Improving irrigated rice production in the Senegal River Valley through experiential learning and innovation
Research facilitating farmer–researcher collaboration and experiential learning may provide the missing element to tailor crop management recommendations to meet farmers’ needs. We tested different crop management systems for irrigated rice in three seasons of adaptive research trials in three locations in the middle Senegal River Valley. Our objectives were to assess the agronomic and socio-economic viability of Recommended Management Practices (RMPs) compared to the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and Farmers’ Practices (FPs). During the 2008 dry season, RMP and SRI significantly increased yields over FP by 2.3 and 2.6tha−1 across sites. Farmers analyzed their experiences in post-experiment meetings. They appreciated SRI’s yield and water-saving potential, but found it labor demanding, especially for weed management requirements that coincided with horticultural activities. Conversely, farmers described RMP’s elevated herbicide rate as costly, and indicated that because of poorly functioning agro-chemical markets, herbicide volumes larger than typically used in FP might be difficult to reliably source. To modify management systems to fit farmers’ needs and assets, we collaboratively developed a fourth, ‘Farmer Adapted Practice’ (FAP) that blended RMP and SRI. FAP used intermittent irrigation during the late vegetative stage, recommended crop density, intermediate seedling age, and a single round of mechanical weeding followed by localized herbicide application. Farmers compared FAP against the initial management systems in the subsequent seasons. Though no yield differences were found between RMP, SRI and FAP, each yielded significantly more (+1.0, +1.1 and +1.5tha−1) than FP. FAP also reduced labor requirements without increasing weed biomass compared to RMP or SRI, and used 40% and 10% less herbicide than RMP and FP, respectively. Cumulative distribution functions showed that FAP increased net profit potential and decreased economic risk. Prior to the 2009 dry season trials, the Senegalese state eliminated herbicide subsidies, doubling their cost. RMP, SRI and FAP yielded 2.9, 3.0 and 3.1tha−1 more than FP. FAP again reduced weeding labor and herbicide requirements while lowering production risk across sites. This study demonstrates the value-added outcomes that result from research that facilitates farmer–researcher collaboration to learn from, innovate and tailor management systems to fit local circumstances.
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