Sustainable rice cultivation in the Collines area of Benin

Sustainable rice cultivation in the Collines area of Benin

in News
This news is part of the following focus area:
©Justiciel Expedit Abili

For many years, rice trade in Benin was marked by massive import from Asia and Nigeria, Benin’s eastern neighbour and the most populated African country. A situation that jeopardised rice production in Benin.

Nowadays, the trade borders for rice import and export with Nigeria are closed, and the government of Benin has the clear desire to curb Asian rice imports, ensuring food self-sufficiency in Benin. The production target is one million tonnes of paddy rice by 2022.

The strong focus on increased production means more land needs to be sown, and requires more fertilisers, pesticides and water. Under these conditions, how is it possible to grow rice without negatively affecting the environment in a context of climate change? It is therefore vital to equip farmers' organisations to ensure that their members adopt sustainable production practices.

For many years, Rikolto has been working with the regional rice growers’ organisation UNIRIZ-C (Union des Riziculteurs du Centre) in Benin’s Collines Department to market locally produced white and parboiled rice, under the brand name “Saveur des Collines”.

Steps towards more sustainability

During the 2017-2018 growing season, Rikolto worked with a selected number of members of UNIRIZ to test with them how it is possible to produce rice according to the Sustainable Rice Platform standard. With the Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation, the SRP is providing the global rice sector with a set of tools designed to facilitate the widespread adoption of sustainable good practices.

129 women and 92 men, belonging to 13 cooperatives, were involved in this test phase. The idea was to experiment with them, at each stage in the production cycle, how to put the requirements of the SRP standard in practice, and to assess the results at harvest time. At the same time it was Rikolto’s and UNERIZ-C’s ambition to promote their sustainably grown rice under the brand name “Saveur du Bénin”.

In order to reach farmers from all communes of the Collines Department, the test group was extended to an additional number of farmers during the 2018-2019 season. Ultimately, during the 2018-2019 season, a total of 1,125 farmers in 62 cooperatives were involved, a much higher number than expected.

UNIRIZ-C President Faustin Atomabe, explains why farmers are motivated to participate: “We used to obtain three tonnes per hectare, but in the first test year, as a result of applying the good practices promoted by the SRP standard, such as water use, application of only organic material and optimum timing of harvest on a plot of land about 1400 m2 in size, we produced a tonne of paddy rice. This showed us that by implementing good practices, the immediate effects are increased yield, well-filled paddy bales and lower production costs.

Each cooperative delegated representatives to follow specific training sessions, and to pass on the training they received to the members of their respective cooperatives.

I’m delighted to be part of the group of early adopters who started the process of compliance with the SRP standard in the Collines Department in Benin. At first, I thought it was very complicated, but with the explanations we’ve received about the standard, I welcome it. This standard takes us back to the good practices needed to improve production, both now and in the future. This will enable us to improve our yields and earn more money.

Constant Tolokin MAHOUKPEHOU group in Ouèssè

SRP: more than just a checklist

Evaluating the analysis of the results of compliance with the SRP standard during the pilot phase, Hermann Reis Azagnandji, Rikolto’s programme manager, explains that during the first test season, the biggest challenges were noticed at the level of soil fertility management and different aspects related to the application of pesticides (little targeted pesticide application, little personal protective equipment and pesticide waste disposal).

At the end of the second cycle, which included a larger number of farmers, the scores were analysed during a review workshop. This allowed UNIRIZ-C to ascertain the missed thresholds and to prioritise them in training sessions during the next cycle. It also allowed to assess the global SRP criteria and to eliminate certain criteria that are not applicable to Benin’s agricultural context so that they can be excluded from performance scores (e.g. salinity, control of snails). But the workshop especially provided a place to reflect on sustainability in general and how to improve.

Compliance with the SRP standard is an opportunity to position rice in the market through the concept of "sustainable rice” and to increase the resilience of farmers in the current context of climate change.

Hermann Reis Azagnandji Rikolto’s programme manager

Compliance with the SRP standard is not only an environmental story. It includes also a focus on the health of the producer and the consumer, and on increasing market opportunities and profitability for the rice farmers.

“The whole SRP testing process, has also enabled a new variety of rice (Orylux 6) with a strong flavour and a short cycle (three months) to be tested on 15 hectares. This new variety is adapted to drought conditions and requires less water than variety IR841, which has a long growth cycle (four months). We will further investigate the potential of this new variety on the market,” explains Hermann.

“Furthermore, digital data collection now provides UNIRIZ-C with reliable information on the areas sown, the quantities produced and the identification data of the farmers. This is an added advantage for the grouped marketing of paddy rice, which will make it possible to shorten the primary marketing channels and reduce transport costs and CO2 emissions.”

Not only in Benin, but also in Mali, Senegal, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Indonesia and Vietnam the SRP standard was tested with farmers’ organisations.

Read more about our experiences with SRP in these countries

Text and Photos: Justiciel Expedit Abili