Malagasy women farmers continue to champion good agricultural practices



Exactly one year ago, on the occasion of the International Day of Rural Women 2019, the AfricaRice team had visited three lead women rice farmers in Vakinankaratra region in Madagascar, who received training and technical backstopping in the use of good agricultural practices (GAP) such as certified seeds, planting in lines, application of organic and inorganic fertilizers and use of mechanical weeders, thanks to the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) Rice Compact.

A year later, on the occasion of the International Day of Rural Women 2020, we had a follow-up discussion with two of the women leaders of local women's associations in Antsirabe II in Vakinankaratra, Madagascar, as well as a few other members of their associations. This year’ s emphasis was on the wider dissemination of GAP to the community and members of the associations.

Ratisobonne Nasolonjanahary Hortense, who leads the Manovosoa association and Ravoniherimanantsoa Haja Claire, who leads the Avotra association were trained in GAP in rainfed rice cultivation. They established and managed demonstration plots, which were visited by neighboring rice farmers and association members.

Both the leaders were very satisfied with the effectiveness of these practices and the yield despite the climatic risks and the delay in the start of cultivation. They expressed their willingness to continue and expand the cultivated area under GAP.

Ms. Nasolo has been using all the GAP practices and has even become a trainer on agro-ecological techniques supporting the GAP for rainfed rice cultivation with the Madagascar Agricultural Productivity Improvement Project (PAPAM) project. This project provided additional skills on agroecological techniques, advocating for a minimization of the quantity of chemicals for soil preservation and health. She thus follows all the GAP practices taught, except for a reduction in the quantity of chemical fertilizers used. The reduced chemical fertilizer also helps in managing her financial resources.

Her dissemination approach has changed too: on the one hand, since neighboring producers were not really interested in the techniques, she decided to preach by the results: the GAP permitted her to save on the quantity of seeds, the time and cost in weeding and the quantity of fertilizer while her yield doubled compared to rice growing with traditional techniques.

When they saw the harvest, these neighbors came on their own to ask her how she achieved it. The members of her association quickly learnt the techniques by seeing and practicing with Ms Nasolo. Sixty-five percent of the other members applied the techniques in the 2019-2020 growing season and managed to increase their yield such that more members are now convinced: at least 90 percent of the members will apply the GAP in the coming 2020-2021 season.

Ms. Haja also continued to apply GAP with the members of her Avotra association – not on individual land however, but only on three plots cultivated collectively by the members of the association. The members, who participated in last year GAP activities, kept the three plots to continue serving as demonstration plots for the community. All the 170 members of the association and additional community members have visited the demonstration plots.

However, even though the members are fully convinced of GAP, no one yet applies them individually. The main constraints limiting the adoption of GAP are associated with finance for the purchase of improved seeds and chemical and organic fertilizers and for the purchase or rental of agricultural equipment such as weeders.

The COVID19 period has brought mixed blessings to the associations as it allowed them to have easier access to labor than in the normal period, mainly the informal sector laborers who lost their jobs and preferred to return to the village.

This labour was valued for agricultural work (plowing, making compost, etc.), however the financial resources to buy the seeds (which were almost consumed with all the rice stock), as well as other inputs are now lacking. To live and finance agricultural activities, many people are currently renting out their land or selling organic manure.

A survey conducted in July-August 2020 in six districts of Vakinankaratra with the aim of assessing whether farmers have adopted GAP and have thereby improved their production and efficiency revealed that among the 486 interviewed farmers, 97 percent and 91 percent of the farmers in the irrigated and rainfed rice farming respectively have applied at least one improved practice and a large proportion promise to continue applying GAP.

The farmers applied GAP after witnessing its success in demonstration fields in the village.

The possibility of conducting their own trials after the training also motivated them. The benefits guarantee continued use, including good soil aeration and better water filtration, facility with sowing, germination and weed control, whereas the ideal quantity of organic and chemical fertilizers is not applied mainly due to lack of finance.

Despite the enthusiasm, women are still constrained by insufficient extension visits and access to resources, especially finance. It was noted that men are slightly more familiar with and more likely to apply the key GAP than female farmers, except for the use of improved rice variety.

The Manovosoa association has been able to produce seeds on a collective plot, which are then distributed to each member who sows the seeds in her own plots. The women associations can be supported to disseminate GAP to members and the community. This helps them access the key resources needed to fully realize the benefits from GAP.

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