This Cornell program is project-based and collaborates with partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the USA. Currently we focus on:
We have joined with the NGO Jubilee Justice to develop regenerative and organic rice production systems with Black farmers in the southern USA. Based on the principles of SRI, our climate-resilient models for rice farming are organic, use less water, and emit lower levels of greenhouse gases.
This project started in 2020 with two farmers in Mississippi. At present, we collaborate with nine farmers to adapt SRI practices to their local farming conditions in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina. Using an action-research approach, we co-create knowledge, draw lessons from what works and what doesn’t, and design next steps together as a community of practice. These farmers are volunteers (most of whom have never grown rice before) and are excited to experiment with new ideas and a new crop to diversify their operations. Jubilee Justice also leases five acres - we use as our experiment station - at Inglewood Farms in Alexandria, the largest organic farm in Louisiana. Here we screen specialty rice varieties, beans, cowpeas, sesame, small grains, and various summer and winter cover crops to integrate into a regenerative crop rotation.
Jubilee Justice supports Black farming communities to implement sustainable and regenerative crop production practices, to reach new markets, and to access sustainable financing and legal services. The Cornell Climate-Resilient Farming Systems Program provides the technical support to develop a regenerative rice production system as part of this holistic approach.
Sustainable intensification and in-situ conservation of African rice (Oryza glaberrima) by the Saamaka people of Suriname
300 years ago, the Saamaka people in Suriname escaped from plantation slavery to the rainforest interior of the country and lived there in relative independence by hunting, gathering, and growing many crops, among them a large number of rice varieties, believed to have directly been brought from Africa. But with increased population, rice self-sufficiency can no longer be guaranteed. Saamaka leaders seek new sustainable solutions to increase rice productivity and protect their rice biodiversity. With a grant from the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, and based on the request of the Saamaka people, we have inventoried the rice varieties planted by the Saamaka women, we have learned how the women manage and maintain varietal diversity, and have undertaken genetic studies to identify the origins of Saamaka rice. A debriefing trip to Suriname on the results was undertaken in June 2023, and as of late 2023, we are close to publishing our results.
Applying SRI principles to fonio (Digitaria exilis) in the semi-arid zone of Mali
Farmer-implemented fonio SRI trials since 2020, in Douentza, Mali, and since 2023 in the three additional zones, Yanfolila, Kita and Segou. The on-farm work was preceded by the first agronomic trials to improve organic fonio productivity in 2018, Cinzana, Mali.
Fonio (Digitaria exiles Stapf), domesticated around 5000 BCE, is the oldest cereal native to West Africa. Fonio has the ability to thrive in marginal soils and in drought prone environments, where other cereals would struggle to grow. For many farming communities in the semi-arid and sub-humid zones of West Africa, fonio is essential to achieve food security. It is a highly nutritious grain and the demand from urban populations in West Africa as well as international consumers is rising. There are two challenges to meeting the increasing demand for fonio: low yields and the difficulty of processing the grains. Most work on improving availability of fonio for consumers has focused on processing so far, but hardly any work has been done on improving yields.
In 2018, we partnered with Dr Sanogo, Institut d'Economie Rurale (IER) and Yolélé to undertake first agronomic trials at the Cinzana agriculture research station in the semi-arid Segou region of Mali. Three on-station trials evaluated fonio grain yield and crop performance in relation to seeding density, spatial seeding arrangement and application of low dose of compost, also tested with four fonio varieties and under different seeding dates.
Since 2020, we partner with the local NGO 3A-Sahel from Douentza, Mopti and work directly with farmers to test line-seeding and low dose of animal manure applications in comparison to their traditional broadcasting of seed without any fertilization.
The 2020 trials with 25 farmers from a total of 5 villages in Douentza were very encouraging, and we continued testing the new practices in 2022, while in 2023, we are supporting farmers in their larger scale adoption of the practices. Also, in 2023, we partner with the R20 Foundation, Yolélé and SAF to test these news ideas in three additional regions of Mali, including Yanfolila, Kita and Segou. We are running the same trials as in Douentza with a total for 45 farmers (3 cooperatives/zone, with 5 farmers/cooperative). This is complemented by surveys that provide the background of the fonio crop within the Malian farming systems.
This initiative seeks large-scale impact to sustainably increase rice productivity and support West African States goal of self-sufficiency in rice production by 2025.
As technical advisor of a regional coordination effort with the National Center of Specialization in Rice (CNS-Riz) in Mali since 2012, we assist partners in 13 West African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. Under the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP), managed by the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD) and funded by the World Bank, the following results were achieved between January 2014 and June 2016:
50,048 farmers (33% women) using SRI on 13,944 hectares at 1088 sites
30,000 farmers and 1032 technicians trained
Number of local Institutions working with SRI increased from 49 (2014) to 215 (2016)
Yield increases using SRI (as compared to conventional rice production) increased by 56% for irrigated rice (averaging 6.6 t/ha), and by 85% for rainfed lowland rice (averaging 4.71 t/ha).
Estimated added value of increased rice production: 10 million USD/rice season.
Download Project Results Report: 50,000 Farmers in 13 Countries - Results from Scaling up the System of Rice Intensification in West Africa
Project Website: https://sriwestafrica.org
Non-SRI Panicle SRI Panicle
Evaluation of nursery methods on plant development and grain yield of rice in the Hudson Valley, New York
Ever since 2006, when the Akaogi family began to grow rice in southern Vermont, some farmers in the northeastern USA have experimented with growing this non-traditional crop. Growing rice – a warmth-loving plant - is a challenge in this climate due to the short growing season and the cool temperatures. Nfamara Badjie, Mustapha Diedhiou and Dawn Hoyte have successfully grown rice for the past five years at their Ever-Growing Family Farm in New York’s Hudson River Valley. With support from this SARE Farmer grant, we will experiment with two types of rice nurseries, staggered seeding and planting times, and two different varieties.
The objective is to identify robust seedling establishment methods for northeastern rice production to allow to shorten the rice production cycle, and to increase rice productivity and farm benefit. The experiment will compare the Akaogi plug-tray nursery method (seedlings grown in the greenhouse for one month before transplanting) to the simpler, lower-cost Diolla-style raised bed nursery method (seedlings grown in the field and transplanted when 15 days old), which was developed by Nfamara and Mustapha and follows the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) best practices. The two methods will be tested with both the novel African variety Ceenova - the farm’s flagship variety - and the well-established and widely-used Duborskian variety.
Farmers conserve and sustainably use
Oryza glaberrima in West Africa
The African rice (Oryza glaberrima or OG) was domesticated 3500 years ago in West Africa and is adapted to diverse and often marginal environments across the region. OG thrives in ecological niches that are often not suitable for other crops or improved rice varieties. This allows farmers to diversify their farming strategies, reduce risks and improve their food security, all at once.
Nevertheless, diversity and importance of Oryza glaberrima is declining rapidly throughout the region. We know little what types and how farmers grow this indigenous rice species, and very little work is underway to improve use and to conserve the genetic diversity of OG in-situ for the benefit of smallholder farming communities. This is what we set out to do in this longer-term endeavor. We have embarked on a first phase where we identify, describe and prioritize OG accessions and associated cropping systems based on farmers’ information in selected environments in Mali and Togo.
One Oryza glaberrima plant cultivated with the SRI method, in Timbuktu, Mali
Harnessing additive manufacturing technology (or 3D printing) to improve smallholder rice production equipment
In this research project, we set out to find out if additive manufacturing technology can assist smallholder agriculture equipment workshops in Asia or Africa to economically create mechanization parts of rice weeders, direct seeders or transplanters - adapted for the System of Rice Intensification methodology - with sufficient dimensional precision and mechanical performance. This is done in collaboration with the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and the Mechanical and Aerospace Department of Cornell University, funded under the Academic Venture Fund by Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (2016-2018). (Project completed)
Gu W, Styger E and DH Warner, 2020. Assessment of Additive Manufacturing for Increasing Sustainability and Productivity of Smallholder Agriculture. 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing. 7:6, 1-11.
Farmers adapt the agronomy for wheat in Timbuktu, Mali
This project was initiated a few years back by a few farmers in Timbuktu, who were curious to use the principles of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) methodology for their wheat crop. An innovation process got underway. Farmers experimented by modifying traditional wheat production practices in line with the SRI principles. This resulted eventually in the doubling of wheat yields, which has been confirmed for several seasons.