The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) is developing an ambitious rice intensification initiative. Its aim is to help establish food security in West Africa. Since 2014, the Syngenta Foundation has partnered with AfricaRice to develop and test RiceAdvice. This app advises rice growers how to use fertilizer to its full potential. A recent study shows that following RiceAdvice recommendations can help raise yields markedly.
Demand for rice is expanding very fast in West Africa, and the region imports more than half its needs. High demand is expected to continue, driven by urbanization and income growth. Private investors and governments are keen to build up sustainable, competitive rice value chains. Our rice program aims to raise smallholder income by 50% through making the rice supply chain more efficient and reliable, optimizing production and maximize quality to drive profitability, reducing post-harvest losses by half and providing training to smallholders according to their needs. The SFSA has supported rice intensification projects in Senegal and Mali with AfricaRice since 2014.
The RiceAdvice app is a crop management decision-support tool that runs on Android tablets and smartphones. The app was developed by AfricaRice to provide field-specific recommendations for mineral fertilizer application. RiceAdvice service providers act as an intermediary to collect farmers' data and interact with the app to generate recommendations covering issues such as target yields, plant nutrition, crop calendars and good agricultural practices based on available financial resources. Between 2015 and 2017, AfricaRice and the Syngenta Foundation tested the app in Mali, Senegal and Nigeria. A team of 331 people were trained with RiceAdvice and other good agricultural practices. Over two-thirds (238) of those trained became professional RiceAdvice service providers, including 14 women and 164 youth (under 40 years old). These new service providers gave guidance generated by RiceAdvice to over 19,000 farmers throughout the rice-growing season. The project raised awareness of RiceAdvice among extension agents, donors and the private sector.
As most farmers are illiterate and do not have smartphones, RiceAdvice is most useful to public- and private-sector extension, development agents and NGOs. The growing market for RiceAdvice recommendations means there are potential employment opportunities for young service providers, so the app also plays a part in alleviating the youth employment crisis. With the right training and equipment, rural youth can start marketing counsulting services to both farmers and cooperatives. The Syngenta Foundation is training more service providers in Mali and Senegal to work with farmers willing to pay for the service. The uptake of RiceAdvice will also increase demand for other agricultural services (e.g. seed, agro-inputs, processing and marketing).
During the trial, farmers using the app reported average yield gains of between 0.6 and 1.8 t/ha, while their average income increased by between US$100 and US$200/ha. This was achieved through a shift in fertilizer use — farmers taking RiceAdvice used more urea (nitrogen-only fertilizer) and less compound (nitrogen–phosphate–potassium) fertilizer. Most of the farmers attributed three main advantages to RiceAdvice: increased yield, increased income and reduced use of fertilizer. By the end of the trial, 95% of the farmers said they wanted to carry on using the app.
Tests have consistently shown that farmers can achieve significantly higher yields when they follow the advice delivered through the RiceAdvice app,” says Youssou Diagne, regional coordinator at the Syngenta Foundation, which ran the trial in conjunction with AfricaRice.