In Madagascar, four million people have insufficient access to food.
Rice is a staple food and the nation is one of the highest per-capita rice consuming countries in the world. Yet despite annual rice production averaging four million metric tons, Madagascar still cannot meet its own demand. Local rice production (approximately 2-3 metric tons per hectare) does not satisfy national needs, which results in a hard lean season, the need to import large quantities and increased consumption of poor-quality imported rice.
In many regions, communities face additional issues:
- Rainfall is often irregular or delayed. This causes a shift in the soil preparation dates with repercussions on both sowing and transplanting.
- Rising temperatures are leading to a 15-20 percent decrease in yields. Temperature variation leads to a higher incidence of pests and diseases resulting in both a loss of quality and quantity. Without appropriate adaptation measures, the impacts of climate variation on production, and subsequently food prices, threaten Madagascar’s already precarious food security situation.
- Malnutrition is prevalent. Madagascar has the fourth highest rate in the world in terms of stunting prevalence. Half of the 22 regions of Madagascar have prevalence above 40 percent and the most affected regions are those in the highlands (including Analamanga and Itasy) where prevalence is higher than 60 percent.
- Equipment and tools are hard to come by. Malagasy rice farmers have very limited access to basic tools, even to the simplest hand weeders – owned only by about 14 percent of smallholder farmers. Therefore, any effort to increase the production by exploiting more land area is made nearly impossible by labour limitation.
With support from the innocent foundation – whose mission is to help the poorest families feed themselves – the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) began implementing the SPEEDRICE project in 2019. This three-year project seeks to fight hunger and enhance food security amongst vulnerable households in Madagascar by introducing a new package of sustainable agriculture techniques developed by AKF: the Zanatany Rice Permaculture System (ZRPS).
ZRPS seeks to address the constraints inherent in other rice intensification systems such as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) that cause very high rates of attrition. ZRPS is based on four pillars:
- Self-made inputs resulting in a significant cost reduction;
- Direct seeding leading to a significant labour reduction (up to 50 percent) coupled with larger, healthier, more drought-tolerant and earlier ripening plants;
- Crop rotation and mixed cropping allowing a much longer if not year-round cultivation of rice fields;
- Minimal to zero tillage made possible by the accumulation of organic soil cover and biomass crop hedging.
Farmers can gradually adopt the ZRPS pillars at their own pace and implement the system in a much broader range of topographies than SRI. By reducing labour – that is usually assigned to women – and water requirements, ZRPS is both gender-friendly and climate-smart. Since its initial design, the system has provided extremely promising results in terms of productivity, while going through a continuous improvement process from field observations and experiments.
Through SPEEDRICE, AKF will test and adapt ZRPS across various agro-ecological zones of Madagascar, working in the five regions of Sofia, Diana, Sava, Analamanga and Itasy. It will train 20,000 smallholder farmers in ZRPS, expecting an adoption rate of 30 percent and rice yield increases of 50 percent or more.