Malagasy women farmers lead the way in closing the rice yield gap through Good Agricultural Practice
(Blog post courtesy of AfricaRice-Madagascar team based on discussions on the occasion of the International Day of Rural Women 2019 with three lead women rice farmers in Vakinankaratra region, empowered with GAP training thanks to the TAAT Rice Compact.)
The Rice Compact of the Technologies for African Agriculture Transformation (TAAT) program is being implemented in Madagascar in the region of Vakinankaratra. During the 2018-2019 cropping season, its objective was the dissemination of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) to rice farmers by establishing 45 demonstration plots managed by lead farmers who were trained in GAP at the beginning of the season.
AfricaRice collaborated with two organizations namely VFTV-FIFATA, an umbrella organization of farmers' associations and the GTDR-D responsible for rural development in the region. More than 2,400 producers participated and learned about GAP through the organized field days and regular exchanges within their groups and communities. Among the 45 lead farmers who allocated a plot of their farms for GAP application and demonstration were 14 female farmers, three women from VFTV-FIFATA and 11 women associated with GTDR-D. On the occasion of the International Day of Rural Women 2019, we discussed with three of these lead women farmers, living in the district of Antsirabe 2, Vakinankaratra.
Mme RATISBONNE Nasolonjanahary Hortense, who is simply known as Mme Nasolo, is the president of Manovosoa Association of women in the rural community of Ambano, which currently includes 13 members. Mme Nasolo got the best yield of all the demonstration plots supervised by GTDR-D: in the rainfed ecology, the rice yield in her plot was close to 4 t/ha. According to her, the quantity could have been doubled if the crop calendar was respected.
Mme RAVONIHERIMANANTSOA Haja Claire or Mme Avotra as named after the rural women association “Avotra” for which she is the president in the rural community of Fandrendrano Andranomanelatra, estimated her yield to be about 2.4 t/ha, the biggest challenge being the intense hailstorms that occurred in March 2019 and destroyed her crop. She said that however, in comparison with other rice crops around her field, hers was the best, most probably due to the variety used (FOFIFA 174) which resulted in a high number of tillers.
The same story was echoed by Mme RAHARIMALA Céléstine of the rural community of Soanindrariny and a member of VFTV-FIFATA at Ambano, who, on her 1.5 are demonstration plot in the lowland irrigated ecology, doubled her rice yield from 90 kg with own practice to 180 kg with GAP application.
The three women credit their achievements to GAP. According to Mme Nasolo, , farmers just used a “tracer” earlier for sowing, which makes straight lines on the soil and they would just follow it to manually drill the rice seeds. But they did not know the seed rate. The same practice was followed in the application of organic and chemical fertilizers as they would just broadcast fertilizers without knowing the appropriate quantity.
But thanks to the TAAT Rice Compact and equipped with GAP knowledge, they used the 20x20 cm space between holes, noting that “there is a big difference, now we know exactly the number of grains per hole, which should be from four to seven grains and the fertilizer quantity is also calculated – one hand per hole for organic fertilizer – and we do not broadcast any more. For chemical fertilizer it is 2.5 kg NPK/are and 1.5 kg Urea/are now, while previously each application of NPK could for instance be as high as 3 to 4 kg/are”.
Also, while she was weeding only two times earlier, she did it four times after GAP training, surprisingly with a lower number of laborers and consequently at a lower cost; for example, before she needed 20 man-days labor for the two times of weeding, but now the total is only about 12 man-days labor for the four times of weeding. Mme Nasolo explained that for the first weeding (15 days after seeding), they practiced manual weeding, for the second and third weeding (always 15 days after the previous weeding) they combined manual and mechanical weeding, and for the last weeding, it was manual weeding. “My neighbor farmers asked me about this, and they did not believe when I said that I did not use chemical herbicide as there are fewer weeds”; said Mr Nasolo, and adding, “I think I would have got around 6 t/ha if the beginning of the crop season was earlier”. Mme Avotra who followed the same practices agreed that by putting many grains per hole and using a lot of seeds, she believed earlier that she would get more yield because of the small distance between holes, but with GAP, she reduced the seed quantity. The application of fertilizer used to be random, as “I used only what I had without any calculation of appropriate quantity, putting seed, chemical and organic fertilizers together in the holes”. She learnt to spread organic fertilizer before plowing and to put only NPK when sowing. Ms Avotra also noted the advantage of regular weeding, compared to the earlier case of weeding when she was free, implying that there were a lot of weeds. She declared that with GAP she spent less time in weeding and there were fewer weeds. Rice farming in the irrigated lowland involves transplanting. Mme Celestine says that with GAP, she learnt how to make the seeds germinate quickly by soaking in water for 36 hours and then covering them in a bag for 48 hours for uniform sprouting. Consequently, “within 15 days after sowing, we can transplant young seedlings with two leaves whereas in our previous practices, we were transplanting 3-week old seedlings”, she said. Moreover, she was planting four or five seedlings per hill producing only about 10 tillers, whereas with GAP, the number of tillers increased to 30 per hill, hence the increase in yield. Mme Celestine said: “it seems like I really played when I transplanted; it was the same case for weeding as there were fewer weeds and the spacing really facilitated the mechanical weeding. Other farmers and I did not believe until we saw the yield”. Like other women above, Mme Celestine was earlier using a small quantity of organic manure and did not use chemical fertilizer at all. With GAP, she spread 3 carts of organic manure three days before harrowing, added 3 kg/are of NPK just after transplanting and 2kg/are of Urea after the first mechanical weeding and then another application of 1.5 kg/are of NPK after the second weeding. Besides, she placed small irrigation canals on all the edges of her plot to ease the water circulation thereby also preventing insects from entering the rice field. The three lead women farmers are fully convinced about the advantages of GAP: in terms of the reduced seed rate, reduced labor and increased yield. Mme Celestine has even started to make plans for transplanting for this coming season, noting that previously she used 50 kg for 30 ares, but now she needs only 10 kg of seeds for 30 ares with these new techniques, transplanting at 20x25 cm spacing.
While the women are ready to continue the GAP practices and lead the labor and fellow farmers, they anticipate challenges in acquiring the appropriate quantity of inorganic fertilizer for all their plots due to lack of funds. Despite these challenges, having noticed the big difference between their usual practices and the results following good practices, they will certainly continue and extend GAP on other plots. As true leaders, they indicated to do so especially on the first set of demonstration plots, because “farmers don’t believe until they see for themselves the results,” as Mme Nasolo said. Mme Celestine is anticipating a special training to be provided by VFTV-FIFATA, as there are many farmers (around 40 farmers) who showed real interest in GAP. She already has plans to start the rice farming activities for this season, guiding the other members of her association and neighborhood farmers, who are interested with GAP and teaching them the practices. The three women indicated that they have chosen to keep the harvested produce as seed for the coming season for them and for the other members of their associations, who were very involved and followed each activity on their demonstration plots and other farmers in the neighborhood. Mme Celestine however added that they also need to learn improved techniques since the yield is not only due to the choice of variety and seeds but also because of following all the GAP. She concluded by saying “I really see the difference with these new techniques, my dream is that after one or two years, with my plots of 30 area, my family can be self-sufficient, and we can even get a surplus of 1 ton so that we can buy enough inorganic fertilizers”. The TAAT program, initiated by the African Development Bank (AfDB) as part of its Feed Africa Initiative, seeks to improve the business of agriculture across Africa by raising agricultural productivity, mitigating risks and promoting diversification and processing in 18 agricultural value chains within eight Priority Intervention Areas (PIA). The TAAT Rice Compact, led by AfricaRice is currently being implemented in seven focus countries, including Madagascar.
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