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Natural resource management for poverty reduction and environmental sustainability in fragile rice-based systems

Author: S.M. Haefele and A.M. Ismail, Editors


Rice is the major staple food in Asia, and about 95% of the world’s rice is produced in the region. While much of the rice is produced in irrigated environments, the rice-based systems of the less favorable rainfed rice environments provide the livelihoods for 100 million farm families. Due to the low and unstable productivity levels in many of these rainfed areas, poverty is widespread. In addition, drastic weather events such as fl ooding or drought can have further destabilizing, long-term effects on poor communities. Thus, in a typical drought year, for example, food consumption is reduced, indebtedness is increased, assets are sold, and household members might migrate. Further on, the risk caused by such weather events reduces productivity, even in nonaffected years, because farmers avoid investing when they fear crop loss. Overcoming constraints and improving the productivity of the rainfed systems will make a substantial improvement to the livelihoods of many of the region’s rural poor.

The two principal rainfed rice systems commonly distinguished are rainfed uplands and rainfed lowlands. Upland rice systems are grown on about 9 million ha in Asia, mostly on sloping land or on plateau uplands, and fi elds are not usually fl ooded. Upland rice commonly suffers from multiple constraints, including drought, high weed and disease pressure, and poor soils. Average yields are consequently only about 1 t ha. Rainfed lowland rice in Asia covers about 46 million ha—i.e., almost 30% of the total rice area worldwide. Although this system includes favorable environments with conditions similar to irrigated systems, most areas face various biophysical constraints to rice production. The most important constraints include drought, fl ooding, salinity and other adverse soil conditions, pests and weeds, and average yields are about 2 t ha-1.

Developing appropriate technologies for such disadvantaged areas and making options available to farmers are the main goals of the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE). CURE is a regional platform led by national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) comprising institutions from South and Southeast Asian countries together with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) as the coordinating hub. As a “network of national networks,” CURE facilitates sharing of scientific knowledge, technology products, and information among the network members. Targeted technologies integrate improved germplasm with suitable crop and resource management options. The complexity and high variability of rainfed systems require fl exible resource management options and related decision support tools to improve local decision making, according to the characteristics of the farm environments. Participatory approaches, incorporating contributions from farmers and extension staff, are a fundamental component of CURE’s approach.

The main objectives of the CURE strategy are to reduce production risk, improve productivity, and increase crop diversity at the farm level. Given the importance of rice as a staple crop providing household food security, interventions that increase rice productivity can serve as a critical entry point in initiating and reinforcing agricultural growth and income generation. Technologies that reduce production risk caused by, for example, drought or fl ooding will favor input use and can have a major impact on system productivity. Improved rice technologies that reduce labor and land requirements for crops are needed to allow these resources to be released for other income-generating activities. And once rural households are able to grow enough food for their consumption, farmers will diversify their resources into other on-farm and nonfarm activities. CURE members are working toward technologies, understanding, and knowledge that target the above objectives, and believe that sustainable productivity increases are realistic goals in most rainfed environments. Productivity increases in these agroecosystems will, in turn, have a substantial impact on poverty reduction in rural Asia. Increases in marginal productivity due to improved varieties and better resource management are often greater in low-potential than in high-potential systems. Accordingly, studies in India concluded that the marginal returns from government investments in technology and infrastructure are highest in unfavorable rainfed areas. Further, the vulnerability of people living in these regions has been amplified by the effects of the recent economic crisis, which, together with rising food prices and extreme weather events, have caused substantial increases in the incidence of poverty and even hunger.

This publication documents progress in the development of crop and natural resource management options within CURE over the past 5 yr. It brings together the studies presented at a workshop conducted in conjunction with the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Steering Committee of the CURE, 2006 Mar 6-7, at the BRAC Center in Dhaka. The papers are organized along the structure of CURE consisting of four working groups.

  1. The first two contributions provide an overview of current achievements and strategic approaches in the rainfed upland systems.
  2. This is followed by five papers focus on the drought-prone lowlands, which range in topics from principles of germplasm development for this environment to suitable management interventions such as direct seeding and fertilizer management to the analysis of diversifi cation patterns in India.
  3. The subsequent three papers give an overview of ongoing work in submergence and flood-prone areas, where the introduction of submergence-tolerant germplasm could make an immense impact.
  4. The final section discusses the considerable progress possible in saline areas with a focus on coastal salinity, rice intensification, and diversified systems.

It is hoped that these papers will contribute to the wider dissemination of knowledge and understanding of the improvements possible in these systems and of the scope to raise livelihoods of those that depend on these rice environments.

Language:  English (United States)

Featured:  Featured entry
Development Themes: Climate Change & Environment Agriculture
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