Combining eco-farming methods with ancient varieties, farmers can reduce CH4 emissions & water use, improve yields & preserve biodiversity.
Native African rice, O. glaberrima (glaberrima), has been prized for centuries thanks to its unique flavors, short cropping cycle, and tolerance to harsh conditions, yet low yields have limited its spread, and most rice cultivated in Africa today is of Asian origin (O. sativa). Tracing its roots back to 1500 BC in present day Mali, glaberrima today is often grown in marginal areas where sativa can’t thrive. Yet with rising pressures to increase yields to feed growing populations, glaberrima risks being lost entirely.
Recent developments in ecological rice production can allow farmers to dramatically increase glaberrima yields. Since it was first identified in Madagascar in the 1980’s, farmers around the world have been practicing the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). With SRI, farmers manage their fields differently, allowing them to increase yields for any rice variety by an average of 30-50%, and often much more. With this climate-smart method, farmers reduce plant population by 80-95%, improve soil health with organic matter, avoid continuously flooding their fields, and improve plant establishment methods. By eschewing continuous flooding, SRI significantly reduces methane emissions, and with deeper roots and more organic matter in the soil plants are more resilient to the effects of climate change, including drought, high winds and tropical storms.
West Africa is seeing a rapid uptake of SRI practices by farmers who appreciate its adaptability and accessibility, but no projects have explicitly used SRI to unleash the potential of glaberrima. Offering glaberrima farmers the knowledge and resources needed to apply SRI will improve glaberrima yields, increasing potential for wider adoption and commercialization. Already desirable for its resilience, short growing season, and taste, high output glaberrima will empower African farmers to improve food security, conserve natural resources, and protect the diverse agricultural heritage of the region.
What actions do you propose?
Methodology development and training – project partners will develop a consistent methodology to cover project implementation, including field-sampling methods, packaging and distribution, laboratory analysis, and farmer training methods (for SRI). Field agents would be trained in SRI methods in order to conduct trainings for glaberrima farmers.
Collecting and field characterizing glaberrima varieties – field agents throughout the project area will identify farmers growing glaberrima varieties and collect samples, recording agronomic properties (yield, niche, etc.) and additional characteristics (including processing traits, socio-economic, and gender-based aspects) based on field observations and short farmer surveys. GPS coordinates and farmer bios will be collected as well.
Training and extension in SRI methodology for application to glaberrima cultivation – SRI methods will be adapted for glaberrima production, covering different types of glaberrima growing systems, and field technicians will be trained in SRI production and extension techniques then incorporate these into their field extension work with farmers. Farmers working with the project to identify, collect and characterize glaberrima seeds will be offered SRI trainings and assistance with adapting SRI methods to their glaberrima rice production.
Genetic identification and mapping of glaberrima varieties – field samples will be lab analyzed, and results will be mapped and made available online. Genetic analysis will be used to explore nutritional traits, resilience to weather, etc.
Measurement of impacts of GHG reduction and yield increases –During the second growing season participating farmers will conduct field trials of glaberrima using SRI production methods, and field agents will assist in collecting agronomic data and measuring reductions in use of water, chemical fertilizer, seed, and other inputs. Resulting yield and GHG calculations will be added to the online project map.
Seed distribution – project partners in Togo and Mali will make seed available for distribution to farmers, scientists, and field technicians.
Gauging wider interest in glaberrima cultivation, making seeds available to those interested and providing training in SRI – continued growth/expansion of previous phases with new beneficiaries.
Developing commercialization opportunities for value-added glaberrima products, including for export outside of the region – the project will work with NYC-based chefs to evaluate the culinary and commercial potential of glaberrima. Varieties with high culinary potential will be identified for possible development of an export market to the US and Europe, working with Lotus Foods, a California specialty foods company which already works in creating markets for differentiated rice products, many of which are grown using SRI methods. The Malian women's group Cooperative Balimaya in Bougouni will be responsible for processing, packaging, and export of glaberrima from the region.
Future steps: scaling up to other West African countries, possibly including Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, etc. Well-established connections exist between SRI-Rice and researchers and farmer's advisory services in 11 additional West African countries, enabling the project to scale-up across the primary glaberrima area.
Note on Marketing and Economic Sustainability:
Since 1973, West African demand for rice has grown 6.0% annually, surpassing growth in locally produced rice. This growing gap between regional supply and demand has been met by imports—currently around 40% of rice demand is met by imports, demonstrating that the region is far from self-sufficiency in production. As for the rest of the continent, many of the rice-producing countries in Africa still must import 50-99% of their rice needs, according to the International Rice Commission (IRC).
By using SRI to increase yields, farmers will come closer to meeting local demand, and this ready market will ensure economic sustainability for the project and for farmer’s livelihoods. This has been proven in countless other countries where increased yields due to SRI has helped meet local demand and feed local populations. In fact, increasingly extreme climates may leave farmers in certain areas little choice apart from the production of resilient staple grains such as glaberrima.
This initiative will also capitalize on the potential for export and for the price premium of this rare grain. Current trends in Western food consumption are increasing demand for unusual or exotic grains, particularly with a current move away from gluten consumption. High profile chefs, such as JJ Johnson in New York, are celebrating African food traditions and creating new demand for glaberrima. Johnson recently cooked glaberrima rice for a Google event in New York, with great success. Other boutique grain importers such as Lotus Foods are already in the business of working with SRI smallholder farmers, ensuring both high quality products and a sustainable livelihood for farmers through FairTrade and organic certification and the deliberate purchase of rice grown using SRI. Lotus Foods has proved the existence of a market for heirloom rice grown using SRI, and SRI-Rice’s long-standing relationship with the company will allow for collaboration with Lotus in marketing and branding.
Who will take these actions?
o Coordinate efforts between partners
o Provide technical resources and support for field partners
o Provide publicity and communications for the project
o Create online maps of field locations
o Develop and maintain the online glaberrima catalog
o Oversee regional monitoring and evaluation of project activities
o Coordinate analysis of GHG emissions
o Assist with coordination of marketing efforts
Specialists at the Togolese Institute for Agronomic Research (ITRA) will:
coordinate glaberrima rice variety collection with Mali’s National Center of Specialization in Rice (CNS-Riz) in conjunction with Cornell University Researchers
CNS-Riz (Mali), an institution affiliated with WAAPP, will coordinate the creation of the glaberrima seed repository,multiplication and distribution of glaberrima seeds
The Togolese non-governmental organization GRAPHE, and field partner Harouna Touré (Mali) will perform on-the- ground actions, including:
o Identification and training of farmers
o Collection of field location GPS coordinates
o Collection of samples for yield and GHG measurements
o Field-level monitoring and evaluation of project activities
Mali women’s group Cooperative Balimaya will conduct the processing and packaging of products for export
Where will these actions be taken?
This project will be a partnership between the project lead in the US and implementing partners in West Africa. The project lead and coordinating body, SRI-Rice, is based out of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. Cornell is also home to genetic analysis labs. The implementing partners will primarily be based out of Mali and Togo. In Mali, this includes consultant H. Toure in Timbuktu and specialists at IER in Sikasso. In Togo, primary partners are Jean Apedoh and his team from the national NGO GRAPHE and ITRA in Lome. Commercialization will happen in three places: on the ground in Bougouni Mali, with the women’s food transformation cooperative Cooperative Balimaya; in New York City restaurants; and Richmond CA with the partnership of Lotus Foods.
How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?
Conventional flooded rice production is one of the single largest anthropogenic sources of methane (CH4). As West African countries continue their push to achieve rice self-sufficiency in coming years, non-flooded methods rice cultivation will become increasingly important. Intermittent irrigation (also called ‘alternate wetting and drying’) has been shown to dramatically reduce methane production, and is one of the key features of SRI management. This, combined with the ability of SRI to raise yields for any variety of rice, will allow glaberrima farmers to increase yields and meaningfully contribute to the regional rice production targets, while reducing GHG emissions.
From Natural Capital Impacts in Agriculture, FAO 2015
What are other key benefits?
This initiative will preserve the biodiversity of one of Africa’s most essential native grains while contributing to social, cultural, and scientific knowledge of this plant; improve food security and incomes by overcoming yield limitations faced by smallholder farmers; enhance farmer resilience to changing climates; make more efficient use of threatened resources including land and water; decrease methane, nitrous oxide, and ammonia emissions; and increase commercialization and market opportunities for female entrepreneurs.
What are the proposal’s costs?
SRI-Rice will manage the project and disburse funds to partners. In the early/pilot stages, this project will be funded through grants and seed funding and some partners will work on a pro-bono basis for proof of concept. This will eventually become a profit-making enterprise through the commercialization of glaberrima, with marketing firms subsidizing SRI trainings and making seeds and inputs available to farmers.
·Increased labor during the first 1-3 years while farmers are learning the SRI methodology
·Poorly developed market for glaberrima; additional time and resources would be needed to more fully develop marketing strategies and consumer education
·Initial challenges for farmers in changing long-standing behaviors
·Some varieties of glaberrima may be poorly suited to SRI, e.g., deep water, though glaberrima has been tested with SRI in Mali and responded favorably
Phase 1 (June – December 2016): Identification
Identification of farmers, collection of varieties
Phase 2 (January 2017- ongoing): Analysis
Genetic analysis, creation of seed repository and online map/ tools
Phase 3 (May-December 2017): Training
Training and extension in SRI, monitoring and measurement of impacts
Phase 4 (January 2018- ongoing): Marketing
Marketing, processing, and commercialization
Phase 5 (May 2018- ongoing): Scaling-up
Scaling-up, ongoing evaluation
Natural Capital Impacts in Agriculture: Supporting Better Business Decision Making (June 2015) FAO.http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/nr/sustainability_pathways/docs/Natural_Capital_Impacts_in_Agriculture_final.pdf
Ricepedia. Rice in West Africa.http://ricepedia.org/rice-around-the-world/africa
Styger, Erika. 2010. Scaling-up the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Goundam and Dire, Timbuktu 2009/2010. System of Rice Intensification website. February 28. (35p., 11.93MB pdf) [Africare initiative funded by Better U Foundation and USAID]
Vietmeyer, N. D., & Ruskin, F. R. (1996). Lost crops of Africa: grains. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, USA. I, 39-57.
Wamboga-Mugirya, Peter. 21 January 2015. African countries focus on boosting rice production, Uganda to host conference. Daily Monitor Uganda.http://www.monitor.co.ug/Magazines/Farming/African-countries-focus-on-boosting-rice-production/-/689860/2595554/-/c2mv2/-/index.html
All photographs by Erika Styger