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Agricultural Systems
Volume 178, 2020, 102739

Participatory approach for developing knowledge on organic rice farming: Management strategies and productive performance

Francesca Orlandoa, Sumer Alalia, Valentina Vagliac, Elena Pagliarinob, Jacopo Bacenettia, Stefano Bocchia, organic rice network1, Stefano Bocchia

Università degli Studi di Milano, Department of Environmental Science and Policy (DESP), Via Celoria 2, Milano, MI, 20133, Italy.


Rice is the third grown crop worldwide and responsible of significant environmental impacts. Nevertheless, there is a lack of knowledge concerning the organic rice’ performance and management, probably due to the limits encountered by the reductionist approach in studying complex systems such as an organic paddy. The study proposes a knowledge-intensive and qualitative research methodology based on researcher-farmer participatory approach, with the aim to improve the state of knowledge on organic rice, explore the yield potential and variability, and identify the successful agronomic practices. A wide range of cropping systems placed in North Italy were monitored and analysed during three years by a multi-actor network. Knowledge was generated from collected data and information, integrating the scientific and empirical knowledge on the basis of the DIKW hierarchy and through mutual learning and knowledge sharing tools. The organic rice field proved to be a complex and difficult to predict system, which evolves over the time, under the on-going pressure of the bottom-up innovations, and whose performance depends on many interacting elements. The results highlighted three main knowledge-intensive management strategies, not involving universal recipes but a range of agroecological principles and flexible solutions that the farmers adapt to the time- and space- variability through an active adaptive management. Yield showed a wide variability (0–7t/ha) and normal distribution (median 4 t/ha). The lower, middle and upper quartiles of yield showed a mean of about 2, 4 and 6t/ha, respectively, with high variance associated with upper and lower quartiles. The variability sources related to the management and effectiveness in weed control have mainly determined the productivity gap, “Know-how” (suitability of the chosen management plan), “optimization” (timely and accuracy of interventions) and “seed bank” (previous operations and land uses affecting the weeds dynamics) were responsible of the low yield in 77%, 54% and 31% of the cases, respectively, drowning out the impact of climate, soil and variety.

Keywords: Agroecology, Bottom-up innovation, Farm-led research, Adaptive management, Organic rice, Yield variability.

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