AgroFrontera works with groups of growers to improve the environmental soundness and social responsibility of farming systems. Integrated pest, nutrient and water management programs are designed and implemented for a wide range of farm enterprises. AgroFrontera is particularly interested in protecting the extensive mangrove forests of the Mangroves of Estero Balsa National Park in Manzanillo Bay, which is adjacent to more than 15,000 hectares of rice.
AgroFrontera is currently working with over 300 rice farmers to introduce sustainable rice production practices that dramatically reduce agricultural chemical pollution in streams that drain the rice fields and are the principal source of fresh water for the mangroves in the National Park. Initial results have shown that implementing conservation practices in rice has reduced nutrient and pesticide loading in streams and improved water quality. Farmers who adopt these sustainable practices use less fertilizers and pesticides and still achieve yields equal to or better than their conventional neighbors, are enjoying higher per hectare profits under the new system.
AgroFrontera works with stakeholders in farming systems to:
+ Address widespread economic challenges and ecological concerns
Rice production dominates the economy and agro-ecology of the northwest Dominican Republic. There are 40,000 hectares of rice in the region, representing over 30% of the rice produced in the Dominican Republic. The majority of the rice production in the northwest Dominican Republic is in the irrigation district in Las Matas de Santa Cruz – Montecristi Province (General Fernando Valerio Irrigation District - 15,700 hectares and 3,800 rice farm families). The majority of the rice growers in this irrigation district own and operate small and medium-sized farms. In addition, it is estimated that a total of 11,500 people in area of Las Matas de Santa Cruz are directly involved in the rice production value chain.
Rice yields in the northwest Dominican Republic are among the highest in the country. However, high production costs threaten the profitability of rice production. Also, conventional production practices for flooded rice have had a negative impact on the environment and on the health and well-being of rural communities. Excessive use of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation water in rice production has polluted rivers and streams that pass through and drain the rice fields in the area. There is a particular concern that runoff from rice fields in the region is polluting the fresh water supply of the Mangroves of Estero Balsa National Park in Montecristi Province. This marine protected area contains some of the most extensive and pristine mangrove forests in the Caribbean.
Over the past 10 years, there has been a marked improvement in the quality and packaging of domestically produced rice available to consumers. However, there has been little effort to promote the consumption of Dominican rice in domestic and international markets. An opportunity exists to create an integrated production, processing, distribution and marketing initiative that highlights the social and environmental attributes of sustainable rice production systems in the Dominican Republic.
To assure livelihoods for thousands of rural families who rely on rice production for their sustenance, conserve natural resources, while assuring consumer access to affordable, high quality rice it is necessary to improve the social, economic and environmental performance of rice production systems in the Dominican Republic. To move rice production systems toward socio-economic and environmental sustainability, rice value chain stakeholders must work together to generate, test, adopt and disseminate sustainable rice production practices that conserve and enhance natural resources while increasing the profitability of rice farming by reducing production costs. Rice mills and rice companies must work with rice farmers and their institutions to market sustainable rice to consumers who are predisposed to preferentially purchase rice grown in an environmentally sound manner by small-scale farmers.
+ Develop and communicate more profitable and sustainable practices
For the past several years, AgroFrontera has led a multi-institutional program to promote the adoption of sustainable rice production practices in the northwest Dominican Republic. The project, which reaches nearly 1,000 rice growers, cultivating 5,000 hectares of land, promotes the adoption and dissemination of sustainable rice practices. These practices reduce farmer reliance on highly toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers by promoting the scouting of the crops and fields to assess the presence and severity of specific pests, diseases and weeds, and by employing biological and mechanical pest controls where appropriate. Farmers who adopt these sustainable practices have increased their economic yields and profitability. In addition, AgroFrontera personnel promote irrigation water management strategies that reduce the amount of irrigation water that moved through farmers’ fields, thus reducing the risk of water carrying topsoil and agricultural chemicals from fields into drainage canals that supply fresh water to the adjacent Mangroves of Estero Balsa National Park. By employing these sustainable rice production practices farmers are able to reduce and, in many cases, eliminate the use of broad spectrum and highly toxic agricultural pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
As a result of the sustainable rice production practices, collaborating farmers are able to reduce fertilizer applications by 55% and chemical pesticide applications by 67% compared to their conventional rice production system neighbors. In addition, farmers apply 35% less irrigation water compared to conventional rice production systems. Furthermore, employing sustainable rice production practices reduces the amounts of fertilizers and pesticides used without compromising yield (as compared to conventional rice production systems). Thus, collaborating farmers typically enjoy 25% to 50% higher profits per hectare than their conventional rice farming systems neighbors.
Water analysis showed that the conservation practices substantially reduced nutrients levels in drainage waters within the pilot project area compared to nutrient levels of drainage structures associated with conventional rice production. This suggests that water quality in adjacent coastal estuaries can be improved by implementing conservation production practices in the rice growing region.
+ Collaborate with other organizations to broaden impacts
Recently, AgroFrontera began to work with IICA (Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture) to broaden the sustainable rice production systems practices to include technology from the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). Scientists from IICA and AgroFrontera introduced and evaluated SRI production methods that stress the planting of younger transplants and at much lower densities than conventional rice production systems. As a result, farmers are able to dramatically reduce seed costs, thus increasing economic yield. The preliminary results of trials in which farmers employ integrated sustainable and SRI practices can improve the economic performance and environmental soundness of their rice production systems.
While increases in profitability of rice production can be achieved at the farm level by implementing these sustainable rice production practices, these benefits could be multiplied throughout the value chain to assure that sustainably grown rice gains a greater share of both domestic and international markets. Only by integrating and coordinating activities across stakeholder groups along the value chain will sustainable rice become competitive nationally and internationally. Rice value chain stakeholders in the region have accepted the challenge to rethink and reformulate strategies and actions throughout the value chain to improve the social, economic and environmental aspects of rice production systems. AgroFrontera has worked with these stakeholders to craft a shared vision and create an effective and inclusive action plan to implement an integrated sustainable rice value chain.
+ Communicate product value through marketing strategies
To tell the food story of this sustainably produced rice, the project is designing and implementing a creative marketing strategy that seeks to differentiate sustainable rice harvested in the Dominican Republic from foreign-sourced rice or domestic rice produced under conventional production practices. By establishing or employing a certification program that verifies the environmental (eco-friendly) and social (small and medium-scale farmers) attributes of sustainable rice produced under the standards proposed in this project, a rice company will be able to create a marketing campaign that promotes this sustainable rice to consumers who are eager to purchase high quality, domestic rice grown under in ecologically sound manner. The potential economic, environmental and social benefits of differentiating sustainable rice in the market should be distributed throughout the value chain, with a particular focus on improving the profitability of rice farming production systems managed by small and medium holders.
Based on the well-defined set of sustainable rice production practices described in this project, there is the opportunity to design and implement a program of rice farming practices and policies that could meet quantitative and verifiable social and environmental thresholds of a certification program. This is especially true for rice grown under the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). While there is no specific certification program for rice grown under SRI standards, there are SRI growers and food companies that developed successful rice marketing campaigns based on SRI practices