Rice production is important for global food security but given its large water footprint, efficient irrigation management strategies need to be developed. Expansion of rice growing area is larger than any other crop in Africa due to increasing demand for rice. Three rice irrigation management alternatives with the system of rice intensification (SRI) were field-evaluated against the conventional continuously flooded system (CF) in Tanzania. Production systems included: (1) CF (50 mm ponding depth for the entire season); (2) SRI (40 mm ponding for 3 days and no irrigation for next 5 days); (3) 80% SRI (80% of the SRI ponding); and (4) 50% SRI (50% of the SRI ponding). Experimental evaluation of the four systems was conducted for both wet and dry seasons. For the dry season, the SRI and 80% SRI produced higher yields of 9.68 tons/ha and 11.45 tons/ha and saved 26% and 35% of water, respectively compared to the CF (8.69 tons/ha). The yield advantage of the 80% SRI and SRI over the CF was less during the wet season with 6.01 tons/ha and 5.99 tons/ha of production, and water savings of 30% and 14%, respectively compared to the CF (5.64 tons/ha). The 50% SRI had lowest yield of all for both seasons, 7.48 tons/ha and 4.99 tons/ha for the dry and wet seasons, respectively. Statistically, the 80% SRI treatment outperformed all other treatments over the two seasons with an additional yield of 1.57 tons/ha and 33% (345 mm) water savings compared to the CF. Economic productivity of water (US$/ha-cm) over two seasons was highest for the 80% SRI ($20.27/ha-cm), while it was lowest for the CF ($12.89/ha-cm). Water saved by converting from the CF to the 80% SRI (1.98 million ha-cm) can support a 50% expansion in the current rice irrigated area in Tanzania. Even without irrigation expansion, the 80% SRI can increase rice production by 1.5 million tons annually while enhancing water availability for industrial and environmental uses (e.g., ecological preserves) and help achieve food security in Tanzania and the greater sub-Saharan Africa.
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