Saturday, October 20, 2018


Mali is West Africa's second-largest rice producer, but it still imports 18 percent of its rice annually. Imports prevent local production from reaching its full potential. Malian authorities are looking for ways to reduce imports and become self-sufficient in rice.
 When rice farmers started producing yields nine times larger than normal in the Malian desert it was the result of an engineering feat that has left experts in this impoverished nation in awe - but one that has yet to spread widely through Mali's farming community.
With hunger a constant menace, Malians are cautiously turning to a controversial farming technique, known as rice intensification, to adapt to the effects of climate change. The method has raised hopes that Mali's small-scale rice farmers might be able to increase their productivity to meet the country's gargantuan appetite for the grain.
Consumption of the staple stood at about 72 kg (163 lb) of rice per person in 2014, according to the latest data Mali's National Directorate of Statistics has made public - and demand is continuing to grow.
Dubbed the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), the new rice production method involves planting fewer seeds of traditional rice varieties and taking care of them following a strict regime. Seedlings are transplanted at a very young age and spaced widely. Soil is enriched with organic matter, and must be kept moist, though the system uses less water than traditional rice farming. Rice intensification uses up to 40 percent less water than traditional rice growing methods. Rice plants grown following the method live longer because, given more space, more oxygen and less water, their roots grow bigger and deeper, so they are more resilient to drought and don't deteriorate under flooding. 
SRI is used on both irrigated and non-irrigated land, meaning it is possible to cultivate rice even in Mali's desert, pilots conducted by the U.S. Agency for International Development have shown.
Up to 20 million farmers now use rice intensification in 61 countries, including in nearby Sierra Leone, Senegal and Ivory Coast, said Norman Uphoff, a senior advisor at the SRI International Network and Resources Center at Cornell University in the United States.
 Because it competes with the improved hybrid and inbred rice varieties that agricultural corporations sell, Uphoff said by phone. "The new technique is "not good news for the brand breeders and the seed companies".
For Faliry Boly, who heads a rice-growing association, the prospect of rice becoming a "white gold" he method could increase yields while also offering a more environmentally-friendly alternative, including by replacing chemical fertilisers with organic ones, he said. What's more, rice intensification naturally lends itself to Mali's largely arid climate.
The cost of a rice transplanting machine - a key part of the system - is between $2,100 and $2,900, more than many farmers can afford.

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