Though 26 Latin American and Caribbean countries produce rice, demand far exceeds supply. In addition to market risks, the livelihoods and production of the region’s rice farmers are very vulnerable to climate change, especially to changes in water availability, extreme events and incidence of pests and diseases. This crop will demand more water in a context of scarcity and yields may be reduced by as much as 10 per cent for each degree (Celsius) of night-time temperature increase. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has demonstrated its agronomic, environmental and economic advantages in more than 55 countries. However, SRI, which seeks to increase productivity and incomes while optimizing natural resource (soil and water) use and enhance the resilience of production systems to climate change, has not been widely disseminated or adopted in Latin America and the Caribbean, due in part to the size of production areas, language barriers, and the scarcity and high cost of labour in the region.
Towards a Solution
To address this challenge, the project partners are working with smallholder producers in Colombia and the Dominican Republic to apply this flexible rice production methodology to local contexts, overcome barriers and foster experience-sharing between technical experts and producers from these and other countries.
The goal of the project was to validate SRI as an effective innovation to reduce the vulnerability of smallholder rice producers in Colombia and the Dominican Republic to the socioeconomic and biophysical impacts of climate change. SRI is an agro-ecological and climate-smart production strategy based on four key principles that modify the management of plants, soil, water and nutrients, thereby enhancing resource use efficiency and productivity of the system while reducing vulnerability to climate change. It is a flexible, knowledge-intensive system implemented through practices that are contextualized in response to the needs, priorities and skills of each producer.
SRI does not require or depend on the use of improved or new varieties or of synthetic agrochemicals to obtain higher output. By reducing farmers’ needs for seeds (by planting one young seedling per hill in an approximately 25x25cm grid), water (through alternate wetting and drying) and other inputs, SRI offers greater returns from their available resources of land, labour and capital, thus increasing incomes while also benefitting the environment.
At the start of the project, technical experts and producers from Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama, visited their counterparts in the Dominican Republic to exchange experiences on the local contextualization and application of SRI principles. They exchanged data, discussed challenges, developed draft protocols for implementing and monitoring validation parcels, and established a process and communication channels for the regular exchange of information. Throughout the project, information and experiences from the pioneers working on SRI in the region were incorporated and periodic webinars held to promote further exchange of successes and challenges. Continual exchange on mechanization – adjustments, trials and results – was sustained.
Capacity development usually starts with an explanation of SRI principles and potential benefits. This is followed by an analysis of existing local rice production systems during discussions and field visits, while technical staff and smallholder producers jointly identify potential practices for applying SRI in the region. Producers are encouraged to innovate and test various practices to discover the best practices with which to obtain the most successful SRI results in their own context. Producers are committed to continue working with SRI, as initial production cycles have already evidenced increased yields of up to 25 per cent, decreased water use of up to 45 per cent, increased seed use efficiency of up to 96 per cent and decreased production costs of up to 10 per cent. Additional benefits included reduced agrochemical use and reduced lodging due to extreme winds. In Tolima, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, producers experienced up to a 43 per cent and 68 per cent increase in net utility with SRI, respectively, compared to conventional production.
To ensure the project’s sustainability, in Colombia, FEDEARROZ integrated its SRI efforts into its broader massive adoption of technology (AMTEC) programme, which seeks to increase the sector’s environmental and socioeconomic sustainability to increase competitiveness and productivity while reducing production costs. The potential of SRI to contribute to the goals of Colombias Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and the rice-focused Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA) are being explored. Technicians in the Dominican Republic believe that SRI can contribute to the goals outlined in the NDC and the national strategy for integrated water resource management and to enhancing the competitiveness of the sector, which is critical given upcoming changes to protections established under free trade agreements.
SRI is a true innovation that fundamentally changes the management practices used in rice production in LAC to fully capitalize on the potential of each rice plant. As it is not a prescribed set of practices, farmers can test and refine a number of practices within the scope of their abilities and needs, recognizing that the closer they adhere to the four interdependent principles, the better results they will obtain. Given significant alterations in traditional practices and the changing climate, the technology must be evaluated and adjusted through an iterative process between researchers and innovative producers. It will also require institutional capacities and policies to facilitate scaling up. Technical staff and farmers in other production zones and countries can replicate the experiences of the project to validate and contextualize SRI in their own agro-ecological zones. An openness to change, level fields, adequate control of irrigation systems, availability of labour saving machinery and continued innovation (e.g., using direct seeding) will facilitate replication in other contexts for both small and large farmers.
Sustainable Development Goal target(s): 2.1,2.4, 12.2, 13.1