Finding new ways to promote sustainable rice cultivation in covid-19 times

Finding new ways to promote sustainable rice cultivation in covid-19 times

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In Uganda, rice is an important staple food for many people, and the demand is rising sharply. Smallholder farmers are the backbone of the local rice production. But is rice cultivation sustainable? Poor cultivation practices of rice farmers contribute to climate change, as they generate large amounts of greenhouse gases: about 10% of global methane emissions come from rice paddies. How can production be boosted to meet the growing demand, while protecting the environment? As a solution to this question, Rikolto has been piloting the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) Standard in Eastern Uganda.

The SRP Standard in a nutshell

The SRP Standard in a nutshell

The Sustainable Rice Platform is a global multi-stakeholder partnership that wants to make rice farming more sustainable, from an economic, social and environmental perspective. Its standard, i.e. the SRP Standard for sustainable rice cultivation, serves as a working definition for sustainable rice production and enables benchmarking and objective comparison of the sustainability of any rice system based on 41 requirements.

The SRP Standard covers the areas of farm management, pre-planting, water use, nutrient management, pest management, post-harvest, health & safety, and labour rights. It uses a scoring system that allows for stepwise compliance to encourage and reward progress in improving agricultural practices. It is not a pass-fail standard. If a farmer scores at least 90 points and meets all the essential requirements, they can claim they produce ‘Sustainably cultivated rice’, and ‘Working towards sustainable rice cultivation’ can be used as a claim for farmers that score lower and only meet some essential requirements.

Taking the story to the radio and the newspaper

With covid-19 interrupting many interventions, Rikolto had to find new ways to promote the SRP Standard with rice farmers and other stakeholders. Instead of organising SRP Standard workshops with stakeholders and government officials, Rikolto advertised the SRP Standard, its benefits and the results of Rikolto’s pilot in Eastern Uganda in two big newspapers, Daily Monitor and New Vision. Publishing in these national newspapers – widely read by government officials and stakeholders – provided Rikolto with the opportunity to campaign for the SRP Standard in line with covid-19 regulations.

From the SRP awareness raising actions that we have conducted with rice farmers in Butaleja, Bulambuli, and Kween districts, it is compelling to see the interest in the SRP Standard, and the sheer number of farmers who want change their current rice cultivation practices to more sustainable ones.

John Ereng Rice Coordinator Rikolto East Africa

In addition, Rikolto also hit the local radio stations to spread the word about the SRP Standard and its benefits to rice farmers in Eastern Uganda. Our target audience? Rice farmers from three communities: (1) Mbale, Bulambuli and Sironko districts, (2) Butaleja district, and (3) Lower Kween district. Panelists - from local experts to district local governments – discussed the prevailing cultivation practices in the area and set out the benefits of a more sustainable way of cultivation, mentioning the SRP requirements relevant to the current situation.

We designed the radio campaign in an interactive way as the listeners could call in and ask questions. The questions asked were very relevant; Farmers wanted to know how they could test their soils to know when to apply fertilizers, how to get trainings on rice agronomy, and how to receive more information on sustainable rice cultivation practices.

Moses Kalende Rice Agribusiness Advisor Rikolto in East Africa

Panelists shared their experience from the different districts. For example, the sub-county agriculture officer for Kween district discussed the importance of having a cropping calendar for farmers in the new Nge-nge irrigation scheme, management of straw pesticide application after scouting, and only spraying when there is need. For Butaleja, the farmer cooperative’s production manager shared that they have started using a production calendar and have given constant trainings on rice agronomy, which has gone a long way in improving the cultivation practices. He encouraged other farmers to always seek knowledge and advice from the district’s agricultural officers to follow the recommended practices to ensure sustainability.

Emphasis was also put on the fact that SRP helps farmers to produce safe rice, which motivates consumers to buy more of this rice. Farmers benefit as there is a continuous demand for safe rice on the market. The reduction of unnecessary costs - for instance for pesticides, fertilizers, and fungicides - was also cited as one of the benefits of sustainable production and it hence increases the farmer’s income. Also reducing the effects of climate change came forward in the discussions as another benefit of SRP, as well as improving the safety and equity of the farmers and their workers.