By Mara Schechter
Rice is Madagascar’s main staple crop, eaten at nearly every meal. Dista rice, which is cultivated in the Toamasina province near Lake Alaotra, is named after the farmer who discovered it. The rice, a pale pink color, smells like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, is very nutritious and yields are double that of other varieties. Dista rice also shatters less when milled, helping reduce post harvest losses and increasing farmers’ income.
Dista yields are also high for another reason—farmers are using the Système de Riziculture Intensive, or System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to cultivate it. SRI practices include transplanting seedlings when they are very young and growing them widely apart, adding compost from organic matter to the soil, weeding regularly, and using a minimum amount of water instead of flooding fields. This helps create deep root systems that are better able to resist drought, while also increasing yields, strengthening the plant, and enhancing its flavor.
Malagasy farmers have been successful in not only growing the rice, but in selling it, as well. Farmers in the Koloharena Cooperative (KH), which is a countrywide network of local groups, began selling their rice to Lotus Foods in 2009. The farmers jointly bought equipment, including weeders and organic fertilizer, to scale up production for the company. Koloharena means “preserve our heritage,” and the households participating in KH incorporate conservation into their agricultural methods. Using SRI to grow Dista rice, KH farmers have reduced the need for expensive fertilizers and pesticides and they’ve made their land more productive without damaging the environment.
Mara Schechter is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.
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