Many smallholder rice farmers in Northern India and North-eastern Thailand increasingly struggle for their livelihoods. Continued mineral fertiliser and pesticide input has resulted in a decline in soil fertility, and therefore in yields. The farmers are increasingly confronted with droughts or floods that affect their crops. Moreover, low market prices and the high costs of agricultural inputs result in low net revenues. As a consequence, numerous smallholders are highly indebted. In addition, the unsustainable farming practices pose a serious threat to local ecosystems, water resources and people’s health.
Organic production and fair trade of traditional basmati and jasmine rice varieties enables smallholder farmers to improve their livelihoods while safeguarding the environment. In 2011, Coop Switzerland, in collaboration with HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation, launched an innovative project to support 4,500 family farms in India and Thailand to convert to organic farming and to sell their produce at fair trade conditions. The project has already helped farmers to optimise production methods based on the System of Rice Intensification, thus increasing profitability and reducing water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Farmers receive support to diversify their production systems and to sell their rotation crops in domestic and international markets. After a successful first phase, a consolidation phase (2015-2017) is enhancing the positive achievements and will ensure institutional sustainability.
Involvement of the private sector ensures a lasting value-chain
HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation is implementing the project in close collaboration with Reismühle Brunnen, Intercooperation Social Development and local producer organisations and companies in India and Thailand. The involvement of the private sector allows fast progress and ensures that the value chain continues once the project is over. The innovative project set-up creates a win-win-win situation for farmers, businesses and the environment. Consumers get an attractive product with proven positive impact at production level.
Higher yields, lower production costs and higher product prices ensure that farmers who participate in the project earn 30 to 50 per cent higher net incomes than before. Plot trials at farmer fields and research stations show that the improved production techniques based on the System of Rice Intensification increase yields by 20 to 30 per cent. At the same time, they reduce greenhouse gas emissions and allow more efficient use of the available water. Since 2014, a research project led by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in collaboration with GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology has been measuring greenhouse gas emissions, water use efficiency and nutrient flows in the Indian part of the project.
Since 2015, the rice project in India has been one of the six Water Productivity (WAPRO) projects.