Sustainable rice

An agroecological transition in Benin: rice farmers are moving towards more sustainable practices following the SRP Standard

July 17, 2023
Rose Somda

Benin’s agricultural sector is marked by serious disruptions due to climate change and environmental degradation. Extreme weather events have already affected more than four million people, with economic losses of more than USD 91 million in 2019 due to flooding alone. In addition, inadequate agricultural practices, such as excessive chemical inputs, the slash-and-burn practice, etc, contribute to soil degradation. The yield is low despite the substantial application of chemical inputs farmers put in their rice field.

« The national target is to produce almost one million tonnes of rice. It means we have to intensify our production which implies using more chemical fertiliser thus further deteriorating the soil. So, the challenge is to increase soil fertility to improve the production by using less chemicals”. Dr Liyath Bello | Head of Rice Programme at the National Agriculture Research Institute of Benin (INRAB).

To cope with these challenges, specifically in the rice sector, Rikolto is promoting Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) following the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) Standard, the first global sustainability standard for rice, to assess the prevalent rice growing practices and promote climate-smart and more sustainable rice production practices. In 2022, Rikolto started to implement the Development of Entrepreneurship in Agricultural Sectors (DEFIA) project, funded by Enabel. We are working to strengthen the technical, organisational and institutional capacities of actors in Benin’s rice sector with regards to climate change.

Agroecology: the path to a sustainable rice sector following the SRP Standard

“There is room for improvement in access to technical innovations and professional knowledge. In terms of the quality of produced rice, quality standards and good production practices for parboiled rice are still unknown to the majority of rice processors. Efforts to promote rice farmers’ associations should be further pursued and strengthened, as associations are crucibles for accessing vital information and receiving training in order to improve producers’ efficiency.” (Benin’s National Rice Development Strategy - Phase II 2019-2025)

In 33 communities in the departments of Zou, Couffo, Plateau, Ouémé and Mono, we are promoting GAP following the SRP standard, to support farmers in transitioning to agroecological practices. We support the establishment of rice clusters. These are networks of multiple stakeholders that join forces to achieve common objectives; they share interests and speak the same language. We collaborate with the “Conseil de Concertation des Riziculteurs du Benin” (CCRB), a producers’ organisation, the “Agence Territoriale de Développement Agricole pôle – 7” (ATDA - 7), the Agroecological Transition through Agricultural Research (TAERA) project, and the National Agriculture Research Institute of Benin (INRAB). Together, we support 6 clusters, universities and research centres on rice, as well as other actors in the rice sector. These 6 clusters are part of the “white rice”, “organic rice” and “parboiled rice” value chains.

We used the SRP standard survey firstly as a diagnostic tool. Farmers revealed several difficulties in adapting to the effects of climate change and restoring soil fertility. The result of the SRP standard survey for the project baseline involving 1462 producers showed that none fully adopted sustainable production practices. Only 20,5% (17,5% Men, 2,83% women) applied some practices towards sustainability. Rikolto and other stakeholders used the information from the survey to develop tailored training plans and organise capacity building for the farmers.

Through Farmer Field Schools, that take place in one or more fields, throughout the growing season, we trained and promoted exchanges between groups of farmers. Some of the sustainable practices that were taught during farmer field schools, include neem-coated urea, the use of legumes and organic fertilisers, the adapted System of Rice Intensification (SRI), weed management and the valorisation of crop residues. It helped to encourage farmers in the five departments to learn more about profitable and soil-friendly production techniques. Between January 2022 and January 2023, the number of farmers attending the Farmer Field Schools increased from 1,462 to 1,803.

“I am really happy because the new concepts and techniques for rice cultivation that we have looked at during the farmer field schools, helped me a lot. For instance, I learned that, before sowing in line and planting 1 seedling per hole, it is necessary to plough and prepare the soil.”

Célestin Tchebi
Producer from the village Houédomey, located in the commune of Dangbo

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“This is the first time that I have been able to participate in Farmer Field Schools to learn about rice production. Before, I used 40 kg of seeds per hectare, and I planted 3 to 4 plants per seed hole. During the farmer field school, we were taught to sow in rows with only one plant at a time. This season, I have used 10 kg of seeds per hectare and obtained a yield of 3.7 tonnes compared to 2.85 tonnes last season.”

Vincent Bodjrenou

rice farmer

The overall sustainability of rice production in the region has improved, thanks to the introduction of innovations in production practices, of better services for rice farmers such as specialised technical advice and access to quality seeds provided, and the commitment of rice farmers. This is demonstrated by an increase in the rice production areas where sustainable practices are applied, from 245 ha in 2021 to 574 ha in 2022, as measured through the SRP surveys.

Opportunities: a positive evolution towards sustainability

"If the producer understands a topic well, it becomes very easy to apply. So, the consortium did the essential work of making the producers understand new rice cultivation techniques. That is what amazes me", says Pascal Zannou, representative of the Departmental Directorate of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (DDAEP) of Ouémé which is the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of Benin, during a field visit organised during the rainy season of 2022.

The SRP Performance Indicators survey to measure the economic, environmental and social impact of good practices on sustainable rice production showed a reduction in the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers (NPK and urea). Combined with improved production processes for rice, this led to a decrease in the production cost/ selling price ratio from 0.85 in 2021 to 0.71 in 2022. Furthermore, the adoption of good agricultural practices led to an increase in producers’ incomes from 115,000 CFA francs in 2021 to 125,680 CFA francs in 2022 for conventional paddy, equalling a 9% increase, and from 283,900 CFA francs to 324,460 CFA francs for organic paddy, equalling a 14% increase.

Inspired by the new practices he learnt, Vincent Bodjrenou, a rice producer, used his creativity to develop a tool that enables him to transplant with only one seedling at the time.

“Transplanting one seedling at a time requires manpower, yet it interests me a lot and intrigued me to develop the tool that makes it easier for me to adopt this practice.”

Collaboration between Rikolto and other stakeholders, such as the sector organisations, universities and the National Agriculture Research Institute of Benin (INRAB), has been strengthened. They support in the training delivery and promote Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) following the SRP Standard. INRAB is also taking steps to integrate Rikolto’s approach in promoting the SRP Standard to farmers and clusters into its training approach, which is an important step to upscale this action.

Together with the results recorded, the strong interest of food system actors in Benin such as the State’s technical services, in the SRP standard motivates us to scale the model towards other regions of Benin.

«I am very emotional, because we have seen the application of the SRP Standard and that it will bring something more to the producers”. Eusèbe Handemagnon, Collaborator CPFD/Territorial Agricultural Development Agency (ATDA) Pole 5 in Benin.

Furthermore, the results are already being shared and are contributing to the analysis and strengthening of agroecology in the rice programme in other countries where Rikolto is working.

As a member of SRP, Rikolto is pushing to transform the global rice sector so that farmers can have a better income, consumers have access to quality and sustainably produced rice, and the environmental impact is reduced for the future generations.

Editor: Irene Salvi - International Communications, Rikolto

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