Understanding the dynamic of rice farming systems in southern Mozambique to improve production and benefits to smallholders

 Fatima Ismael, Aires Mbanze, Alexis Ndayiragije, and David Fangueiro   |  

This study aimed to assess rice farming system typologies in the Chókwè Irrigation Scheme to better understand the drivers and constraints for smallholder rice farmers and propose alternative policies for decision-makers to improve production and productivity.

In Africa, as in many other parts of the developing world, cereals such as maize, rice, and wheat are essential for the daily diet of most rural and urban households, preventing them from falling into acute food insecurity. Indeed, these three staple cereals together account for 94% of all cereal consumption in Africa, which also helps to frame the prevailing narrative that African agriculture has lagged behind the rest of the world.

Even in the context of lower staple cereal production, there is a widespread agreement that the agriculture sector will remain pivotal for the development of the sub-Saharan region, employing many rural people; up to 80% are smallholder farmers who produce most of their regional food.

Rural smallholder farms grow a wide variety of food grains, root crops, cash crops, and livestock that support diverse food and livelihood systems in different agricultural zones, and traditionally produce modest surpluses for local or distant trade.

Despite the availability of lowland and wetland suitable for sustainable rice-based cropping, rice production and productivity in sub-Saharan Africa is hindered by low soil fertility, a lack of technology, poor agricultural policies, and a lack of adequate infrastructure and skilled workers.

As in most sub-Saharan countries, agriculture is a key sector in Mozambique, employing 80% of the labor force and contributing approximately 20% of the GDP. Rice is the main cereal, second to maize, and its production area encompasses 204,000 ha, with an average paddy yield of 1.27 t/ha. This figure is remarkably low compared to the average paddy yields of 4.2 t/ha in Asia.

Most of the farming plots are located in lowlands, which are seasonally rain-fed and account for 90% of the total rice area, and contribute about 10–15% of the cereal caloric supply at the national level.

The growing human population and increase in middle-class consumers have exacerbated the demand for rice in Mozambique. This increasing demand has created 300,000 ton/ year/ ha of rice deficit, which has been covered by importation from Asian countries

The production deficit is likely related to:

  1. A lack of technology (agricultural mechanization, use of chemical and organic fertilizers, herbicides, and improved rice varieties);
  2. Insufficient support for smallholder farmers, who are the main rice producer in the country; (iii) a lack of extension services to smallholders; and
  3. High heterogeneity and diversity of farming systems (FS), which hampers the implementation of agriculture policies.

The construction of specific typologies of FSs, and understanding of drivers that motivate smallholder farms to adopt each specific FS, will be a useful step forward to frame the aforementioned problems.

Although the country has the potential to reach 900,000 hectares of rice production, it is estimated that only 35% of this area is under cultivation. The majority of rice farming fields in the south and center of the country are located in the Chókwè and Baixo Limpopo irrigation schemes, respectively.

The Chókwè Irrigation Scheme (CIS) is the largest irrigated area in Mozambique, and it has a vigorous agricultural community (including rice cultivation, horticulture, and sheep farming) in intensive and mixed FSs. However, the production volume has been remarkably low, with a lengthy stagnation since 1988, due to internal warfare, floods of the Limpopo River, and a lack of policies, especially around the difficulty of accessing credit.

Most rice producers are smallholders (>5 ha) and medium holders (5–20 ha), who also need to diversify their production to improve their livelihood and income generation. The spatial predominance of mixed FSs is dependent on the drivers and constraints. Thus, it is important to propose incentives to effectively improve the production of rice in the CIS. This will require an in-depth understanding of the existing FSs and other alternative livelihood options available in the region.

The present study aimed to answer the following questions:

  1. Which typologies of rice farming systems (RFSs) are predominant in the CIS?
  2. What are the drivers for each RFS in the area?
  3. Do different demographic patterns affect household decisions to embrace different FSs?
  4. What factors affect production and productivity for smallholder farmers in the CIS?
  5. What policies/incentives can be proposed to enhance production and productivity of rice in the CIS?

To answer the above questions, a survey was carried out with smallholder rice farmers who were based adjacent to the CIS. Answering these questions was important in order to underpin development strategies, assess production constraints, prioritize research, and identify scaling potentials, which in turn will improve local food production and nutrition security, and the rice value scheme.

This study aimed to assess rice farming system typologies in the CIS to better understand the drivers and constraints for smallholder rice farmers, and proposes alternative policies for decision-makers to improve production and productivity. The results demonstrated that the use of different RFS typologies, rather than one FS for all farmers, can better
capture the specific drivers for each FS in the region.

Four RFSs were identified: the subsistence FS, specialized rice FS, mixed crops FS, and rice–livestock FS. Subsistence and specialized rice are predominant in the upstream region of the CIS, while mixed crops and crop–livestock are predominant in the midstream and downstream. The households who adopted subsistence FS were on average older
and had fewer resources.

Specialized rice farmers had access to more resources and were driven by household power for purchasing production inputs. Mixed crops and rice–livestock were driven by the availability of labor and possession of lower lands. In general, increased production inputs (e.g., fertilizer, pesticides, weed control, and the number of seeds per hectare) might greatly improve productivity, whilst household experience and labor availability could greatly improve production.

This research suggests that rice farmers in the region require more training opportunities to optimize the available resources, such as animal manure and animal traction, as well as to explore other more valuable trade-offs, such as potential market opportunities and the production cost of other crops and livestock in the region.

Read the study:
Ismael F  Mbanze AA, Ndayiragije A, Fangueiro D. (201) Understanding the dynamic of rice farming systems in southern Mozambique to improve production and benefits to smallholders. Agronomy 11, 1018.

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