAS in 2009-10. On the block he cultivated 0.2 hectares of boro rice, applying 25 kg of USG using a mechanical applicator supplied by JAKAS. On another 0.2 hectare plot of boro outside the block demonstration, Motiar applied 50 kg of prilled urea using the normal broadcasting technique. In both plots he used the most popular variety of boro rice: BR 29.  

By using USG, Motiar saved 25 kg of urea worth BDT 300 (US$4) and also found there was less incidence of insect and disease damage compared with his other plot. The USG plot yielded 1,536 kg of paddy, while the prilled urea plot yielded 1,408 kg, so Motiar obtained 128 kg of additional paddy from the same area, worth BDT 1,920 (US$26). Together with the savings on the cost of fertilizer, the total benefit amounted to BDT 2,220 (US$30) for a plot of 0.2 hectares (equal to BDT 10,997 (US$151) per hectare). The additional application cost for USG was minimal as Motiar operated the application machine himself.

Leaf colour chart

   
 

Tota Miah and his neighbours examining a porous pipe. Source: MFMSFP

 

LCC is another technology to improve the efficiency of applying nitrogen fertilizer. This is an easy-to-use and inexpensive diagnostic tool for monitoring the relative greenness of a rice leaf as an indicator of the plant’s nitrogen status. The LCC is a 12 cm, plastic ruler-shaped strip containing four shades of green – from yellowish green to dark green – with veins in the colour strips to resemble rice leaves. By matching the colour of the leaves of rice plants to the strips on the LCC, farmers are able to determine whether the crop needs an application of nitrogen fertilizer. To disseminate the use of LCCs, the project has made a significant effort, procuring 25,400 LCC via IRRI.

The results of demonstrations suggest that, wherever possible, farmers should use LCC in all types of paddy – boro, aman and aus (the rice crop in the early monsoon season). A slight disadvantage is the need for farmers to use the LCC three times in a growing season to measure leaf colour, but there is evidence that once farmers see the benefits of matching the application of fertilizer to the needs of the crop, they will use the technology. In transplanted paddy fields, USG could be expected to produce similar benefits in terms of reduced use of nitrogen, but the use of USG may not be feasible in all types of soil (such as hard soils where it is difficult to bury the USG), so LCC has more scope for wider application.   

Alternate wetting and drying

The rice plant is able to grow in soil that is fully saturated – i.e. with the roots immersed in water. However rice will still grow well if the soil is not kept saturated at all times, provided the field does not get too dry. Alternate wetting and drying (AWD – also known as ‘porous pipe’) is an approach that allows irrigation applications to be reduced. This is done by inserting a 25 cm pipe, with the lower 15 cm perforated, vertically 15 cm into the field. The water level in the pipe is monitored daily, and when no water is visible, it is time to irrigate again, as the soil in the main root zone will now be at or below ‘field capacity’. This method has been shown to reduce the total amount of water required to grow paddy by 25-45 per cent. This method is very low-cost (the pipe only costs a few Taka) and saves substantially on irrigation water costs. The project has been promoting this simple technology for the last two years. 

The results of the project demonstrations show that all three technologies reduce production costs and increase production. These results have been produced under farmer-managed field conditions and show the technologies to be consistently profitable in a range of locations. Demonstrations by all 25 partner organizations in the 2009-10 boro involved about 9,000 farmers and will have made a significant contribution to the dissemination of these technologies to the 175,000 farmers who are members of the project groups, as well as to the wider farming community. 

Edward Mallorie, Development Consultant

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Promising agricultural technologies for rice-based systems in marginal uplands of North-east India

   
 

A farmer demonstrating Inglongkiri rice variety in Karbi Anglong, Assam

 

Managing Rice Landscapes in the Marginal Uplands for Household Food Security and Environmental Sustainability’ is an IFAD-supported grant project led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The project is being implemented in collaboration with national research organizations in India, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), Nepal and Viet Nam. One of its objectives is to test and validate upland agricultural technologies. This includes improved upland and lowland rice varieties appropriate for poor and marginal farmers living in uplands.

In India, IRRI partnered with the Assam Agricultural University at Jorhat, Assam and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), New Delhi to implement project activities. To roll out research activities and field trials, the University selected its Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS) at Diphu in Karbi Anglong District of Assam. ICAR selected its ICAR Research Complex for the North-eastern Himalaya Region at Umiam in Ri Bhoi District of Meghalaya. At the designated research sites, farmers participated in the trials.

Both states of Assam and Meghalaya in North-east India have an agrarian economy, with nearly two-thirds of the population engaged in agriculture. While permanent agriculture primarily takes place in narrow valleys in the hills, shifting cultivation, locally known as jhum, is practiced on hill slopes. Rice is the staple food grain crop, accounting for more than 80 per cent of the food grain production in the states of Assam and Meghalaya. However, overall productivity is low, particularly in the upland areas of the present field research sites in the Karbi Anglong District in Assam and Ri Bhoi District in Meghalaya.

The major constraints to improving agriculture in these areas include:

To address these constraints, the IRRI-led research methodology follows a landscape management and farmer participatory approach for testing and generating technologies suitable for the farmers in selected villages.

Validated technologies for sloping uplands

Upland rice varieties for sloping uplands in Karbi Anglong
Three years of participatory research have identified two upland rice varieties – Inglongkiri (2.37 t/ha) and Rongkhang (1.84 t/ha) – as yielding higher than the local check variety (1.29 t/ha).

   
 

A demonstration plot for improved sloping agriculture as an alternative to jhum in Karbi Anglong, Assam

 

Early-maturing and high-yielding upland rice varieties
ICAR in the North-eastern Himalaya has identified two early-maturing and high-yielding upland rice varieties: Bhalum1 (2.88 t/ha) and Bhalum2 (2.7 t/ha). Under optimal conditions, Bhalum1 and Bhalum2 are recorded to yield as high as 4.27 and 3.28 t/ha, respectively, as compared to some local varieties such as Rongkhang, which yields only 1.84 t/ha. The varieties mature about 30 days earlier than local varieties.

Legume intercrop for upland rice in Meghalaya
Peanut (variety ICGS76, yield 2.55 t/ha), soybean (variety JS335, yield 1.84 t/ha) and blackgram (variety T9, yield 1.2 t/ha) have been identified as potential legume crops that can be intercropped with upland rice. Intercrop of peanut and soybean with upland rice gave a gross margin of US$805 per hectare and US$770 per hectare, respectively, as opposed to a gross margin of US$391 per hectare from upland rice monocrop.

Improved ginger and turmeric varieties for sloping uplands in Meghalaya
Ginger and turmeric are important cash crops grown on the sloping uplands in Meghalaya. Farmer participatory research has identified improved ginger variety Nadia (20.2 t/ha) and turmeric variety RCT 1 (29 t/ha) to be higher-yielding than local varieties (10 t/ha).

Improved crop rotation for uplands in Karbi Anglong
Upland rice Toria (variety TS38) and upland rice – blackgram (variety KU301) have been found to be suitable and economical for the sloping agriculture system in Karbi Anglong. Upland rice Toria and upland rice blackgram rotations gave a net incremental benefit of US$230 and US$184 per hectare, respectively, over the traditional practice of growing upland rice only.

Improved sloping agriculture: alternative to jhum in Karbi Anglong
Improved sloping agriculture research is being carried out by RARS Diphu in farmers’ fields. It integrates cultivation of improved upland rice variety Inglongkiri with improved varieties of pineapple (cv. Kew), sesame (cv. AST 1), toria (cv. TS 38), greengram (cv. GS 335), Assam lemon, banana (dwarf Cavendish), turmeric (cv. Shillong tall) and guinea grass in sequential strips across the slope. Initial results show that all the crops in the improved agricultural practices on hill slopes gave higher yields than farmers’ yield in traditional jhum agriculture. Yield of upland rice under improved sloping agriculture was higher (2.21 t/ha) than that under traditional jhum agriculture (1.24 t/ha). Similarly, yield of sesame (0.20 cf. 0.08 t/ha), green gram (0.74 cf. 0.50 t/ha), turmeric (24.65 cf. 16.4 t/ha) and Toria (0.68 cf. 0.30 t/ha) crops under improved sloping agriculture practice was higher than yield under traditional jhum agriculture.

Validated technologies for paddies

JR2: Paddy rice variety for zero fertilizer input for Karbi Anglong
Farmer participatory research on improved lowland paddy rice variety JR2 yielded significantly higher (3.14 t/ha) than farmer variety (1.96 t/ha) when grown under farmer conditions with zero fertilizer input.

Low-input paddy rice varieties for Karbi Anglong
Farmer participatory research has identified three lowland paddy rice varieties – JR2 (4.27 t/ha), JR6 (3.89 t/ha) and JR5 (3.57 t/ha) – that did well under low fertilizer input (20:10:10 NPK kg/ha) conditions as compared with local check variety (3.38 t/ha).

Low-input paddy rice varieties for Meghalaya
Three paddy rice varieties – Ranjit (3.5 t/ha), Shasharang (3.3 t/ha) and JR2 (3.1 t/ha) – have been identified as doing better than local check varieties (2.5 t/ha) when grown under low fertilizer input conditions (30:20:20 NPK kg/ha).

Paddy rice varieties for middle-altitude conditions in Meghalaya
Farmer participatory research has identified two paddy rice varieties – Shasharang (3.9 t/ha) and Lumpnah (3.7 t/ha) – as performing better than local check variety (1.9 t/ha) when grown under middle-altitude (≥800 m) conditions found in Meghalaya.

   
 

Green manuring for integrated nutrient management in paddy rice in upland areas of Karbi Anglong, Assam

 

Aromatic paddy rice varieties for Meghalaya
Seven aromatic rice varieties (AR1, AR2, AR3, AR4, AR5, AR6 and AR7) developed at ICAR North-eastern Himalaya were validated in farmers’ fields in Meghalaya. Average yield rates of the aromatic varieties ranged from 2.7 t/ha (AR5) to 3.7 t/ha (AR3). All tested varieties gave higher average yield than the local check (2.5 t/ha).

Integrated weed management in lowland rice in Meghalaya
The treatment herbicide 2, 4 D spray plus one hand weeding was found high-yielding and most economical over the farmer practice for managing weeds in paddy rice fields. The treatment gave a yield of 4 t/ha and an incremental return of US$95/ha over farmer practice.

Integrated nutrient management in paddy rice in Karbi Anglong
The use of integrated nutrient management treatment of green manure (Sesbania aculeata) plus 50 per cent (NPK 30:10:10) of recommended fertilizer dose in improved paddy rice variety Ranjit gave a yield of 3.73 t/ha as compared with the farmer practice (1.77 t/ha). The incremental benefit from the treatment was US$286/ha over farmer practice.

Green manure for paddies in Karbi Anglong
The use of dhaincha (Sesbania aculeata) as green manure in paddy rice variety Ranjit gave higher yield (2.77 t/ha) than farmer practice (1.77 t/ha), which translated to an incremental benefit of US$147 per hectare.

Horticultural cash crop enterprises for paddy land in Meghalaya
Tomato (varieties Avinash, Chiranjeevi and Rocky) and capsicum (variety California Wonder) have been identified as potential cash-generating crops for paddy land after rice. Tomato and capsicum gave an average return of US$3,670 and US$5,800 per hectare, respectively.

The IRRI-led research has validated these technologies through farmers’ participatory trials. Currently, two IFAD-funded investment projects are being implemented in North-east India: the Meghalaya Livelihoods Improvement Project in the Himalayas (MLIPH), covering five districts of Meghalaya State; and the North-eastern Region Community Resource Management Project for Upland Areas (NERCORMP) in Assam, Manipur and Meghalaya, covering two upland districts in each state. While Ri Bhoi district in Meghalaya is covered by MLIPH, the Karbi Anglong district in Assam is covered by NERCORMP.

Both projects are in the process of adopting some of these agricultural technologies and rice systems. Seed availability, education of the farmers and appropriate extension services remain some of the challenges for the field staff. With increasing climate change situations in the region (less and erratic rain in most cases), there is also increasing demand by farmers in the project areas for dryland rice and other crop varieties.

Overall, the validated agricultural technologies for rice systems brought out by the IRRI-led research provide promising opportunities for managing rice landscapes in the marginal uplands areas of North-east India in order to improve household food security and environmental sustainability. These technologies can also be gainfully disseminated to areas with agro-ecological systems similar to those of the validation sites.

Compiled by Vincent Darlong, IFAD India Country Office

For more details please contact: Dr J.K. Dey, Regional Agriculture Research Station
Assam Agricultural University; Dr A.K. Tripathi, ICAR Research Complex for North-eastern Himalaya Region;  Dr Hari Gurung, International Research Fellow, Social Sciences Division, IRRI; Dr Sushil Pandey, Senior Scientist and Project Leader, Social Sciences Division, IRRI

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Enhancing rice productivity in unfavourable tribal ecosystems in Orissa, India

   
 

Participatory planning by the community

 

The Orissa Tribal Empowerment and Livelihoods Programme (2004-2013) in India works with some of the poorest tribal communities in a difficult environment. Seventy per cent of families live on less than US$2 per day. About 60 per cent of their incomes come from rice cultivation. Nevertheless, unfavourable environmental conditions and conflict pose challenges. The programme has developed strategies to address some of these important issues and to enhance rice productivity.

About 78 per cent of the people living in the area of the Orissa Tribal Empowerment and Livelihoods Programme are marginal farmers owning less than 0.8 hectares of cultivable land. Agriculture is the major source of livelihood, although only 40 per cent of the total programme area is suitable for good agriculture. As rice is the staple food, more than 60 per cent of the cropped area is under rice cultivation. The cropping system is largely rain-dependent, and agricultural extension services in the programme area are weak. In recent years, some pockets of the programme area have witnessed increased extremism, further affecting the weak extension services.

Strategies for addressing agriculture and rice cultivation

   
 

A demonstration plot for improved sloping agriculture as an alternative to jhum in Karbi Anglong, Assam

 

Under its land and water management component, the programme adopted strategies for overall agricultural development along with enhanced environmental quality. The programme introduced low external input technologies that are affordable and geared to the needs of poor tribal farmers in the area.

The programme focuses on the following interventions:

Experience from Lanjia Soura tribal communities in Gajapati District

   
 

Farmers being trained in a farmersí field school

 

Lanjia Soura communities are one of the less developed tribal communities in Orissa. The community members’ livelihoods depend on subsistence farming by cultivating rice in marginal lowland or in shifting cultivation areas in the hills, locally known as podu. The programme interventions have had encouraging results in terms of enhancing the productivity of lowland rice cultivation. Interventions followed a series of processes described below.

Social mobilization and preparation of the Village Development Plan. Social mobilization and capacity-building processes include awareness campaigns, group formation, trainings and workshops, exposure visits and the like. Following these processes, the farmers are organized into Village Development Associations (VDAs) comprising two to three adjoining villages in a micro-watershed. The VDA elects its Village Development Committee (VDC), which then prepares a five-year Village Development Plan. The plan includes activities to be taken up under the land and water development component following principles of integrated natural resource management. Land development, water harvesting and improving irrigation facilities are some of the key activities undertaken. Simultaneously, baseline data on agriculture are gathered and shared with the farmers, such as current agronomic practices, rice varieties, water availability, extension services and yields. Women are equal participants in both the VDA and VDC.

   
 

Line sowing behind the plough

 

Enhancing farmers’ capacity. Training and capacity building follow a participatory approach such as learning by doing, observing and sharing, and farmer-to-farmer exchange visits. Lead farmers are identified to undergo training of trainers through farmers’ field days; in some cases the farmers are organized into farmers’ field schools, where they learn about the best integrated crop management practices at a nearby crop demonstration field at regular intervals for the entire crop season. Such comprehensive and intensive horizontal learning and knowledge sharing helps to build their trust and enhance networking among themselves. Community-level agriculture volunteers are promoted by the programme to give support to the communities on agriculture extension. The volunteers are regularly trained on modern technologies with low external inputs in order to keep their knowledge up to date.

Integrated crop management practices. The reasons for low agricultural productivity and rice yields are determined together with the farmers. Thereafter, the farmers are trained to practice improved crop management practices, such as improved seed systems by periodic seed replacement, land preparation, integrated nutrient management and integrated pest management. These improved agronomic practices have been demonstrated in the project villages, and many Lanjia Soura tribal communities are adopting them with encouraging results. 

Agronomic practices

Previous practices until 2004-2005 (as practiced in many non-project villages)

Practices from 2006-2007 in project villages

Introduction of high-yield varieties (HYVs)/varietal change

Local varieties (Guduba, Malbub, Rasadi, Sarudhan and Kundemdhan) are grown both in medium  and lowlands, which give lower grain yield and less quality straw yield – longer duration (150-170 days)

HYVs in medium land (Lalat, Konark, Naveen, Surendra, and MTU-1001);
Lowlands (CR1014, Pooja, CR1009, Masuri and Moti) – are short to medium duration (100-130 days)

Use of quality seeds

 

Use of seeds continuously over generations from own field

Use of certified seeds from agriculture department; seed sale centre at watershed level.

Summer ploughing

One ploughing before puddling during end of May

Minimum two ploughings  from March to May

Proper puddling and leveling

One puddling before the transplantation, with no adequate time for decomposition of organic materials with one leveling

2-3 times of puddling at an interval of 2-3 days, at least 8-10 days before transplantation and 2 times leveling.

Green manure application

Not practiced

Green leaves from Glyricidia maculeta, Cassia tora, etc. and biocompost used; Glyricidia planted along the fields

Nursery area

1 000 square metres per acre

400 square metres per acre

Seed requirement

60-70 kg per acre

25-30 kg per acre

Nursery management practices – raised bed, nutrient management and weeding

Flat bed, farmyard manure (FYM) not applied and weeding in nursery not practiced

Raised bed, 100 kg of FYM and weeding 10-12 days after sowing 

Number of seedlings per hill

7-8 seedlings per hill

2-3 seedlings per hill

Age of the seedlings

60-70 days old

20-25 days old

Plant spacing

100 seedlings per square metre    (spacing 10 x 10 cm )

45 seedling per square metre (spacing 15 x 15 cm)

Weed management

One-time weeding after two weeks of planting

Two-time weeding (3 weeks after transplantation after 1 month of first weeding)

Rice yield (average)

630-650 kg per acre

1 000-1060 kg per acre

The adoption of improved agronomic practices to enhance rice yields was an initial challenge for the Lanjia Soura tribal communities. Appropriate hand-holding by the project together with peer assistance through the community-based organizations are helping the communities to adopt the practices. Critical to the success and sustainability of the programme interventions is the provision of adequate extension services, particularly for securing seed systems. Agricultural volunteers currently provide critical extension services. Government extension services in the programme areas are also having positive effects in some pockets. Overall rice yields among the Lanjia Souras have increased by 20 per cent to as much as 100 per cent, thereby ensuring food security for the local communities.

Suresh Chandra Patnaik, Programme Officer, Bhubaneswar, Orissa; Susanta Nanda,Project Director, Bhubaneswar, Orissa

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Securing seeds for the community

   
 

A couple shows off their traditional variety, the dinorado, in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato

 

A Chinese proverb captures it well: “Without seeds, even the smartest farmer cannot grow rice.” Limited access to good-quality seeds and technologies has long hindered farmers from achieving good harvests, especially farmers working in rainfed and unfavorable rice environments. Poor and largely marginalized, these rice farmers usually rely on seeds from their own harvests, which may be of low quality, and poor storage conditions. As a result, farmers are often forced to consume seed stocks during the ‘hungry’ months.
 
According to ‘Crop and natural resource management for climate-ready rice in unfavourable environments: coping with adverse conditions and creating opportunities’ – a paper based on the workshop of the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE) on climate change held on 4 May 2010 in Cambodia – unfavourable rice environments are those where rice production is frequently constrained by abiotic stresses, such as drought, submergence and adverse soil conditions. Such conditions are found primarily in rainfed rice systems.

In Asia, the rainfed lowland ecosystems are the world’s most important rice-based rainfed system in terms of area and farming households: almost 30 per cent of the total rice area worldwide (46 million hectares) are rainfed lowland systems in Asia. Multiple abiotic stresses also affect upland rice (about 9 million hectares in Asia).  Rice-based farming is the main economic activity for millions of poor rural people in Asia, most of whom live on less than US$1 a day. In 2008, rising rice prices sent governments scrambling to address the global rice shortage.

Seeds = food

As rice sustains more than half of the world’s population, seed security among rice farmers can translate to general food security. Farmers may access seeds from their own harvest or that of other farmers in the community, which may not be of good quality, or through outside sources, such as the markets. Farmers in unfavorable rice environments tend to have limited access to off-farm seed sources, or the formal seed sector, due to their limited resources and economic opportunities. In upland areas, for example, private seed producers find limited incentives to set up business. According to studies conducted in the 1990s, such as ‘A typology of community seed banks’ conducted by Lewis and Mulvany in 1997, seeds saved on-farm comprise 60-70 per cent of those used by farmers. Other sources include government, seed exchanges and private growers.

Community seed banking

For the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE), a key way to address seed security concerns, especially in fragile rice ecosystems, is to encourage the development of community seed banks (CSBs).

 

CURE is a platform for exchange of technology and information among stakeholders in ten Asian countries to improve the livelihoods of poor farmers in unfavourable rice areas. By linking national agricultural research and extension systems and the International Rice Research Institute, CURE facilitates the delivery of technologies and management practices for areas prone to submergence, salinity and drought, as well as the marginal upland areas.

CSB provide a means for farmers to store seeds from a range of individuals or groups who share seeds among themselves, to raise seed quality, and to improve seed supplies. The approach aims to promote in situ conservation and ensure the availability of wider rice genetic resources, especially farmer-preferred traditional and climate-ready varieties and upland food crops. Key components of this model include capacity building of farmers to manage seed health and produce quality seeds, but there is the potential to include additional elements – participatory varietal selection (PVS); appropriate crop management practices; introduction of cash crops with agronomic options for crop nutrition, pest control, and crop diversification; market integration; group learning and information sharing; participation in government-sponsored training programmes by key farmers; and identification of local champions.

Tangible benefits

   
 

CURE facilitates focus group discussions with farmer-members and non-members of the Arakan CSB in North Cotabato

 

Crop yield advantages from better seed health management can be 10-20 per cent in low-input environments with good-quality seeds compared with the farmers’ own seeds of the same variety. Further, village-level options for seed drying and storage resulted in a 20 per cent increase in germination rates in Bangladesh and a 40 per cent reduction in required seeding rate.

In the Arakan Valley in the Philippines, CSBs helped to conserve, in situ, the traditional upland rice varieties, including Dinorado, that are highly priced in niche markets. The community initiative also encouraged the cultivation of non-rice crops in a rice-based rotation system that provided additional food and income. Farmer-members of the Arakan CSB also adopted management options to reduce the labor required and improve the management of weeds and soil nutrients.

Room for improvement

Sustainability of CSB initiatives requires policy support to foster the development of programmes on seed systems and village community seed banks in villages in target areas. Mobilization of existing farmers’ groups, or the creation of similar social organizations to establish CSBs and to foster farmer-to-farmer exchanges, should also be encouraged. Likewise, the development of platforms for knowledge sharing among existing initiatives would promote improved seed supplies. It is important that the farmer-members of the CSBs have the capacity to ensure good-quality seeds. Training and capacity building are vital components of approaches to improve seed supplies. Establishment of CSBs may not only help empower communities but, as they may become a focus of local initiatives, CSBs can contribute to the overall development of communities by addressing food security, livelihood and nutritional concerns.

Elenor de Leon, Specialist, Communication and Extension, CURE; Digna Manzanilla, Scientist (Social Sciences) and Associate CURE Coordinator; and David Johnson, CURE Coordinator

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Seed production and preservation in Bangladesh

   
 

Golapi in her paddy field

 

Good-quality seed is a critical input for rice production. Purchased seed is expensive, so farmers are reluctant to buy seeds unless they wish to obtain a new variety.  However, with the correct techniques and skills, paddy seed can be produced and stored on the farms. 

Sukkur Mahmud, 50 years old, is a poor farmer living with his wife Golapi, three children, a son-in-law and three grandchildren in Kachina village, Mymensingh, in Bangladesh. The family lives hand-to-mouth, depending only on Sukkur’s income. He only has 50 decimals (0.20 ha) of land, of which 15 decimals are used for housing.

Golapi joined Udayan Mahila Samity, of Agroforestry Seed Production and Development (ASPADA) – a partner organization – of the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), which is participating in the IFAD-supported Micro Finance for Marginal and Small Farmers Project.  Golapi attended regular group meetings and started to save some of their earnings. She received her first loan of BDT 10,000 (US$137) in March 2008.  She used this loan to buy inputs for paddy production. Around the same time, Sukkur attended a training on ‘Production and Preservation of Rice Seed at Farmer Level’.   

With help from the Technical Officer of ASPADA, Sukkur bought 5 kg of fragrant Kali-Jira rice seeds.  In the main monsoon cropping season for rice (aman), he cultivated 16 decimals of land with Kali-Jira and 19 decimals land with BR-11. Sukkur harvested 150 kg of Kali-Jira paddy and stored 70 kg as seed. The remaining 80 kg were sold for BDT 65 (US$0.9) per kg, earning BDT 5,200 (US$72).  Of the 70 kg of seeds, 10 kg was kept for his own use and the rest sold later for BDT 3,300 (US$45) at the rate of BDT 55 (US$0.8) per kg. Thus, his total income was BDT 8,500 (US$116). Subtracting the costs of BDT 3,000 (US$41), his profit was BDT 5,500 (US$75) from 16 decimals of land. From the other 19 decimals, Sukkur Mahmud harvested 500 kg of BR-11 paddy, from which he selected 350 kg as seed that he sold for BDT 12,250 (US$167) at the rate of BDT 35 (US$0.5) per kg. The remaining 150 kg were used for food purposes and were worth around BDT 2,100 (US$29). Deducting production costs of BDT 4,000 (US$55), he earned a profit of BDT 10,350 (US$141) from 19 decimals of land. 

This success built Sukkur’s confidence and he leased 20 decimals of land for BDT 8,000 (US$109).This gave him a total of 55 decimals of cultivable land in the following winter (boro) season, which he used to produce seed of BR-28 (a popular high-yield variety), which he purchased with the help of ASPADA. This time Sukkur harvested a total of 1,430 kg, of which 1,000 kg were stored as seed. He hopes that he will make profit of BDT 30,000 (US$409) after production costs of BDT 10,000 (US$136). 

Sukkur and Golapi are better off by virtue of their hard work and support from the project. Golapi is now planning to buy a power tiller for her second son with a loan from ASPADA. She explained, “We could not attain this stage without your help. It is our great achievement that we are now getting the right number of meals in a day, although we cannot yet build a good house.”

Md. Khairul Alam, Technical Officer, ASPADA

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Dishing rice for rural livelihoods – is it the right farming option for rural Fiji communities?

   
 

Mr Singh, a new rice farmer in his newly prepared field

 

Rice has quietly settled itself into many people’s lives in the Pacific, including the rural population who traditionally depended on crops such as taro, cassava and breadfruit as staples. As a major staple crop consumed by all communities in Fiji now, it is no wonder that rice import figures stand at Fijian dollar (FJ$) $40 million (US$23 million) annually. In 2009 Fiji imported 30 000 tons of rice, which accounted for 1.2 per cent of Fiji’s total import spending. Local farmers are struggling to meet domestic demands for rice.

In a bid to reduce rice import bills, the Ministry of Agriculture launched a rice revitalization and import substitute programme to expand domestic rice production. According to Prasad and Narayan (2005), “Rice is a small rural-based industry in Fiji, and its contribution to GDP and national welfare is insignificant.” However, the benefits to rural smallholder farmers could be significant both in terms of income and food security. 

   
 

Suitable land ready for planting rice

 

A group of farmers working with the Mainstreaming of Rural Development Innovations Programme (MORDI), funded by IFAD, joined the Ministry’s initiative in taking up rice farming as an additional crop. Key factors that motivated these farmers included the Government’s heavily subsidized support, higher demands for and better returns from rice, availability of suitable land and better yields, stable prices compared to traditional crops, better shelf life, and declining demand for and returns from traditional crops. With issues of climate change being more real than ever, rice farming has created opportunities for farmers to diversify their income, thus spreading their risks and reducing their heavy dependency on traditional crops.

In August 2010, the group harvested 2 tons of rice, which 14 households shared. The group has since produced two more batches of crop which they have sold through a major rice distributor. This sweet success has not come easy. The farmers faced and continue to face major hurdles that can threaten their ability to continue rice farming. Rice farming is a new venture for these often poorly supported farmers. Their lack of knowledge and skills on the full range of issues with rice farming has yet to be addressed.

Potential problems from rice cultivation

  • Rice farming requires heavier investment and maintenance costs of tools and equipment, irrigation and drainage systems as well as pest and disease management.
  • Being labour-intensive, rice farming is something that most native Pacific farmers are not able to sustain over a long period.
  • Although the Government is providing support, it will not be sustainable in the long run. The chances of these farms collapsing are high once Government intervention is withdrawn (as was seen in the 1970s and 1980s).
  • Environmental damage could be caused by diverted water courses and irrigation channels, improper soil management, fertilizer use and sedimentation of rivers and coastal areas.
  • Crop losses to pests and climatic factors are also important issues to consider given the lack of storage infrastructure in most of these rural areas.
  • There is the risk of a  possible loss of interest in traditional crops. As more and more land is used for rice farming, traditional crops could be given less priority.

Stakeholders need to carefully consider the implications of production, diversification and the environmental aspects of rice farming on these rural populations. Care must be taken to allocate only a certain amount of land for rice farming to ensure that suitable land is reserved for traditional crops. Farmers should continue to plant and maintain traditional crops, as these crops are much better acclimatized to the local conditions and local cultivation knowledge and skills. Traditional crops should not be forsaken, as it has a clear advantage with respect to nutrition, agronomy and economic, environmental and social aspects (Manley, 2008). An equal focus should be maintained on improving agricultural productivity in traditional crops and their value chain development.

   
 

New Government-subsidized irrigation channel

 
   
 

NGO, media and government representatives paying one of their frequent visits to rice farmers to encourage them

 
   
  Traditional rice-threshing tool, which is still used in rural communities  

A clear long-term national rice industry development plan must be drawn up, taking into account potential growth, production, demand, and support structure and markets.  Government incentives for a relatively longer period of time are essential for the rice industry to grow stronger. Thereafter a gradual phase-out strategy would provide a buffer for the industry to stabilize itself. Beyond the phase-out period, technical assistance, training and extension services must continue so that local expert farmers are empowered to take on greater mentorship roles. 

Market expansion and produce collection systems and strategies must be carefully studied and put in place. With the expansion in production, such systems will help channel produce to consumers more efficiently and effectively. Central community storage systems must be put in place to minimize costs to individual farmers who otherwise would construct their own substandard storage facilities, risking crop losses.

Local farmer networks must be created and strengthened so that farmers can help each other not only with rice crops but other traditional crop production. Local trust funds could be created where a certain percentage of income from rice is kept separately as a maintenance fund for drainage and irrigation channels, important tools and equipment, and pest and disease management.

It is encouraging that these rural communities are adapting and diversifying their production as climatic conditions and consumption and demand patterns are changing. However, this must be done with great caution and careful planning. Even though rice farming in rural Fiji appears to be heading in a positive direction, it is important for the communities, the farmers and the Government to carefully consider all aspects of rice farming to ensure long-term sustainability, minimal environmental damage and the least negative impact on traditional crops. 

Vikash Kumar, MORDI Learning Unit Coordinator

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Supporting the rice value chain in Viet Nam

   
 

Training of CIGs/CGs using the farmer field school method in Hung Hoa commune

 
   
 

Seed-rice market linkage and model replication workshop in Tan Son commune

 
   
  Enterprise-farmer dialogue during the provincial rice market linkage workshop  

Tra Vinh is a coastal province in the Mekong Delta. It is home to over one million people, of whom, 30 per cent are Khmer people (the ethnic minority). As more than 80 per cent of population lives in rural areas, agriculture plays an important role in their socio-economic development. Since 2007, IFAD and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) have been supporting the rural population in the province to grow and market high-quality rice.
           
Agricultural value accounts for 50 per cent of  Tra Vinh’s gross domestic product and provides a significant source of income and livelihoods for poor rural people. The province is still poor because of limited production techniques, lack of investment capital for farm equipment, lack of intensive cultivation to increase crops, lack of essential infrastructure and difficulties in market linkages. The province is also severely affected by climate change in terms of saline intrusion inland and aridity at beginning of every year, causing massive damage to agricultural production.
           
In 2007, IFAD and GIZ started to support this area through the Project for Improving Market Participation of the Poor (IMPP) in Tra Vinh Province (2007-2012). The objective of the project is to help poor rural people, especially women and Khmer people, improve their market participation better.
 
The implementation of the Commune Market Opportunities Planning process shows that farmers recognize the power of the group in the production and that they choose rice because of its low cost, short production time, and suitability for the natural conditions.
 
Households, which normally produce separately, volunteer to establish Common Interest Groups (CIGs) and Collaborative Groups (CGs). By the end of 2010, 228 CIGs/CGs had been established (representing almost 5,700 members) for growing high-quality rice and seed-rice.  The projecthas supported rice-growing technical training courses according to the Farmer Field School method, in which farmers are trained by practicing directly on their farms time. The strength of the FFS method is to help farmers select healthy and good seeds, manage epidemics and nutrients, and save water. A survey of the project has estimated that when applying the FFS method, farmers increase their productivity from 5 to 15 per cent, reduce production costs by 5 to 7 per cent, increase profits from 10 to 15 per cent and increase average income by 5 per cent.
           
In addition, to help the CIGs/CGs link to enterprises for contract farming, the project has held over 80 workshops on market linkages at the commune level and two provincial workshops so that the CIGs/CGs have opportunities to meet with millers and processing companies in and out of the province to exchange information and sign contracts. As a result, nearly 50 CIGs/CGs sell more than 10,400 tons of rice through contract farming with millers/processing companies, and the price is 2 to 30 per cent higher than the market price at that time.

Given such positive results, in the project communes, CIGs/CGs are continuing to be supported in capacity building and establishing sustainable linkages with enterprises to create more added-value in the chain, increase their incomes and improve their livelihoods.

Ly Ngo, GIZ Coordinator, Improving Market Participation of The Poor in Tra Vinh Province

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Innovations that cut across continents – A strategic partnership between Asia and Africa on New Rice for Africa
   
 

NERICA, Source: www.ogigia.com

 

An outstanding partnership between Asian and African scientists led to a successful innovation worthy of a World Food Prize.  With support from IFAD, Japan and other donors, thousands of African farmers partnered with researchers to test and validate New Rice for Africa (NERICA), a hybrid which combines the ruggedness of African rice with the high-yielding traits of modern Asian varieties.

The antiquity of the introduction of rice into Africa dates back to early Arab trans-Saharan trade. Reinforced by the Greeks and the Romans through the centuries, the Asian rice, oryza sativa, was first introduced to Africa by pioneer-explorers en route from Asia to Western Europe detouring via Africa.  The Asian rice was higher yielding and, so, displaced some traditional African varieties particularly in the bas fonds.

A second major wave of Asian rice flowing into Africa in the 1970s came as part of unsuccessful efforts to replicate the “Asian green revolution” in a rather dissimilar African context. Those well-meaning efforts failed, in part because the higher-yielding Asian varieties were associated with prohibitively costly input requirements.  Neither were there accessible markets for the requisite inputs nor were these varieties biophysically adapted to the African environment (Kanayo Nwanze, as Director General, Africa Rice Centre).   Only 7 per cent  of cultivated lands in the continent are irrigated, while fertilizer use in mostly rainfed farming systems is abysmally low (expected to reach merely 2 per cent of the world average in 2020 – FAO). 

It was in a “third” attempt, in the early 1990s,that scientists (this time from Africa Rice) were successful in responding to the above challenge or growing rice under low-input resource-poor farming systems.  They had the foresight to work on rice varieties that combined the high productivity of Asian rice species with the hardiness of local African rice species.   Instead of seeking to change the traditional, low input rainfed farming systems of millions of African smallholders to adapt to and adopt Asian rice varieties, the Africa Rice scientists used a clever, seemingly straightforward approach focusing on improving the rice seed to adapt to the prevalent conditions.  Thus, oryza glaberrima, a rather common indigenous rice variety well suited to African conditions, first cultivated in the continent some 3,500 years ago, was crossed with the Asian oryza sativa that had exhibited high-yield traits and other characteristics preferred by communities (borne out via participatory varietal selection).

And, so, NERICA was born. 

NERICA rice varieties mature in 90 to 100 days, compared with 120 to 150 days for traditional varieties; they demand less labour because they need less time and drudgery in weeding, a task typically performed by women farmers.  They have demonstrated a high level of drought tolerance and can significantly resist pests and diseases. With minimum inputs, farmers have seen yield increases ranging from 25 to 250 per cent.  NERICAs have been developed for a range of agro-ecologies. NERICA-grain can have up to 10-12 per cent of protein content, much higher than most traditional varieties.   Many African countries have been able to improve their self-sufficiency in rice while a large number of smallholder farmers have been able to achieve household food security.  For instance, in Guinea alone, higher yields from NERICA helped save US$15 million on rice imports in 2009.

Research led by Africa Rice has so far been more successful on traditional upland rice production. Now, breeders have taken on an uphill challenge of developing varieties suited to rainfed lowlands and irrigated farming where even higher yields are possible.

NERICA was a product of many years of painstaking research which had to overcome several research challenges including the problem of predominantly infertile progeny which would have forced farmers to buy new seeds every season.   This time, traditional insights from Chinese researchers proved handy in “embryo rescue” – it involved use of coconut milk in the culture to overcome critical problems of infertility in progeny.  The simplicity and elegance of the science applied – were laudable. The act of crossing in itself is akin to what occurs in nature all the time and farmers have experimented over the centuries to develop new crossbreeds.  It proved to be an example of how traditional, local knowledge can be blended with insights and genetic material from anywhere in the world to inform and improve the latest scientific tools and methods, to generate new technology and knowledge.

As we consider feeding upwards of 9 billion people by 2050 we must consider harnessing the rich potential of local varieties and the wisdom of traditional techniques handed down through the centuries. But neither should we ignore the opportunity to introduce appropriate and sustainable innovations.  For centuries, smallholders in Africa had preserved rice biodiversity, cultivating and growing native species.  Now, the development of new varieties such as NERICA can significantly increase biodiversity in rice, globally.

The African Rice Initiative (ARI) was created by Kanayo Nwanze, IFAD’s President (when he was Director General of Africa Rice) as a channel for the scaling-up of the further development and dissemination of NERICA.  The initiative was envisioned as a vehicle and platform for technical cooperation among developing countries.  Such South-South cooperation goes well beyond the African continent and some NERICA germplasm has been introduced back into the Asian context – in marginal agro-ecologies which stand to be hardest hit by climate change. The relevance of continued cross-fertilization and sharing of knowledge and germplasm between Asia and Africa which proved key to the outstanding success of NERICA, may prove critical in adapting to the vagaries of hotter and drier climatological conditions both in Africa and Asia alike.

Shantanu Mathur, Senior Technical Adviser, IFAD

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Upcoming events and missions

IFAD Executive Board, 11-12 May 2011, IFAD Headquarters, Rome. The following projects and programmes were approved for the Asia and the Pacific Region:

Afghanistan


Bangladesh


China


India


Indonesia


Kyrgyzstan


Lao PDR


Maldives


Mongolia


Nepal


Pakistan


Philippines


Sri Lanka


Tajikistan


Viet Nam