Friday, January 28, 2011

Growing Rice for Dummies

The people in Madagascar eat incredible amounts of rice each day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner that is. With an average consumption of up to half a kilo per person per day, mostly home-grown, it is no wonder that the country is covered in rice fields, in all regions, and even in the city of Antananarivo.

Personally I am a potato lover, as many of my Dutch compatriots, including Vincent van Gogh who has named his famous painting The Potato Eaters after our 'gastronomical' habit. But having lived for more than twelve years in tropical countries, I can not escape the rice culture. 

While living in Africa and Asia, I must have seen, crossed over, and passed by thousands of rice field in all possible shades of green. But not once have I ever asked myself how rice is grown...

Until this week! 

For the first time with my feet in the rice paddy

I participated in a study visit with my new Aga Khan Foundation project. Twelve farmers and project staff from the Sofia region went to Ambatonradzaka to see a the largest rice cultivation area of Madagascar. The farmers, most of whom had never left their home town, had a blast! And so did I. 

And boy, did I learn a lot. Too much to share on this blog, but here's a crash course on rice cultivation for dummies:

The Rice Rythm in Madagascar

There are roughly two campaigns per year - wet or dry zone, with the following steps:

  • Sowing seeds in the nursery: once sprouted plants are to be transplanted
Sowing germinated seeds
  • Cultivating the nursery: the young rice plants are picked to be transplanted
Girl picking and bundling rice plants
  • Preparation of the land: ploughing to prepare the soil for planting
Ploughing with help of Zubus
Or with help of a machine
  • Water management / irrigation: in the case of wetland rice, the field has to be filled with water
Water leading to various rice field
  • Transplanting (Repiquage): the young plants are transplanted
Planting the rice, usually done by women
  • Growing: rice fields  have to be monitored. For dry zone rice, weeding and spraying may be needed
Spot the difference: rice or weed?
Pesticides are needed, so are gloves!
  • Et voila!

  • And lastly: Harvesting, Processing,  Stocking and Eating 3 times per day!
This is what 80% of the Malagasy people do; year in, year  out. 

Bon appetit! I am going to stick to my potatoes...

The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh


  1. Amazing - I didn't realise there was dry-zone rice. Although, with all of this rain we've been having, is that even possible at the moment?

  2. Ha! Yeah I did not know either. I guess we're never too old to learn something new, hey?

    Dry Zone rice still needs water, but is not growing in a watershed like irrigated rice. Farmers here apparently prefer irrigated rice field, because less dependent on rain fall. Dry zone rice has two major risk: not enough rain, or too much rain!