Exploring opportunities for diversification of smallholders' rice-based farming systems in the Senegal River Valley
CONTEXT: Policy-based or technological interventions are more likely to be effective if aligned with farmers’ objectives, constraints, and decision-making processes. OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study was to explore trade-offs and synergies of farming systems in response to innovative rice cultivation activities by understanding current farming systems, main drivers impacting farm management and farmers’ perspectives on rice intensification. Understanding these interrelations is key in rice production areas, where smallholder farmers largely depend on growing rice to subsist. METHODS: A rapid system analysis was conducted interviewing 20 farmers in 4 villages along the Senegal River Valley (SRV) to obtain a general view on farm functioning and farmers’ perspectives on farming systems. A detailed system analysis with four farmers was subsequently conducted to provide an insight into the underlying processes regulating farm management. A multi-objective optimization model was used to quantitatively evaluate and explore farm performances based on four selected indicators representing: rice production, household agricultural profit, household labour and farm nutrient balance. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: The results of this study showed that government programmes and farmers’ Unions were strongly influencing farmers’ decision-making in agricultural production. Farmers also reported that although rice was still essential for their livelihoods, there were transitions towards less rice production in the wet season with short duration rice varieties and more vegetable production. Both farmers’ interviews and the modelling results suggested that farmers would be unlikely to increase or even maintain the area of rice double cropping, which has been strongly promoted by the Senegalese government. Instead, farmers would rather keep investing in vegetable production. SIGNIFICANCE: This modelling study shows the consequences of policy-based and technological interventions for farming systems and may inform both policy makers and farmers in situations where objectives are strongly divergent. Hence, modelling outcomes may be used to inspire discussion and innovation in order to align the government priority of ensuring national food security and farmers’ objectives and constraints in the SRV.