Our results showed that men dominate rice production in the study area. Indeed, Kinkingninhoun-Mêdagbé et al.26 observed that there is great discrimination against women rice farmers with regard to access to land in the Republic of Benin. Beninese women are however more involved in latter steps, i.e. the processing and marketing of rice27. The low experience of farmers of southern Benin in rice production, compared to those of other regions, could be explained by a more recent introduction of rice production in this region9. Indeed, Vido28 noted that the production of African rice (O. glaberrima) takes place in central and northern Benin, long before the colonial era. The fact that the majority of surveyed farmers own their rice land positively influence rice production in the study area. Indeed, owning their rice fields allows rice farmers to make long-term investments (such as investment in irrigation technologies), leading to an increase in rice production29,30.
Our study showed that rice is a very important crop for the majority of surveyed farmers, particularly for those of southern region where it is the main crop produced. As perceived by the surveyed farmers and corroborated by FAO statistics, rice production in the Republic of Benin has increased rapidly between 2015 and 2019 from 204,310 to 406,000 tonnes1. However, the number of tonnes of rice produced per hectare declared by the surveyed farmers in northern Benin is significantly lower comparatively to those of southern Benin. This could be explained by the use of fertilizer by the majority of surveyed farmers in the southern region and the high number of weeding practised by these farmers. Indeed, soil fertility and weed management are the main cause of rice yield gaps31. Moreover, the great majority of surveyed farmers in south region were trained by various structures on rice production, which has been shown to have significantly positive impacts on rice yield32. In addition, it is in the southern region that we surveyed the most farmers practicing irrigated rice cultivation, increasing again the productivity33. Therefore, to boost rice production in Republic of Benin it is important to train farmers to the irrigated rice system practices.
Only three rice cropping system were practiced in the study area comparing to the neighbouring country, Nigeria, where five rice production systems have been registered34. However, the dominance of lowland rainfed rice production was also found in many others West Africa countries29, while this system of rice production is highly dependent of the duration of raining season, frequently disturbed in Republic of Benin due to the climate change35. It is known that, the establishment of irrigation systems is a major pre-requirement to attain rice green revolution8. Therefore, to boost rice production in Republic of Benin it is important to train farmers to the irrigated rice system practices and actions such as subsidies allowing the acquisition of equipment for new irrigation and water saving technologies should be strengthened.
The great majority of surveyed farmers practiced rice monoculture. While, it is known that the rice monoculture does not allow maximum use of the potential of lowland soil resources36, and leads over the years to a decrease in rice yield37. Indeed, intercropping rice and pigeon pea or maize significantly increases grain yield of rice, reduce nematode infestation of rice and weed biomass compared to rice grown in monoculture38. Therefore, it is important to train Beninese rice farmers on rice intercropping practices.
Our results showed that traditional rice farming system is widely practiced in northern Benin, and therefore underline the low yields observed in the region. It is therefore important to intensify the action of extension services in this region through the training of farmers on modern production techniques (irrigation, use of inputs, etc.). Linking rice farmers through farmers' organizations or cooperatives is necessary to strengthen their access to information on these modern production technologies, and credit facilities from local financial institutions. Indeed, Van Campenhout39 showed that rice farmers associations play an important role in the dissemination of agricultural information and the adoption of modern agronomic practices. The integrated rice–livestock farming system practiced by some surveyed farmers in the north Benin must be encouraged because this integrated farming system is known to improve household income, food security, and environmental sustainability40. The strengthening of semi-intensive and intensive rice-growing systems can be done through the provision of agricultural machinery to farmers' organizations or cooperatives to facilitate the plowing of fields.
Similarly to Angola rice production system7, a weak mechanization of rice production was observed as the main constraints in all the study area. Indeed, the adoption of agricultural machinery allows an increase in yield and incomes41. This lack of farm machinery combined with the poor management of insect pests and diseases contributes and other factors to low rice productivity in Republic of Benin. Nonvide et al.57 in the municipality of Malanville (northern Benin) also mentioned the importance of agricultural credit as constraints of rice production. Therefore, it is important to set up a formal credit system for rice farmers allowing them to face the various costs related to rice production, such as equipment in agricultural machinery, payment of labour used, purchase farm inputs, etc. Agricultural credit was found as the most important factor to boost rice production in several countries such as Ethiopia42, and Pakistan43.
The use of improved rice varieties is a reality in the Republic of Benin with the majority of surveyed farmers cultivating at least one improved variety. Only improved rice varieties are cultivated by the surveyed farmers in southern and central Benin, suggesting a market-oriented rice production. Indeed, the quality of local rice varieties was not very appreciated by Beninese consumers who prefer long-grain flavoured white rice44,45. Therefore, the improved variety IR841 meeting consumer requirements is now widely cultivated by Beninese farmers9,46. The coexistence of improved rice varieties and local landraces in northern Benin underlines the strong cultural anchoring of local landraces9. Naseem et al.44 noted the low consumption of improved rice in the northwest Benin due to the subsistence living conditions of farmers and inaccessibility of villages due to poor roads.
Older surveyed farmers adopted significantly improved varieties than younger. This could be explained by the fact that the longevity of producers exposes them to more agricultural innovations and therefore to their adoption47. Similarly, the surveyed households having few people adopted more improved rice varieties. Indeed, according to Bruce et al.48, the pressure of the financial burdens associated with large families does not allow them to invest in new technologies such as improved rice varieties. The surveyed farmers using hired farm labour adopted more improved rice varieties probably because improved rice is cultivated on large areas and is labour-intensive than growing local rice. The surveyed farmers who had received training in rice production or who were members of a farmers' association adopted the improved rice varieties more than those with the opposite profile. This is not surprising because it is known that regular contact with extension organizations (government extensions, NGOS, and international institutes), and participation to farmers’ association meetings allow farmers to have information about new technologies such as improved rice varieties and promote their adoption5,47,49. The surveyed farmers with rice as main crop and off farm income adopted more improved varieties. As suggested by Hagos and Zemedu50, alternative income sources allows farmers to acquire the inputs such as seed and fertilizers and hired additional labour necessary for production of improved rice varieties. Indeed, off-farm incomes are an important strategy helping to overcome the financial constraints faced by smallholder farmers51.
Our results show that farmers who practice off-season rice are 12 times more likely to adopt improved varieties. In fact, the shorter growth duration of improved rice varieties allows farmers to produce a second rice crop52. Likewise, the land ownership positively influences and multiplies by 5.83 the adoption of improved rice varieties by Beninese farmers. Indeed, Bruce et al.48 reported that farmers with secure land tenure adopt new technologies because they have the capacity to face losses if the technologies fail. Similarly to Indian rice farmers53 the risk of aversion influenced positively the adoption of improved rice varieties. The positive impact of contact with NGOs could explained by the fact that farmers who have contacts with these extension organizations are likely to hear about improved varieties and thus have more incentive to adopt these new agricultural technologies49. The negatively influence of the membership to farmers association and the contact of surveyed farmers with government extensions on the adoption of improved rice varieties could be explained by the frequency of contacts. In addition, as notified by Anik and Salam54, farmers who are not satisfied by the services of extension agents will adopt less the improved varieties. In Ghana, Bruce et al.48 also found a negatively influence of extension services on the adoption of improved rice varieties. The use of fertilizer was also a negative determinant factor of adoption of improved rice varieties in the study area. This is not surprising because, the use of fertilizers is not required to obtain a good yield, when producing some improved rice varieties55. These determinants of adoption of improved varieties should be taken in account in the formulation of any transfer policy of improved rice in Republic of Benin.