The increase in the cost of agricultural inputs makes farmers look at other options , especially agroecological techniques where spending on chemicals is avoided and natural elements are chosen. The banana sector has also taken this step, as reported by Diario EXPRESO weeks ago, now the sector that turns its gaze to agroecology is the rice farmers.
To date, 370 farmers have learned the technique of planting agroecological rice and next July another 800 land workers will do so in the province of Guayas, the agricultural technical representative of the Prefecture of Guayas, Marino Risco, told this newspaper. who together with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) are working on a campaign to teach how to grow agroecological rice.
Until now, they have worked with some farmers from Samborondón, Daule, Santa Lucía, Colimes and Palestina , Risco indicated.
To date, 370 hectares have been harvested , each farmer first tests one hectare. But, there are some like Atilio Mendoza, from Santa Lucía, who cultivated, harvested and sold 6 hectares of agroecological rice. The last harvest was made a week ago and he has already sold it all at 33 dollars for a 200-pound bag ; the official price for all types of grass is between 32.50 and 34.50 dollars, depending on the length of the grain. What it implies, and this is how the farmer describes it, received a good payment, although it could be better if the authority also puts an official price on agroecological products.
Although there is more profitability. Those who participated in this type of cultivation indicated that they have saved 600 dollars per hectare. “In traditional farming, an investment of 2,300 dollars per hectare is required, and with agroecological farming we have invested 1,700 dollars,” Mendoza said.
He added that among the benefits are that natural substances do not kill good insects such as bees, spiders, locusts and wasps that help control pests. “The program includes working with certified seed and this helped me obtain 80 sacks, each of 200 pounds , per hectare. In the traditional crop, only 65 bags were harvested,” Mendoza emphasized.
Despite all these benefits that the producer has, the price of the product for the final customer will not go down. “You cannot reduce the cost, because agroecological farming demands more work. We have to monitor the crop every day to avoid pests. It does not imply hiring more personnel, it only requires detailed attention to the crop and that meant spending more hours observing, and time is money,” explained Mendoza.
But above all, the benefit for the soil and for the health of the consumer must be valued, because the product is free of pesticides, said IICA ‘s agricultural engineer , Jhony Ruiz, one of the technicians who is working with the farmers.
If this system has so many benefits, why haven’t all rice farmers migrated to using this technique? Some consider that they do not know about the system and others do not see it as a short-term solution, faced with the high prices of agricultural inputs.
“Not all of us know how to grow an agroecological crop . The program is new and I would like to learn, because the supplies are too expensive,” said Danilo Fariño, president of the Samborondón River Mar Association.
While one of the spokesmen for the Santa Lucía rice growers, engineer Jorge Suárez, pointed out that although he is personally going to test the system, he believes that it is complex to produce biols and that now farmers have received help to produce them and that is why they are successful. “We have to see what will be achieved when they have to prepare the biol alone.”
Another limitation for Suárez is to change the way of thinking of farmers, “there are more than 300,000 hectares of rice that are cultivated in Ecuador, therefore to correctly inform and train everyone it would take between 5 to 10 years; because few technicians are training farmers; therefore it is a project with a long-term solution. But he emphasized that it’s good to support what’s green,” he said.
In the past, the rice growers made several marches, because the producer is not paid the minimum support price, approved by the Ministry of Agriculture . And although agroecological rice has now been well paid, for some this is not enough. Therefore, another solution that they are going to apply is to grow corn half the year and rice the other half, so there is no overproduction and the producer can receive a fair payment. “In the city, a pound of rice is sold between 0.40 and 0.60 dollars, which means that the quintal would be between 40 and 60 dollars, while the producer is paid 28 dollars,” added Suárez.
However, there are other farmers who are optimistic about the cultivation of agroecological rice, because by not using pesticides and by reducing the use of urea, they are ready to meet the requirements to export the grass. There are some projects to sell to Colombia and Iran.
Another of the leaders of the rice farmers encouraged by agroecological farming is Jimmy Freire, from Salitre. He indicated that in the coming weeks, in Salitre, some 1,500 farmers will begin to learn how to make bioinsecticides, with the goal of starting agroecological rice cultivation in October. Their motivation is also to lower production costs, contribute to consumer health and improve the environment.
“A seedling is planted every 25 centimeters and not 3”
One characteristic that stands out in the cultivation of agroecological rice is that they plant a seedling every 25 centimeters and not 3 as is customary. “In this way, the plant has space and better nutrients to develop, because it does not compete with another plant so close,” explained IICA engineer Diana Vélez.
He added that this type of crop reduces the amount of inputs such as water, seeds, fertilizers and insecticides.
To prevent the attack of pests, a liquid bioinsecticide (repellent) based on garlic and chili is used; however, at times when there is a plague, synthetic insecticides are used with a minimum of application.
Another characteristic is that the use of urea is reduced, because the excess of this compound over time acidifies the soils, and mechanisms are needed to prevent their degradation. In compensation, liquid biofertilizer (biol) based on urea is applied. organic matter, microorganisms and minerals, and other fertilizers to meet the nutritional needs of the rice plant, according to Vélez.
With this strategy it is possible to lower production costs, through the use of bio-inputs, stressed Vélez.
Among the achievements is also that a healthier production is obtained through the conservation and regeneration of the soil. The goal of the program is to promote sustainable and sustainable agro-ecological agriculture, reducing negative impacts on the environment and thus the recovery of natural resources, said Vélez.