Small farmers growing rice play a crucial role in providing the world with the grains we use for everyday consumption. Across the six major rice-growing states of Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas, nearly 20 billion pounds of rice is grown on family farms each year.
Increasingly, these farmers are using improved sustainable practices to increase their yields while reducing water and energy use. These methods reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve water and improve air quality. They also provide an income for their families.
The rice we eat has evolved through the years from being a simple grain to a complex food that requires high-quality processing. It’s also an important source of nutrients that are crucial for human health and the environment.
As a result, there is a global need to improve the sustainability of rice production and its management. This is especially true given the current climate change impact on the crop.
To tackle these challenges, the Sustainable Rice Platform was set up in 2011 to help governments, development partners and businesses around the world adopt proven, sustainable solutions. These solutions benefit the rice farmer, the consumer and the environment while generating better, more secure incomes for farmers.
In order to meet the needs of small farmers, the project used a participatory approach grounded in the Farmer Field School (FFS). The FFS provided the training and knowledge base necessary for them to develop their own on-farm decision making process in full cropping season. This was achieved by a combination of practical information, on-the-ground learning and group discussion sessions.
These sessions were held in the villages of Kipera Njiapanda and Bwawani Visegese. Each village had a total of twenty smallholder farmers who were entrusted with the task of participating in the FFS.
As part of the training, they learnt about various aspects of rice farming, including: preparing nursery beds; potting, cultivating and irrigating seeds, and managing pests and diseases in the rice fields and in the homestead. Additionally, they learnt about ponding rainwater and irrigation techniques that enhance water retention for efficient seed germination and growth.
Moreover, the participants also learned about the benefits of integrating the entire rice production chain in order to achieve optimal yield and increased agricultural productivity. These lessons were based on a literature survey and field studies.
Tight Social Norms and Labor Sharing
People in rice-farming cultures tend to be tighter socially than those in wheat-farming areas. This is largely due to the shared labor involved in rice production, which requires long hours and lots of work. This type of work exchange puts people in interdependent relationships that are hard to break. This helps cement bonds between them, and in turn makes them more likely to support one another if they need a favor or a lift.
However, a strong labor exchange culture can be a problem, as it often leads to low quality of life for farmers and workers. For instance, rice farmers in China were found to have higher rates of anxiety and depression than their wheat-farming counterparts. In addition, they were more likely to think that other people were trying to undermine them. Ultimately, these differences suggest that rice-farming communities may need to adapt their social rules in order to ensure a more secure future for all.