USAID is helping Dominican farmers increase rice yields while protecting the environment
Rice is a Dominican staple. It can be found on virtually every restaurant’s menu in the country, and most Dominicans eat it every day.
“Rice is Dominicans’ favorite food,” says Juan García, a rice farmer from Montecristi.
Rice is also part of a growing agricultural market in the Dominican Republic. There are about 30,500 rice farmers in the Dominican Republic, and almost 250,000 people work in the production, processing, and marketing of rice. Rice production is a key contributor to the local economy in the northwestern region, where Juan lives.
Unfortunately, conventional rice cultivation in the area has been harmful to the environment and a contributor to climate change. One rice crop, which takes four months to grow, requires a significant amount of water, and many farmers used excessive fertilizer and pesticides to protect it. These pesticides would then contaminate nearby rivers.
After the harvest, farmers either burned the leftover rice stalks to produce the next batch, which released carbon dioxide, or allowed the stalks to rot, which released methane. These unsustainable growing practices were also not producing strong yields or profits for local rice farmers.
In the Montecristi province, these practices endangered the biodiversity of the Estero Balsa Mangroves National Park, which is home to more than 200 species of flora and almost 90 species of crustaceans, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. They also threatened four species of mangroves, which protect the area from hurricanes by absorbing damaging winds and preventing floodwaters from flowing further inland.
“We produced rice, but the results were not what we expected,” Juan explains. “We didn’t have a lot of experience and didn’t know how to manage the water properly. We were doing a lot of harm and were unaware of how our practices were affecting the environment. We used excessive space and resources but produced less.”
Realizing that he needed help with his farm, Juan reached out to Freddy Payton, the executive director of AgroFrontera. Around the same time, USAID partnered with Counterpart International under the Integrated Marine Ecosystems Management project. Under this project, AgroFrontera supports the USAID’s sustainable rice program. The purpose: to develop and teach environmentally friendly farming techniques that help both farmers and the local ecosystem.
As a result of this USAID program, farmers have been cultivating more conscientiously. USAID has helped 74 rice producers adopt sustainable practices on their farms, which cover more than 5,500 hectares of land (21 square miles) on the outskirts of the Estero Balsa Mangroves National Park. With USAID’s support, farmers are in the process of becoming internationally certified.
The sustainable rice production techniques reduce the need for fertilizers by up to 35%, and farmers are also less reliant on pesticides. This reduces chemical pollution in the agricultural runoff that flows into nearby streams, the principal source of freshwater for mangroves.
Reducing farmers’ need for fertilizer also helps keep costs of production down at a time when fertilizer prices have been driven up by Putin’s war in Ukraine. The Dominican Government has had to subsidize these agricultural tools and produce to keep prices steady.
The farmers using these new techniques have started to see improved yields on their crops, resulting in higher earnings.
“This technical assistance has allowed us to produce at maximum capacity,” Juan says. “We’re harvesting better-quality rice, the soil and the water are conserved, and we’re taking care of the fish.”
Even rice producers who are not in the program have seen how the project has benefited the trained farmers.
“These producers are evaluating their costs and learning that their production costs are above ours,” Juan shares.
USAID’s efforts have brought relief to farmers, who depend on rice production. For Juan, “rice is what guarantees the livelihood for my family.” He, along with other farmers, have started selling their rice to bigger companies in the country.
“Farmers are the main engine that moves the food industry in the Dominican Republic,” Juan says. “If we can produce higher yields and reduce our [environmental] contamination, we are helping our children and grandchildren have a better future.”
About the Author
Brenda Silverio is the Social Media Specialist at USAID’s Mission in the Dominican Republic.