Successful innovation attempt by a Venezuelan farmer to improve rice resilience
San Jose, 13 August 2020 (IICA). – On the vast plains of Venezuela, a rice farmer successfully attempted an innovative system that yielded greater resilience and sustainability in his crops. The best news is that he did it using fewer resources.
In 2017, Miguel Agüero became a pioneer in implementing in Venezuela the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), by devoting a half-acre plot of land on his farm, No. 234 of the Río Guárico Irrigation System (SRRG), in the town of Calabozo.
SRI is an agroecological and climate smart system that was introduced in the 1980s in Madagascar, which enhances productivity in rice cultivation and reduces the amount of inputs such as water, seeds and fertilizers through changes in the management of plants, soil, water and nutrients.
Currently, Miguel is devoting almost three acres to SRI and has obtained a high-quality rice seed, hence the creation of the family business Semillas Banpedro C.A. to market it.
The idea for the business came about as a result of the high quality of the rice seed produced.
“My neighbors and those who are interested in seed quality see how much we care for it and the quality of the materials. The plot of land has been for them one of the Windows into SRI” stated Agüero.
With technical support from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), SRI has also been implemented with promising results in Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
The system rests on four basic principles: to provide early and rapid establishment of healthy plants; reduce competition between plants; keep the soil healthy, aerated and rich in organic matter, through better management of water and by alternating dry and wet soils.
“Let us put all these principles into practice: intermittent irrigation, incorporation of organic material, weeding to encourage soil direction, improvement in soil biotin”, stated Betsaida Soublette, a researcher who worked with IICA on implementing SRI in Venezuela, and is an adviser to Miguel Agüero.
Given the difficult economic situation in Venezuela, one of the challenges to implementing SRI has been reduced availability and the cost of labour. Agüero, with assistance from Soublette, has had to make some adjustments and work towards improving the impact of the system.
“It has not been easy, especially with the situation in the country” stated Agüero. “Labor is very expensive,; we already have crews and we are trying to acquire planters and small shelling machines, but we have not been able to access them yet, although they are not expensive”.
During the sowing process, a specific distance is created between the plants., but in the absence of a specialized machine, Agüero and Soublette came up with a novel idea. Normally, the sowing threads on the sower creates a 17cm distance: they added another thread to the sower and achieved a 34cm distance.
Other farmers in the area with vast expanses of land are also using this method of adjusting to their needs, which allows them to use less seeds and less plants per square meter.
“Together with our partners, which include several national agricultural research institutes, farmer organizations and Cornell University, we have shown that SRI can work in the Americas, and we now have to overcome the barriers to achieve implementation at a higher level”, stated Kelly Witkowski, manager of the Climate Change and Natural Resources Program at IICA.
She added that SRI gave rise to increased productivity, significant reduction in the use of water and seeds, and improvement in climate change resilience, while making the crop more profitable for farmers.
Semillas Banpedro C.A., Miguel Agüero’s family business, has a small clientele, but it continues to grow.
“Taking the business forward has been extremely difficult. But if you are resilient during times of difficulty, you can lay a stronger foundation. That way, you’ll be ready to reap the fruit of your efforts once you’ve conquered the wave. A business can only flourish by overcoming adversities”, stated Soublette.
Institutional Communication Division