80% of the global rice supply is grown on farms that are less than 2 hectares in size.
In addition to the 144 million rice farmers, rice value chains across Asia and Africa provide employment for hundreds of millions of families, especially in rural areas. Challenges such as poor harvests, high production costs, market inequities, and limited infrastructure constrain farmers and keep them vulnerable to poverty, hunger, and financial insecurity.
We’re working with stakeholders from farmers to governments to improve the economic potential of rice.
Thanks to crop insurance and climate-smart rice varieties, smallholder farmers in Odisha enjoy some protection from the financial risks posed by extreme weather events.
Dwitikrushna Swain, 42, along with other marginal farmers from Gunthapada and neighboring villages in Aska Block of Ganjam District in Odisha attended a farmers’ orientation program in 2019. Through the program, the farmers learned about some options to mitigate climate risks to agriculture, specifically, the importance of Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) crop insurance and using stress-tolerant rice varieties (STRV) for areas prone to climate fluctuations.
A safety net for farmers
Mr. Swain owns about half a hectare of farmland and cultivates another 1.2 hectares under a sharecropping contract. During the previous kharif, brown planthopper (locally called chakada) infestation caused major crop losses. Mr Swain was not spared and a major portion of his crops had been damaged by the pest attack.
He said that agriculture officers conducted a crop cutting experiment in the affected area and found that most of the farmers from their gram panchayat (the local administrative village-level self-governance system in India) faced major losses due to pest attack. Fortunately, he and some other farmers had a safety net to bail them out of distress.
After attending the program conducted by the International Rice Research Institute, he decided to insure his farm under PMFBY. “I took a loan of around USD 500.00,” he said. He used the money to invest in his farm which included crop insurance.
As the panchayat was notified under the crop loss category, Mr. Swain and other farmers who had availed of the insurance received payouts from PMFBY.
“I received USD 360.00 from my insurance,” he said with a smile. “It helped me recover from the crop losses. I would have been worried about how I would repay my loan and feed my family had I not insured my farmland.”
The following season, around 12 farmers in his village took crop insurance, convinced and inspired by Mr. Swain’s experience.
Raising the awareness level
“Due to lack of awareness many farmers do not insure their land before cultivation,” said Mr. Swain.
In 2019, IRRI led an educational intervention in 15 districts covering 300 villages in Odisha to create awareness and increase farmers’ adoption of risk mitigation strategies. In Ganjam District alone, 290 farmers from 29 villages participated in the crop insurance orientation program.
Because of the low literacy rate among farmers, IRRI used a short film on PMFBY that was quite effective in communicating the message to the farmers. An animated mobile app was also designed to give farmers a virtual experience in different situations under which crop insurance and STRVs can help farmers comprehend the relative benefits and make meaningful decisions.
Benudhar Mishra from Survey Jena, a non-governmental organization for agricultural and rural development, led this orientation under the guidance of IRRI.
“We informed them about crop insurance, STRV, and their benefits,” said Mr. Mishra. “We also distributed three types of coupons. The first coupon offered 20 kilograms (kg) of STRV seed, which is enough to plant 0.5 ha of land, for USD 4.00.
The second coupon offered crop insurance for 0.5 ha of land at a reduced premium rate. And finally, the third coupon offered both crop insurance and STRV seed for 0.5 ha land to see how both insurance and STRVs together can help farmers in mitigating risk in crop production and sustain their income.”
Mr. Mishra noted that the participating farmers were encouraged to avail of the subsidized crop insurance and STRV coupons and experience the associated benefits.
Insurance claims triggers
“A farmer can claim his insurance payout to compensate for yield loss in three different cases,” Mr. Mishra explained. “He is eligible to 25% of the claim amount if he was prevented from sowing his crops due to natural hazards. For standing crop losses, he will receive a payment if an assessment based on crop cutting experiment shows that the loss is calculated at more than 30% compared to the previous five years.
For postharvest crop losses, the farmer has to inform the agricultural department within three days of damage. He is eligible to get the claim amount after a physical assessment of the damaged plot by the agriculture officers.”
The unit of insurance for PMFBY is a Gram Panchayat (GP). The prevented sowing and crop losses are estimated at the GP level by the government. If the government notifies the Gram Panchayat as being under crop loss then the farmers who registered for crop insurance under that GP will receive compensation from the insurance companies.
Weaknesses in the insurance system
However, there are some challenges in this system. In Odisha, due to a lack of written or legal documents between landowners and sharecroppers, the latter face difficulties in obtaining loans and crop insurance. Mr. Swain could have received a bigger payout had he insured the crops under sharecropping agreement if he was able to submit required documents since he is not the owner of the land.
Sahadev Badatya, 60, a farmer from Gunthapada who attended the orientation program in Kabisurjya Nagar Block, cultivates rice on almost 1 ha of land as a sharecropper.
“The crop insurance scheme is helpful for marginal farmers,” Mr. Badatya said. “But I cultivate rented land so I cannot insure under the scheme and my landowner is not willing”.
Nanda Kishore Jena, 32 is another sharecropper who cultivates almost 2 ha of land which he rents from the landowner every kharif season. He heard about crop insurance from the farmers who attended awareness training and, although interested in crop insurance, also can’t avail of this facility due to lack of land ownership.
“This is a matter of mutual trust between the landowner and sharecropper,” said Mr. Jena. “ If we ask for any document, they will deny and immediately handover the land to another sharecropper for cultivation. We will lose our livelihood. Because many sharecroppers in this village couldn’t overcome their crop loss, they migrated to nearby cities to work as construction laborers.”
Shamuka Shefali, an animator at Survey Jena who created the mobile app, noted another flaw in the system.
“If the sharecropper faces any loss, he or she has no way to recover,” Mr. Shefali said. “If after an assessment the panchayat qualifies under crop loss category, it’s the landowner that gets the compensation and not the sharecropper. It keeps sharecroppers out of the purview of the Prime Minister crop insurance scheme as well.”
In addition, crop damages caused by other factors are not covered by the insurance.
“Sometimes farmers face crop loss due to wild animals such as elephants, bears, and monkeys,” said Mr. Saheb Swain, a former village-level worker in Gunthapada Village said. “These also need to be included in the crop insurance scheme.”
Institutionalizing insurance protection.
IRRI scientists are studying the outcomes of the educational training programs on farmer knowledge and adoption of technical and other options which ultimately impact farmers’ income and livelihoods. The insights from the farmers and stakeholders will be discussed with policymakers to explore how such programs can become part of regular government programs.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has launched the second phase of the Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab (SIIL-Polder) project titled “Pathways of scaling of agricultural innovations for sustainable intensification in the polders of coastal Bangladesh.” The overall goal of the project is to improve food security, human nutrition and livelihood of the rural communities in the polders through scaling and evaluating pragmatic and feasible farming approaches for more efficient utilization of available land and water resources to sustainably intensify polder-based agriculture.
Phase 2 of the project was officially launched at a virtual inception workshop on Monday (December 14, 2020). In the first phase of the project that ran from 2015-2019, the focus was on unlocking the potential of polder communities in coastal Bangladesh through improved resource-use efficiency and diversified cropping systems. The project is funded by USAID through Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab of Kansas State University, USA. For both phases of this project, IRRI has been collaborating with the Kansas State University of USA, the Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab (SIIL) under the US government’s Feed the Future initiative, and different national partners in Bangladesh.
Speaking as the chief guest, Md. Mesbahul Islam, honorable secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, said, “The Ministry of Agriculture has been giving special attention to increasing productivity through diversification and intensification of cropping pattern in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. This project is of utmost importance to the Ministry of Agriculture. The Ministry is committed to devising appropriate policies to upscale the research findings of the project by DAE for meeting the future food and nutritional security challenges of Bangladesh.”
Dr. Md. Shahjahan Kabir, director general of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), said, “BRRI has been working in the coastal areas since 1995 and has developed suitable salinity-tolerant, short-duration, and high-yielding rice varieties. Combined efforts will be required from all actors to increase overall agricultural productivity of the coastal region.”
Dr. Lutful Hasan, VC of Bangladesh Agricultural University emphasized the need of capacity building of the new generation so that they can take responsibilities to face challenges of food and nutritional security of the country. He emphasized on engaging the postgraduate students in polder-scale research integrating all the farming system components to improve livelihood of the farming community residing in the vulnerable coastal zone.
In his closing remarks, IRRI Country Representative to Bangladesh, Dr. Humnath Bhandari, thanked all participants and stakeholders, especially the Government of Bangladesh for supporting IRRI’s research and development activities in Bangladesh. He said that IRRI, in collaboration with the NARES partners, will continue to support the Government of Bangladesh in attaining sustainable food and nutritional security through innovative research, improved crop and water management technologies. Also, he mentioned that the SIIL-Polder Project will work closely with NARES partners to develop and scale out appropriate agricultural innovations in the coastal areas.
Using ‘farmer participatory approaches,’ the second phase of the SIIL-Polder project will focus on developing and scaling watershed-scale, community-led water and crop management practices, promote, evaluate, and scale-out rice-sunflower and rice-maize cropping systems, strengthen service entrepreneurship involving women and youth around mechanical harvesting, assess synergies and trade-offs associated with the newly introduced cropping systems, evaluate alternative agricultural landscape options and build capacity of the farming community and extension workers.
Notable attendees of the workshop included Dr. Ajay Kohli, Deputy Director General (Research) of IRRI; Dr. Vara Prasad, Director of the SIIL project under the Kansas State University; Prof. Dr. Lutful Hassan, Vice Chancellor of Bangladesh Agricultural University; Guy Jones, team leader of BlueGold; Dr. Nathu Ram Sarker, DG of Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute; Dr. FH Ansarey, managing director of ACI Limited; Dr. Krishna Jagadish from Kansas State University (KSU); Dr. Sudhir Yadav, senior scientist at IRRI; Dr. Monjurul Alam from the Bangladesh Agricultural University; Ignacio Ciampitti from the KSU; Dr. SM Bokhtiar, Executive Chairman of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council; Dr. Jiban Krishna Biswas, Executive Director of Krishi Gobeshona Foundation; Dr. Md. Nazirul Islam, DG of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute; Dr. Mirza Mofazzal Islam, Director General of Bangladesh Institute for Nuclear Agriculture; Mahfuj Hossain Mridha, Director of Field Services of the Department of Agricultural Extension; and Engineer Amirul Hossain, project director of Bangladesh Water Development Board.
During the wrap-up workshop of the International Rice Research Institute’s (IRRI) consultancy to the Vietnam Sustainable Agriculture Transformation (VnSAT) Project, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) acknowledged the contribution of the institute in promoting best practices for better quality rice in a sustainable framework. Moreover, the adoption of best practices significantly increased the annual rice production of Vietnam and the incomes of Vietnamese farmers in the Mekong River Delta.
Funded by the World Bank and the Vietnamese government, the VnSAT Project is a large-scale program for improving agronomic practices and management, upgrading rice processing technology for high value and quality rice, and improving public service delivery.
“MARD highly appreciated IRRI's support in capacity building, technical assistance, sustainable farming practices, climate change mitigation, and enhancing the rice value chain. IRRI’s contribution over the past 4 years has helped increase the productivity and profitability of Vietnam’s farmer associations” said MARD Deputy Minister Dr. Le Quoc Doanh.
Over 800,000 farmers received training on the new rice cultivation technique ‘1 Must Do, 5 Reductions’ (1M5R) practices. 1M5R promotes using certified seeds and reductions in use of seed, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, water use, and post-harvest losses.
IRRI has worked with VnSAT since 2017 in eight provinces in the Mekong River Delta: An Giang, Đồng Tháp, Hậu Giang, Kiên Giang, Long An, Sóc Trăng, and Tiền Giang, as well as Cần Thơ City. By the beginning of the project in 2017, the implementation of modern best management practices for lowland irrigated rice had been achieved on 163,418 hectares. The rate of high-quality rice cultivation has reached 75-80%, even 90%, in some localities, while the profits of farmers who took part in the project has increased by 28% compared to farmers who did not.
Added Dr. Doanh, “IRRI continues to provide rice varieties with robust genetic resources and technical assistance to create high-quality rice varieties for commercial rice production. Most especially, many of these rice varieties are resistant to drought, salinity, brown plant hopper, rice blast, blight, and other valuable rice varieties that can meet market demand. IRRI also provides support in developing policies related to production, rice breeding to adapt to climate change, reducing post-harvest losses, promoting best practices for processing, and developing Vietnamese rice brands.”
Dr. Doanh also echoed that IRRI’s contributions have received many positive responses from the World Bank, project management boards, and farmers. He concluded by saying the ministry wants to continue cooperating with IRRI on rice variety research, best practices for natural resource management as demonstrated in the VnSAT project, capacity building, policy advice, and exchange of scientific and technical advances.
Joining the workshop through a teleconference video, IRRI Director General Dr. Matthew Morell said, “Vietnam contributes more than 6% of global rice production. Promoting good agricultural practices such as the ‘1 Must 5 Reductions’ will help farmers reduce pesticide use, and at the same time increase productivity towards sustainable rice production, and gradually improve the brand of Vietnam rice.”