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Spotlight on Rice Production
AKDN in MadagascarOn their test plots, farmers experiment with up to 30 different techniques and tools proposed by the APRA-GIR programme to improve rice cultivation. Five techniques have been particularly effective: Levelling soil beds for even distribution of water; transplanting earlier and at a lower density; planting in rows; using small amounts of nitrogen; and using weeding tools.In 2005, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) launched an integrated rural development project in the Sofia region, with the objective of increasing rice yields by 100 percent.

In 2006, experimental plots in the Sofia region that benefited from alternative farming methods proposed by AKF more than doubled their average yield in tons per hectare.

The APRA-GIR (L’Apprentissage Participatif Recherche Action pour la Gestion Intégrée du Riz) approach (Participative Apprenticeship for Research and Action in Integrated Rice Management programme), provides training to groups of farmers on alternative rice cultivation practices. Such practices include mapping, planning, using different seeds, fertilizers and water management amongst several others.

Building on their traditional knowledge, the farmers are encouraged to experiment with this toolkit on a 10 square meter test plot, then share the results and lessons of these tests with other members of the group. At their discretion, they subsequently adopt certain techniques on their own fields. Experimentation leads to new ideas and appropriate innovations better adapted to local conditions and abilities - which is at the essence of this participative approach.

The farmers from the APRA-GIR programme have observed that their neighbors outside the group have started “borrowing” certain techniques, such as planting in rows, and implementing them in their adjacent fields.

In 2006, average yields were more than 100 percent higher in fields where selected APRA-GIR practices were adopted than in neighbouring fields without alternative cultivation techniques.

With the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance now set up in the region of Sofia, farmers can access loans that will enable them to better implement and sustain these different tools and practices. The APRA-GIR programme aims to train the farmers from the pilot groups so that they may facilitate the training sessions and share their knowledge and experience with others.

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