Farmer-to-Farmer Training Improves Rice Production in Madagascar Using Environmentally Sustainable Approaches

In Madagascar, rice production is a key economic activity, with approximately 85% of households participating in its cultivation.

The sector still has potential to grow by introducing solutions that improve the efficiency and productivity of rice cultivation, build resilience against natural disasters like cyclones and droughts, strengthen infrastructure and enhance accessibility to markets and financial services. Through these interventions, Malagasy farmers can cultivate consistent quantities and qualities of rice, increasing their incomes and enabling prosperity and food security within the country.

Supporting this growth, the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program, implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) in Southern Africa and Moldova, partnered with the Rice Producers’ Association of Nato Commune and Rice Producers’ Association of Amborobe Commune to provide technical capacity trainings in climate-smart agriculture and introduce solutions that strengthen resilience in the sector. The associations, both located in Vatovavy Fitovinany, southeast Madagascar, partnered with local volunteer Julien Ernest Andriamahazo, an agronomist from Madagascar, and virtually with veteran F2F volunteer Bill Zimmerman, an agricultural and environmental microbiologist based in Missouri who has conducted numerous F2F assignments on climate-smart agriculture across Africa.

The assignment took place during the “Vary Vatomandry” or rainy season, which started later than usual due to the increasing unreliability of the climate. Together, the volunteers trained farmers on improved rice production techniques suitable for the challenging and changing climate.

They provided training on conservation agriculture for farmers’ rain-fed fields, which were impacted by insufficient rainfall. They also trained farmers on rice-straw compost production, a sustainable alternative to conventional fertilizer application that allows farmers to recycle rice-straw not being fed to livestock for use in rice paddies in place of straw, significantly reducing methane release. The volunteers stressed the importance of maintaining a robust rice-straw compost system to bolster soil fertility and mitigate costs of chemical fertilizers. Germination and purity examinations for samples of seed varieties brought in by the farmers were also conducted.

Reflecting on the training, Zimmerman recalled, “I composed the itinerary, classroom presentations and the practical exercises, while Andriamahazo optimized and completed the training on-the-ground. While internet service in the field was unpredictable, Skype conferences were arranged for each association by the end of the trainings for final discussions between the volunteers and the trainees.”

The volunteers concluded their trainings by introducing the famers to System of Rice Intensification (SRI) techniques — an agro-ecological methodology for increasing the productivity of irrigated rice by changing the management of plants, soil, water and nutrients, highlighting how to time their nursery plantings to accommodate delayed rainy seasons. They also addressed ways to use SRI to improve food security, another challenge in the region, by asking participants to diversify production and plant short-cycle rice varieties. Andriamahazo noted, “Rice cultivation is the main income-generating activity for these farmers and forms the basis of their food security. The recommendations we suggested meet the challenges of climate change, while improving the resilience of rice cultivation.”

To ensure the sustainability and implementation of the best practices provided during the trainings, F2F teamed up with the Program for the Development of Inclusive Agricultural Value Chains (DEFIS), funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and with field-based teams in several communes of southeast Madagascar. DEFIS, whose staff attended the F2F trainings, now monitors the associations’ progress and remains in contact with Zimmerman and Andriamahazo. Additionally, DEFIS staff continue to collaborate with the associations to ensure the F2F interventions are implemented.