Product line 6.5. Effective systems for large-scale adoption of rice technologies in Latin America and the Caribbean

Rationale 

Rice production in LAC takes place across a number of different environments, crop systems, land and water availability, and farmers’ size and socioeconomic characteristics. During the last 20 years, total production has been steadily increasing, driven by a fast rate of yield increase and a shift from upland and rainfed to irrigated systems. There has been an important reduction in land used for rice, although much more grain has been produced, even though yield gaps are widespread in the whole region and across production systems. The FLAR agronomy project confirmed during the last six years that yield increases could be as large as 3–4 t/ha in Central America or 1–3 t/ha in much more developed rice sectors such as the ones in southern Brazil and Argentina. These impressive yield increases are obtained with the same varieties farmers have been using for 10 to 20 years, on the same land, with the same machinery, and by reducing many chemical inputs. It is just a matter of doing the right things at the right time, focusing on a few key crop management factors. 
        Very good new varieties are available that could also improve yields and reduce costs but that do not reach farmers properly in several countries in LAC, due to a lack of effective seed systems. There is a range of problems such as weak seed laws and a lack of institutional support for variety maintenance, basic and certified seed production, effective certification programs, and education of farmers about the value of high-quality seed. Finally, few technological options exist to improve rainfed rice production by crop management. The lack of water control leaves farmers at risk to climatic extremes. LAC is one of the most blessed regions in the world in terms of water availability but only a tiny part of this water is properly used for production. There are good opportunities in the tropics for developing simple on-farm water-harvesting techniques that could help farmers shift to highly productive irrigated rice or to other crops. The three topics in this product line (crop management, seed systems, and water harvesting) have very well developed programs in some of the countries, thus opening excellent opportunities for within-the-region improvements, helped by institutional platforms such as FLAR. This regional expertise could also be transferred to other continents by close collaboration with other partners in GRiSP.
        The key research questions are how the profitability and productivity of rice-based cropping systems can be increased by closing the yield gap through improved crop management, better seed systems, and improved water-use efficiency; reducing the costs of production; and reducing at the same time the environmental footprint of rice.

Activities

The entry point for reducing yield gaps are transfer and extension programs with direct involvement of farmers and other public or private local organizations. There is no success if these transfer programs do not rely on the institutions directly involved in each rice region; the intervention of FLAR/CIAT would be in complete alliance with them. There is clear evidence that farmer-to-farmer exchange is essential for incorporating new production strategies and so farmers’ participation in designing and executing these programs is also needed. There is good experience at FLAR to implement and expand this kind of program in the whole region, starting with a diagnostic of a few key management factors to improve, identifying innovative farmers to do initial validation plots, implementing farmers’ groups around these farmer-leaders, and conducting intense training of farmers and technicians involved. The same approach could be applied for implementing water-harvesting strategies, using farmers and local institutions to support the initial efforts. 

Products

    6.5.1 Systems for enhanced extension of improved crop management practices for closing yield gaps among farmers 
    6.5.2 Effective variety release mechanisms and seed systems for delivering high-quality seed of new varieties 
    6.5.3 Systems for enhanced adoption of water-harvesting technology in the tropics for land transformation to irrigated agriculture

        Over the short term, improved crop management transfer programs will be in place and farmers will adopt best management practices in six countries. Several water-harvesting pilot farms will be running in different tropical countries and farmers and agronomists will be trained on high-yielding and highly efficient irrigated agriculture, including the use of high-quality seed. Over the longer term, wide adoption of best management practices in targeted regions will result in substantial increases in total rice production by 2015 and expansion of the program to other countries. A high percentage of farmers will use certified seed of new varieties that reach farmers in less time than previously. Small and medium rice farmers in the tropics will have changed from low-yield, low-income upland rice to high-yielding and highly efficient irrigated agriculture. Water availability allows farmers to diversify production and include maize, beans, and fish production, and obtain higher and more stable income.

Partnerships

Work in this PL will be done in close association with about 30 public- and private-sector development partners in LAC. The Latin American Fund for Irrigated Rice (FLAR), established in 1995, consists of public and private institutions—rice farmers’ associations, industry groups, seed companies, and public research and extension institutions—in 15 countries in the region. These institutions invest part of their resources in a joint regional rice program to support development of the rice sector in Latin America and the Caribbean. CIAT provides new germplasm and technologies; FLAR is using these in its applied research projects and passes the results on to its members; and national public and private institutions adapt and adopt them. FLAR is a model for other world regions, but it also wishes to expand into new technologies, particularly hybrid rice. For that, FLAR will interact with GRiSP by sharing expertise while GRiSP will provide new products such as new germplasm, personnel, and knowledge on good agronomic practices. In non-FLAR member countries, new partnerships will be sought with rice-related institutions. 

Uptake and impact pathway

The next users are regional research and development organizations, NARES partners, rice farmers’ and industry associations, and seed companies. Intermediate users are extension agents, and final users are farmers and policymakers. It is assumed that extra funds can be raised to expand these three components that at present have minor contributions from FLAR and its partners. FLAR is a major mechanism to link the development of management technologies with local partners through adaptive research and to accelerate diffusion through fostering and promoting innovation partnerships. 

Financing strategy

Financial support is provided through a number of research and development initiatives. CIAT and FLAR developed and submitted a concept note to IDB (InterAmerican Development Bank) to propel an agronomic rice revolution in LAC in coordination with NARES and farmers’ associations. The FLAR expert technical group will seek links as a subcontractor for the rice component of larger projects. Funds will be sought to develop partnerships, and innovative communication and extension approaches are required to support large-scale delivery.

Box 20. Impact example for product 6.51.: the FLAR program in LAC for closing yield gaps

FLAR is also tackling the yield gap, through a program on the transfer and extension of good management practices. This program has spread to 10 countries because of its success: yields have increased on average by 1–3 tons per hectare and costs have declined by 10–30%. FLAR is also spearheading efforts to transform drought-prone upland areas into irrigated rice systems, through water-harvesting techniques

It is critical to involve public and/or private local and international development organizations because the full implementation of this strategy needs funds, loans, or other kinds of development assistance. To improve seed systems in selected countries, there will be an initial diagnostic assessment (variety purification, basic seed, seed industry, seed laws, etc.) and identification of improvements, development of proposals targeting the problems of each country or region, and implementation of these proposals in a joint venture with local public and private institutions.  The whole process must be done in alliance with farmers’ associations, NARES, and the seed industry. There will be strong linkages to product development under themes 1, 2, 3, and 4. Impact pathway monitoring and evaluation will be through theme 5.