Challenges in rice cultivation in Benin

Sustainable agriculture, Entrepreneurial ecosystems
Farmers in the West African country of Benin face constantly changing environmental conditions: ever more frequent weather events, unreliable seasons, and a deterioration of soil quality due to increasing acidity, especially in the north of Benin. Moreover, family farms are strongly dependent on synthetic fertilisers that are difficult to procure and harbour enormous risks to health and the environment. Over the course of the “Rural Economic Development Support Programme", Swisscontact has developed a promising alternative together with local partners:  the use of so-called “biochar.”

Biochar is plant-based charcoal extracted by pyrolysis (a thermochemical process) of various organic materials. Although biochar itself is rich in food nutrients, it has numerous advantages: it improves soil structure, aeration, water and nutrient storage, and it also decreases nutrient loss caused by erosion.

Application of biochar

Experiments giving confidence

In order to give recommendations to rice farmers on how to improve soil fertility and increase rice yields, during the project various experiments on different parcels and combinations thereof were conducted.

Rice is crucial to food security in developing countries. In Benin, the land area that can be used potentially for rice cultivation is estimated at 375,000 hectares. Of this, only 21 percent is being used, which is equivalent to 531,000 tonnes of raw rice produced in 2022. Thus, only 60% of the country’s needs are covered, while the growth rate of 3.2 percent is far below demand of 5 percent. In addition, traditional rice cultivation is reaching its limits, owing to climate change and soil degradation in particular. 

The results prove that the use of biochar significantly increases rice yields, by more than 58 percent in combination with compost and by nearly 20 percent in combination with mineral microfertilizers. If all other parameters are kept constant, then biochar offers a promising solution to counteract decreasing soil fertility and environmental destruction. The spread of this practice can help improve rice farmers’ living conditions and incomes.

To promote the use of biochar and confirm the observed trends, the project team is arranging trainings to manufacture biochar from leftover harvest residues, the creation of compost heaps, and expanded application of biochar to other crops.

Plot 1: Use of Biochar as both background and supporting manure.
Plot 2: Application of mineral fertilizer as a base and supporting manure.
Plot 3: Use of an equal mixture of Biochar and mineral fertiliser, with double application.
Plot 4: Biochar only as basal fertiliser and urea as supporting fertiliser.

Comprehensive intervention in the rice sector

In addition to promoting the use of biochar, the project supports the rice sector with various initiatives, including the production of certified seed, trainings in good agricultural practices, the creation of agricultural clusters, preparation of rice fields, construction of post-harvest storage units, procurement of multipurpose threshers, and a rice processing plant. 

Biochar is a proven solution for increasing productivity of rice farming in Benin while strengthening farmers’ ability to deal with the challenges posed by climate change. All project initiatives aim to promote the development of rice farming and improve the quality of life of farmer families. In the end, Benin’s entire rural population benefits from this commitment to sustainable and resilient agriculture.

"Combining biochar with organic fertilisers has shown promising results, despite the climate challenges. Along with this innovative approach, the project has also helped strengthen local agricultural development and facilitated access to credit for producers. An important step towards a more sustainable and successful agriculture!"
Loukmane Gounou, Technical Assistant for Organisational Development in the Programme d'Appui au Secteur du Développement Rural (PASDeR) 

The Programme d'Appui au Secteur du Développement Rural (PASDeR) is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and implemented by the Swisscontact-LARES consortium.

Entrepreneurial ecosystems
Rural Economic Development Support Programme PASDER
The four departments in the northern part of the country (Alibori, Borgou, Atacora and Donga) cover almost three quarters of the country's surface area and are home to just over a third (33.9%) of the population. According to the Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.485, Benin will rank 167th out of 187 countries in 2016. Poverty has increased at...