MORE RICE...IF FEWER RESTRICTIONS
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CTA. 1988. MORE RICE...IF FEWER RESTRICTIONS. Spore 15. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/44841
To reduce imports, ACP countrios launched large irrigated rice programmes. Through heavy investments and high recurrent costs, they hoped to make irrigated rice cultivation the symbol of a new type of agricultural development This intensive...
To reduce imports, ACP countrios launched large irrigated rice programmes. Through heavy investments and high recurrent costs, they hoped to make irrigated rice cultivation the symbol of a new type of agricultural development This intensive monoculture, however, did not live up to expectations. Why not then work with small farmers and develop other uses for such irrigated plots? Rice has recently experienced a big boom, particularly in urban areas, both as a staple food in certain ACP countries or as a new crop in regions where millet, sorghum and cassava have traditionally played this role. In Africa, however, rice is traditionally grown only in areas with high rainfall (normally more than 2000 mm per year). Despite research efforts on rainfed rice, which represents more than 60% of the surface planted in this crop, yields remain low: between 1.1 and 1.4 t/ha. To produce more, rice plants must have their roots in water for most of the growing season. Certain types of rice cultivation which involve a certain control of water supplies, such as in lowlands, floodplains or mangrove swamps, have higher production levels but they are limited by the availability of such land types. Representing only about 30% of the total surface planted in rice, and with little prospect for expansion, they will not be able to satisfy a demand which is growing by nearly 4.5% per year and, according to the FAO, will reach 20 million t in the year 2000. The result is that Africa has become a major importer of rice. With 2.5 million t in 1985, it accounted for 20% of the world market, 700,000 t of which went to the Sahel alone. Rice has thus become a long detour on the road to food self-sufficiency for many countries, including traditional producers such as Madagascar. Economically, rice represents more than half a billion dollars in the continent's balance of payments deficit. To improve this situation, one solution has been favoured: the development of large irrigated rice plantations. This is reflected in the growing number of projects designed to respond to the national need for higher domestic production of rice. Their goal is to generate a commercial surplus by involving small farmers in carefully supervised industrial production techniques. To reach this goal and to pay for the heavy investments required (about 40,000 FF/ha), the cultivation must be as intensive as possible. This is in sharp contrast to what is generally the case in regions selected for such developments. For reasons of efficiency those responsible for these projects have proposed a complete 'technological package' (improved seeds, levelling of plots, fertilizer, weeding, etc.) that the farmers are obliged to accept if they want to remain in the project. The projects manage, recruit, plan, control, supervise and establish planting schedules and determine the fees to be paid by the farmers who use such developed plots. They also organize the supply of inputs, the commercialization of harvests, and in particular, the distribution of water This organization is justified by one overriding concern: to produce the maximum quantity of rice at the lowest possible price. So it is not a development project in which the improvement of agricultural production is seen as one of the means of improving the economy of rural communities. These are production projects that, to reach pre-defined macro-economic priorities, require that farmers accept new growing techniques. Under such conditions, it is normal that technical requirements are accorded more importance than the opinions of farmers, the consideration of their other crops, and their traditional ways of doing things. Question marks It is exactly this approach, however, which is begininng to be questioned by researchers and development officials in many countries where such projects have already been implemented. After several years of experience with large irrigated plantations, many technical, economic and social problems have appeared leading to a serious debate that has recently attracted considerable attention. Among the many questions raised during a key international seminar held in Montpellier, France, in 1986, was the clear observation that irrigated plantations must now progress beyond such a strict emphasis on increasing rice production and consider farming systems which will leave a place for other economic activities Such new steps are based on the realization that the most important need for farmers is to ensure their own food security which they do not want to jeopardize for a national objective which may appear to be of less direct importance to them). Their experience has taught them never to put all their eggs in one basket. The diversity of production and resources is essential: rainfed crops, floodplain crops where possible, market gardening, tree crops, a little livestock or fishing when possible, and sometimes even seasonal jobs off the farm. Monocultures, particularly intensive rice monocultures which often are relatively unknown in such areas, seem to be much too risky. This is all the more the case given the fact that the development of irrigated rice plantations generally disrupts the activities of neighbouring farmers who do not even participate in such projects. There are often problems with land claims when traditional rights are overruled by national priorities once such lands are developed 'Project lands' tend to encroach on neighbouring lands, reducing traditional grazing lands of nomadic herds in certain cases, supplanting other uses of floodplains, and eliminating areas previously used for fishing. In other words, such projects can bring substantial changes to land use in rural areas for reasons that small farmers may not necessarily understand or support. Furthermore, the distribution of such developed plots pays little attention to the needs of having diversified crops, maintaining traditional uses or respecting social hierarchies. For egalitarian reasons, project officials accord the same land surface to each farmer. Experience shows, however, that it is often the best equipped farmers who produce the best results. That explains why such officials increasingly resort to other criteria, such as the number of 'hands' per family, equipment levels, experience, and social situation, to grant land use rights. Rice more demanding Finally, the number of plots available is limited. This runs against the habits of small farmers who naturally tend to extend their plots. Most important, however, is the new pattern of work-sharing which disrupts the normal routine of small farmers and threatens their other activities. Rice cultivation demands high labour levels for irrigation, land preparation weeding and harvesting. If such farmers choose (as they are encouraged) to invest full-time in intensive rice growing, they no longer have the time to grow their own food crops. Such crops, however, are indispensable because these new rice farmers are rarely consumers of rice itself. At the SEMRY project in Cameroon for example, where two crops of rice are grown per year, only the big families with abundant manpower can grow both rainfed crops and irrigated rice. Other families cannot always harvest enough sorghum to feed themselves and must buy additional supplies at twice the price for which they can sell their rice. They thus become dependent on the market and, putting all their eggs in the rice basket, they increase their risks That is why, despite strict instructions to the contrary, which are designed to protect the interests of the projects, these farmers often prefer to spread their time between their different crops rather than to concentrate only on rice. This is all the more common given the fact that in many cases their other agricultural activities are more profitable. One can even observe in certain areas irrigation water being diverted for fishing ponds. Public force is often necessary to ensure that farmers do not abandon rice plantations which turn out to be more demanding and less profitable than castnet fishing from a canoe. Conceived as a way to regularize production, such developments did not always result even in constant yields. On former plots, such as those in the Mopti region of Mali where the irrigation is simply 'controlled' flooding which replaces the rains during the growth period, the crops remain largely exposed to the variabilities of weather. To achieve complete control over the irrigation system, farmers are dependent on the reliable functioning of the pumps and the distribution networks. When breakdowns occur, they suffer the consequences but they have no responsibility for the maintenance of such equipment. Balancing the risks Confronted with such expensive techniques which are not totally reliable, extensive agricultural systems often appear to farmers to be more productive and less risky than intensive ones. In fact, on both irrigated and non-irrigated lands, farmers calculate their productivity not by the hectare but by the labour invested. In Madagascar, although the yield per hectare of seeded rice is less than that of transplanted rice, it is less risky and more profitable for the family on the basis of the labour that it requires. Transplanting often requires the use of expensive employees and, to be profitable, there must be near perfect control of water levels, which is not always possible. In the same way, farmers generally do not want to increase their production costs by multiplying their purchases of inputs to improve yields: the prices which are paid for rice are too low to enable them to increase such investments without risk. These attitudes run against the reasoning of the State which wants to maximize production per plot. Farmers, however, take an overall approach in trying to make the best use of all of their resources. Under such conditions, it is not surprising that the introduction of double cropping remains the exception. Apart from the difficulties of changing the cropping calendar, it requires considerable labour without being able to replace the need for mechanizing soil preparation and harvesting. A clear contradiction thus appears between the logic of small farmers and that of project managers. In fact, one can observe that rice growing throughout West Africa is far from being as intensive as it could be and that the situation is even tending to degrade. The recommended techniques are not followed carefully, there are delays in the planting calendars, plots are poorly cultivated, there are inadequate applications of fertilizer, and weeds are on the increase. But it is not all the fault of the farmers. It has to be admitted that some projects are often poorly developed with weak and unreliable irrigation systems. Only one quarter of the plots of the Niger Agency are under intensive cultivation which enables production to reach yields of 1.8 - 2.5 t/ha. Half of them are extensively cultivated and produce only 0.8 - 1.2 t/ha. But even on the more recent plots where there is near perfect control of water supplies (as in Niger, Cameroon or Senegal) yields are steadily declining. Studies show that, after the first few years, farmers realize the problems that they will have in making such crops profitable and begin to invest less of their time, particularly in weeding which often results in plots being completely overrun by such competition. Although foreseen by planners as being the major activity of farmers in such regions, rice growing is now simply a complementary activity to their regular food crops. Like other cash crops, it has been reduced to speculative investment designed to generate some cash income. But in contrast to other similar crops, the prices offered to farmers for their rice are not that lucrative. But for the State, they are too high compared to imported rice. Politics In addition to technical problems, there are also political considerations. Some countries have opted for a strict control of rice imports. In this case, there are very high increases in the price of rice. This is what happened in Madagascar, for example, where market prices for rice reached 800-1000 FMG during the off-season when the price paid by the State to farmers was fixed at 120 FMG Economists have observed that irrigated plots produce quantities of rice which are too low in relation to the heavy investments that governments have made in such projects and their high operating costs: the rice from large irrigated plots in Senegal sold for 130 Fcfa/kg in 1981-82 but cost about 250 Fcfa to produce. At the same time, broken Pakistani rice sold for 60 Fcfa/kg in Dakar. In Senegal, as elsewhere, it is the State that pays this difference, notably by using the duties imposed on imported rice. The SEMRY project in Cameroon, despite its reputation for good management and technical organization, has considerable difficulties in selling its stocks in the distant cities of Yaounde and Douala where imported rice, even at the current record price on the Thai market ($300/t), is cheaper than that which it supplies to the local markets in Yagoua. In 1986, of a harvest of 96,000 t which could satisfy 75% of the country's needs, 60,000 t remained unsold. To resolve this unacceptable situation, the government decided that all public agencies must give priority to the purchase of locally produced rice. Private businesses, however, have no difficulty in selling this rice in Chad and Nigeria by avoiding the export duties designed to recover the government's investment in these projects. In the face of this situation, governments in this region are trying to get out of the management of these projects. The SAED project in Senegal, for example, has started to leave the management of such irrigated plots to local communities or farmers' groups. The high costs of the infrastructure maintenance, construction work and inputs, however, are difficult for already heavily indebted farmers to assume. On small plots, the breakdown of an irrigation pump can be catastrophic for farmers who are not in a position to replace it. In fact, these installations are hardly suited to management by either local communities or farmers who are rarely trained for such tasks and too isolated to look after the purchasing of inputs and the commercialization of outputs. In the delta area of the Senegal River, only mechanized farmers with considerable experience in irrigation and near the markets of Saint Louis, have begun to assume the responsibilities of project managers. Options Such independence, when it is possible, is all the more tempting given the success that has generally been experienced by irrigated rice plots at the village level. What then must be done? Although the dismantling of large projects into village level production systems is not really an option, the success of the latter approach has been noted by development planners. The reasons for such success coincide with those for the failure of large projects, imposing a new approach: leaving more operating room to small farmers, notably to grow other crops and have other activities, as well as opening up the irrigated plots to other uses. This means no longer reasoning in terms of the 'progress' represented by intensive monocultures and the 'stagnation' represented by extensive mixed farming. On the contrary, experts now consider that there is considerable common ground between the rationale of small farmers and that of the State and that these two systems can be mutually beneficial Recognizing new possibilities such as those offered by the development of irrigation facilities thanks to the Manantali dam, an adviser to the Senegalese Ministry of Agriculture observed, 'in future, more attention must be given to imagination. It must enable new ways of involving farmers in development projects and developing their own working methods, and even growing crops that are more profitable than rice in irrigated plots'. New solutions are already appearing. In the Retail project in Mali or the Lake Alaotra project in Madagascar, the management capacity and wishes of farmers are being considered. Medium-scale developments which can gradually be expanded and are less expensive are also being adopted by such project planners. These more modest efforts to develop rice production may, in fact, provide much greater returns in the long run. Bibliography Amenagement hydro-agricoles seminar. DSA, December 1986, Montpellier