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Dissemination of sawah rice technology to farmers cultivating inland valleys in Nigeria

Oluwarotimi Fashola1, Oladimeji Oladele2, Joshua Aliyu3 and Toshiyuki Wakatsuki4

1Water Initiative in Nigeria /Hirose Project –IITA Ibadan Nigeria
Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development University of Ibadan Nigeria
Niger State Agricultural Development Project, Bida ,Niger State.

4Faculty of Agriculture, Kinki University Nara Japan


This paper describes an on –going process of technology dissemination to rice farmers cultivating inland valleys in Nigeria. The Sawah rice production technology (Sawah Package) which is an adapted rice production technology system in Asia consists of level field surrounded by bund with inlet and outlet connecting irrigation and drainage canals, row transplanting of improved variety and fertilizer application. The hypothesized Green Revolution in Nigeria and Africa is based on this technology. The joint efforts of Water Initiative in Nigeria –an NGO and Japanese government project in promoting this technology is beginning to be fruitful. The principal extension methods used since inception in 2001 growing season are individual contact, group training and farmer-to-farmer approaches. Presently, the result of the intervention shows that the number of farmers adopting the technology has increased from 5 in 2001 to 83 in 2005 for individuals and group farmers. The average yield of rice increased to 4t/ha compared with 1.5t/ha on non-sawah plots. Similarly the area covered by the technology increased from 0.5 ha in 2001 to 20ha in 2005. The project is embarking on the process of mass adoption for the whole country with its attendant challenges of procurement of power tillers used in land preparation.

Three key learnings: (1) Sawah system enhances soil and water management which is important for sustainable rice production; (2) The Sawah package increases rice yield significantly; (3) The dissemination of the Sawah technology through a participatory learning approach enhances rapid adoption among rice farmers.

Key Words

Sawah Rice Technology, Inland valleys, participatory learning, Farmers, Nigeria


The food sub-sector of Nigerian agriculture parades a large array of staple crops, made possible by the diversity of agro-ecological production systems. Of all the staple crops, rice has risen to a position of pre-eminence. Since the mid-1970s, rice consumption in Nigeria has risen tremendously, at about 10% per annum due to changing consumer preferences. The demand for rice in Nigeria has been soaring which was partly the result of increasing population growth, increased income levels, rapid urbanization and associated changes in family occupational structures. The average Nigerian now consumes 24.8 kg of rice per year, representing 9% of total caloric intake (IRRI, 2001). The demand for rice has been increasing at a much faster rate in Nigeria than in other West African countries since the mid 1970s. Rice is cultivated in virtually all the agro-ecological zones in Nigeria. Despite this, the area cultivated to rice still appears small. In 2000, out of about 25 million hectares of land cultivated to various food crops, only about 6.37% was cultivated to rice. During this period, the average national yield was 1.47 tons per hectare.

Though rice contributes a significant proportion of the food requirements of the population, production capacity is far below the national requirements. To meet the increasing demand, the importation of milled rice was used to bridge the gap between domestic demand and supply. Rice import was very insignificant in the 1960s and early 1970s. However, there was a phenomenal rise in imports since the mid 1970s. However, rice imports began to decline in 1981 as a result of measures put in place to check the importation of the commodity. Even then, the quantity imported on an annual basis was over 300 thousand tons. Therefore there is a need to reduce this food dependency and to accelerate the growth of local rice production. The Green Revolution benefited many Asian countries and helped avoid periods of potential starvation. It ameliorated rural and urban poverty by reducing the cost of production by 30% due to technical improvements and decreasing the price of rice by 40%, resulting from sizeable gains in global production through the late 1990s (FAO 2004)

Dalton and Guei (2003), reported that rice research in West Africa dates more than 65 years ago in national agricultural research programs, when hybridization started in 1951. Collaboration with international agricultural research centers started in the 1960s. Research work took off as adaptive research with the introduction, screening, and testing of technologies developed outside of Africa. This was followed by strategic and applied research aimed at generating new technologies. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria conducted a full range of research on rice in upland, hydromorphic, rainfed, and irrigated lowland ecosystems until 1990 (Malton et al 1998).

Figure 1 shows that rainfed lowland rice production is the most dominant system of rice production with 47% coverage of the total hectarage, followed by upland with 31% but the yield levels of upland rice remains low usually averaging just 1.5ton/ha. The irrigated lowland has 16 % coverage (Fashola et al. 2004). In the same vein, the unit yield of lowland rice is higher than that of rainfed upland. It therefore implies that rice cultivation in lowland is sustainable with higher yield than that of upland because intensive cultivation without fallow can be applied. After several research attempts came the big breakthrough of NERICA technology (New Rice For Africa – NERICA is a cross between Africa rice O. Glaberima and Asia cultivar O. Sativa Akintayo 2004 and Fada 2004). However as Nigerian rice farmers shifted from upland to lowland rice, soil and water management technologies became crucial.

The term Sawah refers to levelled rice field surrounded by bund with inlet and outlet connecting irrigation and drainage canals. The term originates from Malayo-Indonesian. The English term paddy or paddi also originates from the Malayo – Indonesian term, Padi which means rice plant. The term paddy refers to rice grown with husk in Nigeria and West Africa. Most of the paddy fields in the Asian countries correspond to the definitions of the term Sawah. Paddy field is almost equivalent to Sawah for Asian scientist. However, the term paddy fields refers to just a rice field including upland rice field in West Africa. Therefore in order to avoid confusion between the terms rice plant, paddy, and the improved man-made rice-growing environment through ecological engineering the term Sawah has been adopted for use. The Sawah Stages are: Bunding, Flooding (10cm water level), Puddling, Plot settling for 2 weeks if grass fallow, re-puddling and levelling, Transplanting (on ≤2cm water level), Fertilizer application.

Figure 1: Rice production by ecologies in Nigeria

The study on development potential on Sawah based Rice Production in inland valleys in Nigeria was conducted by Japanese scholars based on the fact that rice culture in the regions is basically upland cropping with the traditional method of bush fallow and shifting cultivation. Learning from past failures that resulted from the direct import of modern farming technology from western countries, researchers have now reassessed their approach through better understanding of traditional agriculture in Africa (Hirose and Wakatsuki 2002 and Fashola et al. 2004). Several millions of farmers are actually growing rice in lowlands that are not Sawah based, which is commonly observed throughout Asia. In the past 30 years, research and development policies of research institutes like International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) have paid little attention to the importance of lowland Sawah systems in rice farming on farmers’ field. In order to overcome the problems of low farming productivity and to realize a more intensive and sustainable agriculture, the Sawah system was introduced through on-farm adaptive research in the two research sites of Gara and Gadza inland valleys, located in the Bida, Nigeria in 1986 (Hirose and Wakatsuki 2002).

In the course of the research, three to six t/ha of paddy yield of rice with fertilizers and two ton/ha without fertilizers were attained. Another hypothesis was for one hectare of Sawah to be equivalent to 10 to 15 hectares of upland, assuming that two years cultivation followed by eight years of cultivation for upland rice. The paddy yield of upland rice may be one to three ton/ha with fertilizers and less than one ton /ha without fertilizers (Hirose and Wakatsuki 2002). On-farm adaptive research and participatory trials on Sawah system research were conducted on the research sites for four years ( 1986-1990) by Japanese researchers and IITA staff but there was generally poor adoption by farmers, however, improved varieties were readily adopted but other components of the system were marginally adopted and this led to the reassessment of the technology transfer methodology, which was incorporated in the new project that started in 2001 by Watershed Initiative in Nigeria (WIN 2001). The real efforts for dissemination took of in 2001.


Watershed Initiative in Nigeria (WIN 2001) - a Non Governmental Organization commenced the activities on Sawah based rice production development in 2001 with funds provided by the Japanese Ministry of Education. WIN 2001 has a full collaboration with Agricultural Development Project, (ADP), Ministry of Agriculture, Niger State and with National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI). WIN 2001 has three levels of Sawah based rice production development, namely, ‘Sawah Package’, ‘No Sawah but Fertilizer’ and ‘No Sawah and No fertilizer’. The ‘Sawah Package’ introduces participating farmers to a set of Sawah technology with supply of fertilizer as credit, while ‘Fertilizer but No Sawah ‘is for the farmers or groups to receive fertilizer as credit only. The program of “Sawah Package” includes land preparation by power tiller and guidance on spacing (25cm by 25cm) and fertilizer split application. The preparation is to provide the farmers or group with puddling and levelling operations. WIN 2001 has four power tillers which were grants by the Japanese embassy under grass root grant project. Prior to receiving the service, farmers or groups have to prepare bund at 50 cm height and do other works like weeding and breaking of mounds.

The dissemination of the Sawah package took off in 2001 from villages previously identified in a diagnostic survey. Lowland rice farmers in different villages were contact from where individuals show interest. The volunteer individual farmers were then contacted and encouraged to devote certain proportion of their land for the adoption of the Sawah package. A regular monthly meeting were held in individual villages in rotation. The monthly meeting at the village consist of all interested adult from the hosting village plus some representative from other villages. Discussions were general to specific for example they were allowed to asked questions on any part of their farming problems, fertilizer procurement and use for their crop and more explanation on the Sawah technology. Answers are provided by the farmers and or researchers. Participating farmers used any proportion of their lowland area for Sawah as they deem fit. The individual contact method was reinforced by the fact that some of the farmers had seen, employed and participated on the demonstration farm within the village vicinity. The adoption by individual farmers that have observed the demonstration plots and those contacted with the technology coupled with the need for access to inputs such as fertilizers and power tillers, groups of rice farmers around the villages were organised and the technology was then introduced. The adopters formed the core of the group with ten farmers per group. The groups keep increasing season after season and contacts are maintained with them by the WIN staff. The attendant increase in the rice yield and the ability to use more of the lowland (that had hitherto been abandoned due to their proneness to flood and drought) initiated the farmer - to - farmer approach. After two growing seasons adopting farmers were organised by WIN to inform other rice farmers about the benefit of adopting the Sawah package. This was based on the premise that farmers from neighbouring villages and areas had contacted fellow farmers in the core villages where the demonstration farm took off with a view to participate and adopt the technology. Also, an annual farmers’ field day was done in which farmers, researchers, extension offices, policy makers and other interest group were conducted round various fields in different villages usually at the height of the season when the crop could be most admired. These field days gave opportunities for wider interaction, discourse and an encouragement to the farmers.


Sawah based rice production development started with three individual farmers in three villages with 0.1ha in total area in 2001. The establishment of a demonstration field (1.0 ha) at Ejeti village in 2002 galvanized the project. In 2002 the number of farmers increased in the Sawah Package program and by 2003 the farmers increased to fourteen and in 2004 to eighteen farmers from four villages. Now WIN 2001 is operating the demonstration field for the multiplication of foundation seeds covering 1.5ha. In 2005, the farmers of the ‘Sawah Package’ have increased to 83 from five villages covering more than 20ha area (figure 2). From neighbouring villages rice farmers have applied for participation. All these farmers are from inland valleys. However, there are some farmers who have applied for the participation in Sawah Package programs, who are not from inland valleys but from floodplains (Fashola et al 2005).

Figure 2: Increase in the number of farmers and area cultivated in five years

Figure 3 shows the grain yields on farmers’ fields for different packages in 2004, including farmer’s traditional system. There has been high increase in the yield of farmers adopting the Sawah Package (3 – 5t/ha). Sawah Package (STech) gave the highest yield, followed by Sawah with farmers’ variety (SFVar). Next most productive was Sawah with less or equal to 30kg N fertilization (SLFertz); bunded field (Bunded) without proper levelling gave an average of 2.3t/ha. The lowest yield came from the traditional system (Traditional) with just 1t/ha.

Figure 3: Grain yield across locations and treatments in 2004

(This figure was for 2004 trial in which there were 18 farmers with Sawah. The sum of STech, SLFert and SFVar will give you 18 from 4 villages. The 83 farmers are in 2005 for which the yield results are just been collated).

Constraints identified in the Sawah System included the need for; more trainers on Sawah system development, more power tillers and power tiller operators and maintainers, technology on small scale farm mechanization and its operation and maintenance in Nigeria, and government policy on credit systems for the introduction of power tillers by farmer groups.

Figure 4: Rudimentary Sawah as traditional practice of rice growing farmers in Nigeria

Figure 5: Recommended Sawah plot in Bida Nigeria

The effectiveness of the extension approaches namely individual, group and farmer- to-farmer can be rated in terms of the response of the adoption behaviour of the farmers. These approaches can be delineatedon the basis of time. The dissemination took off with the individual extension systems where farmers which can be describedbeing more heuristic agreed to the adoption of the technology. At a later stage when the feasibility of the technology became evident then the groups were naturally initiated. The evidences of the technology stimulated the farmer-to farmer approach among rice farmers within and between other villages thus expanding the spread of the technology and then the invitation by farmers to WIN staff for coordination. This approach has led to the awareness of the technology than the individual or the group method.


The paper has shown that the dissemination of Sawah package can increase rice yield among farmers significantly averaging 4t/ha. The Sawah system through the leveling and bunding offers the best option for overcoming the limitations of soil and water management due to the utilization of the inland valleys which are reported to be high in fertility that sustains and enhances rice production through puddling, the inlet and outlet canals for irrigation and drainage. The problems of poor soil and water management in rice production can be overcome through Sawah production. The location of the on farm trials and demonstration plot enabled farmers’ participation which led to the trickle-down effect of the dissemination process. Farmers around the demonstration plots were able to learn the application of the Sawah package, which was adopted on their fields from where the technology spread to other farmers and then the neighboring villages.


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