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December 4, 2013

Revolution in Madagascar, a Rice-Growing Country
JICA experts face diverse challenges in improving cultivation

Experts from JICA are working with farmers in Madagascar, a rice-eating country, to realize a revolutionary advance in rice cultivation based on technological development and awareness-raising.

Located off the southeastern coast of Africa, Madagascar is the fourth-largest island in the world. It is known for its unique plants, such as the baobab, and animals, such as the aye-aye. But few know that most of the residents originated from Indonesia and are of Asian descent, a fact that seems to be supported by their consumption of rice as a staple. The per-capita annual consumption of rice is almost double that of Japan, reaching 120 kilograms, and 70 percent of the farmers in the country grow rice. It is also the home of the System of Rice Intensification (*1), which has spread throughout the world.

However, domestic production of rice is prone to fluctuations due to such climate effects as cyclones, and as a result, 10 percent of rice consumption relies on imports. The government of Madagascar has aimed to increase production by 300 percent within 10 years of 2008. It also aims to become an exporter of rice and recommends SRI as a method of increasing rice yield, but the labor required for rice planting and difficult management of agricultural water involved in the method keeps farmers away. Only 3.5 percent have adopted the method.

To increase rice production in the densely populated central highlands area, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) started the Project for Rice Productivity Improvement in Central Highland (PAPRIZ) in 2009. JICA has been working on seed propagation, improving the seed distribution system, creating a coaching system for rice production techniques and the development of an integrated technical package to improve yield.

Rice cultivation method jointly developed with farmers

photoKeisuke Arai plays a leading role in the development of an integrated technical package for rice farmers.

Madagascar has a traditional rice cultivation method that has followed in an unbroken line. In addition, there is SRI, recommended by the government. The priority agenda of the project is to develop an integrated technical package that puts together a variety of suggested technologies in a structured manner, based on the characteristics of each region. With that it aims not only to increase yield, but also to generate income for farmers.

The process of developing the technical package was based on the outcome of an experiment carried out in the paddy fields of farm houses, and it incorporates the opinions of the farmers who participated the experiment. A decision is made on an appropriate rice cultivation method that matches the characteristics of the region. It focuses on helping farmers proactively think and implement cultivation. The technical package is distinctive in that most of the farmers participate as a couple to avoid it becoming a male-centered initiative.

“The method was accepted by everyone, because it was jointly developed with the farmers,” said Keisuke Arai, an expert from Gunma who has played a pivotal role in the technical package development.

Farmer Rakotovoson Gabriel, who experienced a failure in trying to adopt SRI, said, “The PAPRIZ method is very easy to understand. In the past, families were unable to produce enough rice and had to buy several hundred kilograms every year, but now, with the increase of the yield, they can even sell surplus and get some cash.”

He is telling fellow farmers about this technical package.

Contribution to the irrigation association

photoKenichiro Yoshii, second from right, has focused on the recovery of Madagascar's irrigation system.

In some regions, it was not possible to immediately start developing the technical package and training in the production techniques. Alaotra-Mangoro Region, one of the model sites, suffered from a water shortage and in 2010, because of a dam break at an irrigation facility, less than 20 percent of the paddy fields were watered. Also, an irrigation facility maintenance plan under Japanese Grant Aid was canceled because of political turmoil in 2009.

Expert Kenichiro Yoshii of Kagoshima prefecture started working to tackle this crisis by fixing the broken dam with sandbags, and eventually earned the trust of the farmers.

He also collected an irrigation fee from farmers to cover a funding shortage in an effort to activate a weakened irrigation association. At first, there was concern over collection of the fee from poor farmers. However, when they saw the outcome of watered paddy fields, the collection rate grew year by year, and the improvement of the irrigation facility proceeded accordingly.

By last summer, three years after the effort, more than 80 percent of the fields were covered in the green rice plants as if there never had been a water shortage.

“In the case of flooding and such, the neighboring irrigation associations will need to help each other. My next goal is to establish an allied irrigation association,” Yoshii said.

Improving rice cultivation techniques with a movie

photoHirotaka Nakamura, a director and screenwriter, observes filming.

Hirotaka Nakamura, an expert from Tokyo, was thinking about how to spread rice cultivation techniques in an efficient way, and he made an educational movie with comedian Rakotoson Tsarafara to introduce the techniques. In the movie, the characters promote the advantages of certified seed and compact farming equipment with a demonstration, as well as including a scene that uses a conversation among farmers to introduce the topic of the profitability of the technical package. Furthermore, a wide range of PR activities were carried out, including a screening tour in regions targeted by the Ministry of Agriculture, promotional events with Tsarafara in various areas, special first-run showings that couple the new movie with educational videos and showings in video theaters in areas that lack electricity.


The effect was evident. Sales of the certified seed grew fourfold from the previous years. The VCD (*2), only 15,000 of which were originally distributed, became so popular the distributer was flooded with inquiries, and a pirate edition emerged. An additional 15,000 copies put on sale also sold out. A short version of the movie inserted in the VCD of the full movie is reported to have been seen by some 10 million people, equivalent to half the population of the country. According to the results of a questionnaires of purchasers of the VCD, 58 percent actually implemented the techniques suggested in the movie and achieved an average 44 percent increase in yield, proving the effectiveness of media promotion.

Fostering farmers who practice 'thoughtful cultivation'

photoThe educational movie contributed significantly to diffusing the suggested cultivation techniques.

Though the production volume of rice in Madagascar has been growing steadily for the past 30 years, it has not been able to quite catch up with the annual population growth rate of 3 percent. The country that boasts the second-best production of rice in Sub-Sahara Africa, following Nigeria, has the possibility of reigning as the “breadbasket of Africa.” However, to do that it still has quite a few challenges to overcome.

Under the project, the focus is now on further dispersing of the improved rice cultivation techniques targeting small-scale farmers, coupled with disseminating agricultural management know-how to farmers through irrigation association activity and through the implementation of joint purchases and joint marketing. For that, the goal is to foster farmers practicing “thoughtful cultivation.” JICA believes changing the mind of each farmer will someday spark a revolution in rice production in Madagascar, so the challenges of the project are far from over.

(*1) System of Rice Intensification (SRI): a rice cultivation method developed in Madagascar in 1980s. The method, featuring resource saving and natural circulation with human labor, was adopted in 42 countries globally and achieved improved rice yield..
(*2) Video CD: an older technology for putting sound and movie on an optical disc.

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