Danielle Nierenberg with Xavier Rakontonjanahary, FOFIFA's Rice Breeding Coordinator, in Madagascar. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
Madagascar, like many other African nations, “is based on rice,” says Xavier Rakontonjanahary, the Rice Breeding Coordinator at the Centre National de la Recherche Apliquee au Developpement Rural/FOFIFA or the National Center for Rural Development.
As a result, FOFIFA works with farmers, developing different rice varieties for different regions and different conditions. Their approach, according to Xavier, is to not only introduce new varieties of rice or innovations, “but also listen to farmers.” FOFIFA works with farmers to adapt different technologies and innovations to fit their own needs through extension services and on-farm testing.
“You need innovation,” says Xavier, “but when you talk about application, it’s not always working.” In other words, it’s not just enough to develop an innovation—such as SRI, which increases yields, but is more labor intensive, or F1 rice hybrids, which requires a lot of expensive fertilizers—unless farmers are able to practice it.
And while conservation farming practices, such as minimal tillage and the use of compost, can help prevent erosion and improve soils in Madagascar, Xavier notes that the country, even with funding from the French government and other donors, “can’t be Brazil when it comes to conservation farming.” In Southern Brazil, cover crops, intercropping, and other conservation agriculture practices are used extensively for maize . But “lowland rice in Madagascar is very different than other crops,” says Xavier. And while rice can be intercropped with wheat or trees in integrated rice and agroforestry projects, not every farmer in Madagascar will be able to use those practices.
“We have enough innovations,” says Xavier, “but they’re not applied” because of constraints, including farmers access to credit or land or markets. Removing those constraints and strengthening farmers’ rights need to be considered, according to Xavier, if you want to improve hunger and poverty.
Stay tuned for more about rice breeding in Senegal when we write from West Africa in a few weeks.