With a $1.8 million grant from the Government of Japan, the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) has launched a 1-year project to disseminate a customized crop management decision support tool – called RiceAdvice – in Nigeria and Mali, to help improve rice productivity, maximize rice farmers’ investment potential, catalyze youth employment and reduce environmental footprints compared to existing farmer practices.
The project’s overarching goal is to contribute to food security and social stability in the two countries. It aims to train 200 people including youth and women in these countries in the use of RiceAdvice and good agricultural practices on rice cultivation. The trained people in their turn will serve as advisory service providers to provide tailor-made recommendations generated by RiceAdvice to 12,000 farming households.
The project aims to increase rice yield in the target areas in Mali and Nigeria by 20% (increase of about 23,460 tons). The expected increase in income of 12,000 farmers by using the RiceAdvice recommendations is estimated at about $4.5 million at the end of the 2016 cropping season.
Explaining the potential of RiceAdvice, AfricaRice Agronomist and Project Coordinator DrKazuki Saito, said, “Studies by AfricaRice have shown that compared to farmer practices, the adoption of RiceAdvice recommendations can increase rice yield by about 20%, leading to an increase in profitability of about $200 per hectare per season.”
Fertilizer is costly for smallholder farmers in Africa and many rice farmers are not aware of the right type, dosage and timing of the fertilizer application. RiceAdvice is an Android-based decision support tool that will allow rice farmers to apply mineral fertilizer more efficiently in order to optimize production and profits and reduce waste.
“RiceAdvice can help farmers identify the best option for fertilizers to be purchased, based on nutrient requirement and fertilizer prices,” said Dr Saito at the Project Inception Meeting, held on 7 April 2016 at AfricaRice research station in Cotonou, Benin. “In RiceAdvice, farmers can also select their own target yield level based on their budget.”
The decision support tool was developed using AfricaRice’s databases on improved crop management options. It has been extensively validated and fine-tuned in farmers’ fields in consultation with them. More than 90% of farmers who used the tool in Senegal and Nigeria during its validation phase are willing to continue to use it.
It is well-suited to irrigated and relatively favorable rainfed lowland ecologies in Africa. “However, it is important to remember that RiceAdvice should be disseminated along with other good agricultural practices,” advised Dr Saito.
RiceAdvice does not require Internet connection to generate the guidelines in villages or fields, except for updating the app. Expected users include farmers, extension workers, traders, agricultural entrepreneurs and development agencies in Africa, who are interested in receiving expert advice for rice production.
AfricaRice scientists and partners discussed the project workplan at the Inception Meeting, which was attended by 16 participants comprising representatives from the Japanese Embassy in Benin, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Institut d’economie rurale (IER) in Mali, Syngenta Foundation, National Center for Specialization on Rice in Mali (CNS-RIZ), Office du Niger in Mali, National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI) in Nigeria, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)-Competitive African Rice Initiative (CARI), Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria and AfricaRice staff members.
The RiceAdvice tool was demonstrated at the meeting and partners spoke of their experience in using the tool in Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Senegal. Meetings with partners and the press are being organized in Nigeria and Mali to inform the public about this innovative project and its expected impacts. The project includes monitoring and impact assessment and has follow-up plans for monitoring the RiceAdvice beneficiaries beyond the project duration.
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