Flood-Tolerant Rice BenefitsRice farming and production impacts the lives of millions throughout the world. Rice is the staple food of three billion people globally and a source of income for many. The farming of rice also contributes significantly to the economic growth of many countries. Especially within developing countries, the success of rice production is crucial for feeding individuals and creating economic stability. Flood-tolerant rice benefits developing countries reliant upon rice for livelihoods, food security, and the economy’s stability.

Environmental Challenges Affect Rice Production in India

Recent changes in the climate have caused rice production volatility due to flooding and drought. As many as 4.8 million people in India are exposed to river flood risks each year. In India, environmental challenges have had an especially negative effect on rice crops as floods have overtaken many viable planting areas. This flooding has disproportionately affected low-income farmers. These farmers often work with less reliable plots of land that are more prone to flooding. Without the development of techniques to help combat extreme weather, both the livelihoods of low-income people within India and the general Indian economy will experience a significant socio-economic impact.

Swarna Sub-1 Rice

A strain of flood-tolerant rice called Swarna Sub-1 has been a major development that addresses crop damage due to flooding in India. As a mixture of two different rice varieties, this scientifically developed plant is able to withstand intense flooding. This type of rice has been on the market for use since around 2009; however, many farmers have not had access to the rice strain until recently. This is largely due to the lack of information about the existence of Swarna Sub-1 and a lack of accessibility to it.

Flood-Tolerant Rice Benefits

The introduction of flood-tolerant rice has allowed for an increase in rice production, as J-PAL studies have shown. J-PAL is an organization that researches innovative solutions to global poverty. The increased rice production throughout India has had an incredibly positive effect, both economically and socially, as there is a larger supply of rice boosting local economies. As impoverished farmers have seen more successful rice harvests, they have been keener to cultivate a greater amount of farmland and make riskier agricultural decisions. Farmers have also invested in fertilizers to further increase crop health as they are more sure of their ability to create a solid income through rice farming. Additionally, precautionary rice savings decreased, suggesting farmers have perceived lower risk of crop losses with the flood-tolerant rice.

Swarna Sub-1 seeds increased rice yields by about 10% over the course of two years, as seen in the study. Researchers stated that the productive behavior changes among farmers who planted Swarna Sub-1 accounted for 41% of the long-term increase in rice yields. The higher yields also increased the income of farmers by roughly $47 per hectare.

The Potential of Flood-Tolerant Rice

These flood-tolerant rice benefits have improved the livelihoods of impoverished farmers in India while also contributing to food security and local economies. Increased access to flood-tolerant rice varieties in developing countries has the potential to improve lives and lift people out of poverty.

– Olivia Bay 
Photo: Flickr

food insecurity in Haiti
Since 2011, Oxfam Livelihoods Program has been influential in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley, working with rice farmers in the region. Due to extreme food insecurity, a vast majority of families in Haiti rely on local agriculture for survival. Oxfam’s Haiti Livelihoods Program aims to increase rice production, improve production techniques, empower local farmers and decrease food insecurity in this small country.

The poverty rate in Haiti falls just below 60 percent, with 24 percent of Haitians living on less than $1.23 per day. Only 6 percent of the Artibonite Valley’s inhabitants are unaffected by hunger, and 43 percent are extremely food insecure.

The Program

This is in large part due to the natural disasters that plague the country. Within the last ten years, Haiti has experienced hurricanes, floods, droughts and an earthquake, ranking fifth among countries most likely to have a natural disaster. Approximately 98 percent of the nation is at risk to experience one or more of these disasters, as well as epidemics. A lack of sanitation and health services increases the risk of fecal waterborne diseases, including cholera.

Oxfam began its Artibonite Valley Livelihoods Program in 2011 following the earthquake that struck the country the year before. Up to 80 percent of the nation’s rice is produced in this valley, making its success and growth crucial to reducing food insecurity in Haiti. Additionally, food production, processing and marketing are essential components of Haiti’s economy, employing more than 70 percent of the population. Oxfam states that they are helping Artibonite’s residents to “overcome barriers and realize the potential of the valley.”  

The program relies on partnerships with local organizations, including government agencies, NGOs and microfinance institutions. Oxfam has been working with the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that program accomplishments have long-lasting effects.

On a local level, Oxfam works with local farmers groups, women’s associations, water users organizations and training centers. The process of improving systems of agricultural production, processing and marketing includes upgrading irrigation and drainage canals to decrease flooding, training youth in the mechanical skills needed for agriculture, helping farmers expand and diversify their sources of income, improving access to agricultural credit and promoting the System of Rice Intensification (SRI).

The System of Rice Intensification

The SRI is a critical component of improving farming systems around the world, enabling farmers to produce more food in a way that is cost-effective and sustainable, using less water, seeds, fertilizer and labor. This increase in production helps meet local food needs, helping to reduce food insecurity in Haiti. SRI also decreases pollution and the negative effects agriculture can have on the environment. Farmers in Madagascar, Vietnam, Cambodia, India and Mali have adopted SRI methods.

Recommended SRI practices include spacing rice seedlings farther apart and transplanting them when they are young to reduce crowding and strengthen root systems, using integrated pest management instead of herbicides, applying water intermittently rather than continuously, using organic matter to enrich the soil, aerating the topsoil and removing weeds with manual weeders.

As SRI requires no additional machinery and farmers can easily make site-specific adaptations that will meet their needs, SRI is affordable for small-scale farmers, in addition to being environmentally friendly and aiding in the reduction of food insecurity. An evaluation of the Livelihoods Program from 2011 to 2014 found that SRI had succeeded in more than doubling rice production in some farms.

Program’s other methods

The Artibonite Valley Livelihoods Program also employs other methods for transforming Haiti’s environment and improving conditions for its inhabitants. Oxfam has been facilitating networking across geographic areas to improve cross-learning and coordinating, improving the technical, business and administrating capacities of community organizations, raising awareness among Haitian consumers on the importance of local production and supporting the newly developed National Federation of Haitian Rice Producers.

Oxfam also addresses gender inequality in Haitian agriculture by ensuring women are participating in all activities and by holding workshops on gender issues, advocacy and campaigning. In 2014, the program was found to have improved women’s roles in the public and economic spheres and increased their decision-making within their households.

Possible improvements of the Program

The 2014 evaluation of the Livelihoods Program did, however, note a few areas in need of improvement. First, the program did not help increase the competitiveness of the goods produced, causing farmers to have continuing difficulties selling their products. The program also did not provide solutions for access to fertilizers, seeds and irrigated water.

Recommendations for program improvement include ensuring all projects are locally-appropriate, increasing the adoption of SRI by working with the Ministry of Agriculture and distributing data on SRI techniques, creating a reliable system to monitor crop yield and looking for more efficient and affordable farming equipment.

Overall, Oxfam’s Artibonite Valley Livelihoods Program has made great strides in improving rice production and continues to be an integral part of decreasing food insecurity in Haiti and improving the overall livelihoods of its residents.

Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr