This Labor Day we celebrate some of the most innovative rice farmers.

This Labor Day we celebrate some of the most innovative rice farmers.

Cultivating rice is one of the most labor intensive agricultural endeavors practiced by small-scale farmers. It requires careful planning, cooperative weather, knowledge, skill and lots of back-breaking work and hours in the field. And even then yields might not cover the costs of production. We are creating incentives for farmers to shift to the System of Rice Intensification, which we call More Crop Per Drop™, which ultimately reduces labor and increases profits, while decreasing water use and negative environmental impacts. This past June, we asked Elsie Black, who recently got her Master’s degree in International Agriculture and Rural Development at Cornell University, to visit with some of our farmers in Madagascar during the harvest. Elise is fluent in Malagasy.  The following are comments she received from some of the farmers and a sampling of photos she took of the harvest in process on farmers’ fields.

Andrianjatovo and Relahy Fiharea

Andrianjatovo and Relahy Fiharea are two farmers who work with Lotus Foods. They both say that MCPD uses much less seed, lowers expenses, and produces better quality rice. Previously they report using roughly 150 kg of seed per hectare, whereas with precision transplanting of MCPD they now only use 25 kg per hectare. In the past women always weeded by hand but now the men use the mechanical weeders, and they say that this is good for the rice as rice likes to be “tickled.” They now get more than 5 tons/ha with the MCPD Dista rice, and what they do not export with Lotus Foods they can sell in Tamatave.

Heri Bruno

He has worked for two years with Lotus Foods, although he knew of the MCPD technique previously. He had received training from an NGO in 2006 but was not yet committed to using the technique. Working with Lotus Foods he and his wife now use the MCPD technique on much of their land. Previously they got only 2-3 tons per hectare, but now with the MCPD and the Dista rice, they get 4, 5 and even 6 tons per hectare. From the MCPD they now have an extra 1.5 tons per hectare that they can work with. They use it to send their kids to school, to buy furniture, and to buy Guanomad (the type of organic compost that Lotus Foods promotes).

His role in rice production is mostly at the level of the field, supervising the workers and ensuring that the work is done according to plan. He describes his wife as the general manager, responsible for their finances, and organizing all of their production. She cooks for up to 15 people in the field each day, and sends the cooked rice to the fields on the local bicycle taxis. When the rice is harvested but still in a “tonta” drying, they keep a guard sleeping in the fields to ensure it isn’t stolen. After threshing and bagging, Heri oversees the tractor that collects the sacks of rice and brings it to his wife. As one tractor-load leaves the field, Heri calls his wife to let her know how many bags are loaded and once they arrive she confirms the number and stores them in the appropriate location.

 Ravolasoa Fleur and Rasolofo

They knew MCPD techniques before but were not actively practicing. The higher prices they receive from Lotus Foods was the motivation for them to use the MCPD technique these past two years. Previously, even if they had good quality Dista rice there were no good buyers. The advantage of the MCPD is that is uses fewer seeds, less water, and better harvest. However, the adjustment to a new technique was hard. At first she was really slow transplanting the new way, but now she is getting faster, Managing the MCPD fields takes much more time than previous methods, because of the careful management that is the key to the MCPD technique. For example, they previously used chemical herbicides for weeding but now they weed with mechanical weeders and by hand, a process that is better for the rice but more time-intensive. They are hopeful about their current relationship with Lotus Foods, because it is very beneficial to them when they can be paid earlier in the season to allow them to use the money for other farming endeavors.

From Field to Warehouse

01 tontas.jpg

Rice drying in big stacks or “tontas” in the field.

 02 taking_a_break.jpg

Workers taking a break.

03 nirina.jpg

Nirina winnowing rice to clean the paddy grain.

04 paddy.jpg 

Paddy is collected in bags…

05 loaded_tractor.jpg

then loaded onto a tractor…

06 tractor_driving.jpg

for the trip to the storehouse.

07 storehouse.jpg