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Garbanzo, G.; Cameira, M.D.R.; Paredes, P. Mangrove Swamp Rice Production in Guinea-Bissau. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 16 April 2024).
Garbanzo G, Cameira MDR, Paredes P. Mangrove Swamp Rice Production in Guinea-Bissau. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 16, 2024.
Garbanzo, Gabriel, Maria Do Rosário Cameira, Paula Paredes. "Mangrove Swamp Rice Production in Guinea-Bissau" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 16, 2024).
Garbanzo, G., Cameira, M.D.R., & Paredes, P. (2024, March 06). Mangrove Swamp Rice Production in Guinea-Bissau. In Encyclopedia.
Garbanzo, Gabriel, et al. "Mangrove Swamp Rice Production in Guinea-Bissau." Encyclopedia. Web. 06 March, 2024.
Mangrove Swamp Rice Production in Guinea-Bissau

Rice (Oryza sativa L. and O. glaberrima) is one of the most important staple foods on the Asian, African, and American continents. The rice crop grows primarily in the humid and seasonally dry tropics of the world, in most cases with irrigation or freshwater harvesting systems. The mangrove swamp rice production (MSRP) refers to rice cultivation in former mangrove soils that have been anthropogenically modified for rice production in west Africa.

soil salinity West Africa tropical polders Oryza spp.

1. Rice Production Systems in Guinea-Bissau (GB)

Rice in GB is produced in several ecologies with diverse techniques of cultivation. The less productive rice system is located in the uplands in former forests or savanna woodlands after slash-and-burn, and less frequently under palm oil groves (Figure 1). The degree of crop association is quite variable, as are the lengths of the crop–fallow periods [1][2]. Upland rice is known in GB as “N’pam-pam” or “arroz de lugar” (in the Kriol language) and is a rainfed production system. The sowing of N’pam-pam is usually carried out after the first rains of the year, as the production period is limited by rainfall and soil water availability [3]. Previously, within the total land area used for rice cultivation (14.7% of the country’s agricultural area), upland rice accounted for only 37% [4][5], while MSRP and lowland freshwater production (“Lalas” in Kriol) accounted for the remaining 63% [4]. However, the expansion of cash crop cultivation areas, particularly cashew, in recent years has led to a drastic reduction in the area occupied by the upland rice system [1].
Figure 1. Rice production systems (RPSs) of Guinea-Bissau.
The other rice production systems, in contrast, are carried out in the lowlands and include two different traditional systems of rice swamp cultivation, called in Kriol “bolanha doce” (inland freshwater swamp fields) and “bolanha salgada” (mangrove swamp fields). The local term “bolanha” refers to the fact that rice is cultivated with a permanent depth of water (permanent flooded paddies) until or almost until the end of the rice cycle. The freshwater swamps where rice is cultivated are located in inland valleys where there is a shallow water table or an impermeable soil layer that allows water storage and thus assures freshwater harvest [6]. This system is characteristic of north-eastern GB and is essentially performed by women belonging to the Fula and Mandinga ethnic groups, who plow with a hoe after burning the grasslands and do not usually build dikes [7]. In the other regions of the country (Cacheu, Oio, Quínara, and Tombali), men from other ethnic groups (such as the Balanta, the Manjaco, the Felupe, the Nalu, and the Beafada) can also produce freshwater swamp rice in wet savannah grasslands (”lalas” in Kriol), but using a long plow (“radi” in Kriol) with which they build dikes, ridges, and furrows [8], improving freshwater management. Freshwater rice production systems do not present salinity constraints and fields are usually far from mangrove forests. This rice production system accounts for approximately 10% of the 63% of the rice cultivation area that includes lowlands and saltwater plots [4]. In some areas of the Bafatá region of eastern GB, supplementary irrigation is used, with water being pumped from the river or using gravity-based drainage systems.

2. MSRP and Typologies of Fields

In the coastal areas near the mangrove forests, we can find the “bolanha salgada” rice paddies (MSR fields) (Figure 2 and Figure 3). This system is characterized by the former presence of mangrove forests, which over the years have been invaded by the tides that now cover part or the whole area of the rice fields. Farmers slash the mangroves, build a main dike to prevent saltwater intrusion and create plots of land for freshwater storage by dividing the area with bunds, which have been described in the previous literature as secondary dikes [9]. Coastal ethnic groups use these locations due to their high rice productivity compared with the uplands and inland swamp valleys. At the top of the weak slope that links the villages to the mangroves, there may exist a grassland area (“lala” in Kriol) where rainwater accumulates naturally due to the existence of a depression. As previously mentioned, farmers can use their MSRPS techniques to create “bolanha doce” (freshwater swamp rice fields) associated with the mangrove rice swamp fields, which have higher fertility and fewer weeds, but also salinity issues.
Figure 2. Some characteristics of the “bolanhas” of the mangrove swamp rice system (MSRPS) of Guinea-Bissau.
Figure 3. Plots of mangrove swamp rice production system in mangrove of Elalab, Guinea Bissau. (A) Village (Tabanca), (B) fish production plot in the Felupe/Baiote system (Orike de pisca), (C) Associated mangrove (bolanha doce), (D) Tidal mangrove (bolanha salgada), (E) New mangrove plots (bolanha novo), (F) Mangroves (tarrafe).
The rice fields which result from the destruction of the mangroves and that are periodically invaded by the tides are called in the literature tidal mangrove fields (bolanha de tarrafe in Kriol), while the upper fields where only the brackish groundwater induces soil salinity during the dry season are called associated mangroves (bolanha de metadi in Kriol, meaning ‘middle swamp fields’) (Figure 2). This part of the rice fields generally has weed species with low salinity tolerance and a wide diversity of grasses from the Poaceae family during the rainy season [10].
At the upper end of the associated mangrove area are the old swamp fields (“bolanha belhu”); these can be abandoned due to low fertility or cultivated with short-cycle upland rice varieties for the hungry season when there is land scarcity (namely, in Oio among the Balanta ethnic group). Farmers frequently abandon these plots because their productivity is very low and they do not provide sufficient returns on labor investments. The creation of new plots is triggered by decreasing fertility and, in the long-term, the occurrence of a desertification process (i.e., degraded land resources) [11]. Evidence of desertification problems has long been observed in the Casamance region of Senegal [9], which borders GB’s Cacheu region, where areas of low fertility and high salinity predominate. This highlights an inherent sustainability problem as producers fail to replenish nutrients depleted by crop growth through the incorporation of weeds and rice stubs during plowing. As farmers strive to sustainably meet their families’ rice production self-sufficiency needs, they are compelled to create new plots where they can achieve higher rice yields. Then, within each category, farmers from the northern, central, and southern regions divide the plots based on specific characteristics that increase their fertility and rice yields.
A possible cause of desertification in the abandoned mangrove swamp rice fields (“bolanha behlu”) is sodicity (Na+ accumulation) and loss of soil organic carbon concentration [11]. Some authors have suggested that the osmotic effect observed in the plants is due to a combination of salinity, iron toxicity, and soil acidification in the hydromorphic soils of GB [4][12][13][14][15][16]. Nevertheless, this is not sufficiently proven, as the literature does not provide data demonstrating concentrations of sulfur (S) and iron (Fe) in the first horizon of the plots’ soil. Some studies conducted specifically in mangrove soils indicate the presence of acidity caused by sulfuric acids, but this information refers specifically to soils previously covered by mangroves [14][15][17][18][19]. On this basis, it is possible that soils with significant concentrations of toxicity (such as Na and Fe) and acidity (SO3) occur predominantly in new mangrove fields (bolanha novo in Kriol) and to a lesser extent in older fields of the tidal mangrove area (bolanha de tarrafe in Kriol). This is due to their proximity to soils still covered with mangroves and their status as newly created sites for MSRP.
The scientific categories of tidal mangrove and associated mangrove fields are linked to the relative influence of the tides and of the brackish groundwater on rice production [16][19][20]. Likewise, Guinea-Bissau farmers categorize tidal mangrove fields within different sub-classes based on their specific age, function, fertility level (empirically assessed), and location in relation to the mangroves and the village (Figure 2 and Figure 3). Although all tidal mangrove fields could be called “bolanhas de tarrafe”, at present farmers apply this concept to only the highly fertile lower fields near to the main dike and the mangroves where high concentrations of salts can be found. The recently opened tidal fields of “bolanhas de tarrafe” where mangrove roots and stubs can still be found and which thus cannot be plowed are called new swamp fields (“bolanha novo” in Kriol). In these plots, there are generally no concerns about soil acidity due to sulfuric acids in the first soil horizons [18]. This is attributed to the extensive oxidation process in the soil profile, which leads to the formation of pyrite, resulting in the release of sulfuric acid (SO24) and H+ through the oxidation of Fe2+. Additionally, over time, leaching of anions and cations to deeper soil horizons occurs [16][21]. The new swamp fields (“bolanha novo”) are the newest areas where farmers start planting (or directly sowing highly salt-tolerant rice varieties) 3 to 5 years after slashing the mangroves and building a main dike; this period is needed for rainfall to leach salts, thus naturally reducing salinity and toxicity caused by seawater cations. These are the most fertile locations among all the plots of the paddies [10]. However, these are the only sites that suffer from acidity problems caused by sulfuric acid due to their limited exposure to oxygen and leaching of cations and anions [18]. The start of ploughing of the "new bolanha" also depends upon the dominant mangrove species, as roots constitute physical barriers, mainly those of Aviccenia germinans and Languncularia sp. that take longer to rot [22].
There are two less common sub-categories of tidal mangroves, primarily used among Felupe and Baiote ethnic groups in some northern islands of GB (Figure 2 and Figure 3), known as “Nhatabas”, and “Ouriques de pisca”. The “Nhatabas” (called “ilhas” by the Balanta) are tidal mangrove fields (“bolanhas de tarrafe”) in terms of the soil physicochemical properties, located on remote islands, requiring the use of canoes for the transport both of workers and the rice harvest [23]. Finally, the fishing dikes (“ouriques de pisca” in Kriol) are ponds surrounded by dikes, reserved exclusively for the reproduction and growth of fish [24] (although they might have been former rice plots). Farmers facilitate the entry of saltwater, shrimps, and fish into these ponds by opening drainage pipes made from palm trunks [19][25].
In some villages, there is also an “associated terrace” (cabeça de bolanha in Kriol, meaning ‘head of the rice swamp field’) covered by wet or dry grassland. In the upland savannah woodlands/grasslands surrounding the households, where cattle, pigs, and goats roam, some farmers sow their rice nurseries at the beginning of the rainy season. Farmers can also use the mangrove fields to create nurseries, as in the south of GB, or more seldom perform direct sowing, as in southern GB (the Balanta ethnic group of the Cafine region and the Felupe/Baiote ethnic groups of the Cacheu region).

3. Areas and Yields

The official international statistics [26][27] show that in the past 60 years, total rice production in GB has been on an upward trend (Figure 4). However, these statistics are based upon rough estimates for the entire country. According to FAO and the World Bank estimates [26][27], rice production was lower in the 1960s and 1970s than in the most recent decade [28]. In the past 10 years, the average total area under rice cultivation in the country was 112,564 ha, with an annual average production of 180,749 Mg of rice. This is in line with the estimates of the African Union, which currently forecasts an approximate production of 182,544 Mg for the period 2010–2020 [29]. A similar increasing trend can be observed in relation to the area of rice harvested [26][27]. This indicates an active and strong expansion of rice production areas, despite the continuing dependence on rice imports [26]. This is likely to be due to a combination of factors, ranging from the active rebuilding of mangrove swamp rice fields’ infrastructure after the liberation war (1963–1974) and the expansion of new planting areas with higher soil fertility and water availability [30][31].
Figure 4. Smoothed conditional means plots of the harvested area (ha) and national production (Mg) of rice from 1961 to 2022 [26].
The rice yields in GB exhibit considerable temporal and spatial variability, the latter depending on the region and the rice production system. Table 1 shows the rice yield reported in several studies about rice cropped in upland locations and MSRP fields. The results show that the MSRPS outperforms the upland rice in all studies, with differences ranging from 15% to 60%. These differences indicate that the yield of the diverse rice production systems in GB is extremely different, largely due to the strong differences in agro-ecological characteristics between upland, inland valley, and MSRP fields.
Table 1. Rice yields in upland and mangrove swamp system (MSRPS) reported in the literature.

4. Rice Crop Species and Varieties

Two species of rice plants have been identified in GB since colonial times, Oryza glaberrima and O. sativa. The first is a species native to Africa, where farmers have been domesticating and selecting varieties for 2000 and 3000 years [33][37][38][44]. In contrast, O. sativa is a species native to Asia and was introduced by the Portuguese and/or the Arabs during the colonial period in the 17th century [44][45]. These species have significant advantages and disadvantages in terms of their adaptability to the MSRPS (Table 2). The main reasons for their adoption are their productivity (sensu lato), their adaptation to social and cultural factors, and their tolerance to biotic and abiotic factors [41][46]. Over the years, farmers in GB have selected varieties from both species with the most suitable organoleptic and agronomic characteristics.
Table 2. Characteristics of Oryza glaberrima and Oryza sativa reportedly used for rice production systems in mangroves in West Africa.
A significant number of rice varieties have been reported in GB over the past 70 years (Table 3). These varieties possess genetic characteristics of the O. sativa and O. glaberrima species, and even of interspecific hybrids [47]. The literature reports a total of 54 varieties (both farmers’ varieties and “improved” ones) identified in MSRP (Table 3) over the past 12 years [42][45][46]. There is a wealth of information that still needs to be thoroughly explored to accurately determine whether different names correspond to the same rice varieties and whether the same name can correspond to different varieties. This is a challenge the country faces due to its wide diversity of ethnic groups with completely different languages, making it difficult to properly identify varieties.
The wide diversity of rice varieties in GB (Table 3) is the result of continually being selected based on farmers’ changing needs over time. The vast majority of farmers do not carry out mass selection before harvesting the grain to be used as seed for the next cropping season, and farmers permanently access and adopt seeds of new varieties through informal channels. Furthermore, natural interspecific hybrids as a result of spontaneous cross pollination have been found in smallholders’ fields [48]. Varieties are usually adopted by farmers based on agroclimatic conditions (soil physicochemical conditions, climate), post-harvest quality, and nutritional considerations [7][46][49]. Various local criteria are used when selecting rice varieties, including (a) nutritional quality and post-harvest characteristics (duration of digestion time, swelling capacity during cooking, taste, difficulty in threshing, processing characteristics (de-husking), time required for a given volume of rice to be fully consumed) and (b) both phenotypic and genotypic traits of the variety (growth cycle, yields, salt tolerance, plant height, tillering capacity, flood tolerance, drought tolerance, susceptibility to lodging and shedding, susceptibility to pests and diseases) [7][46]. In most villages, these two main sets of criteria are used, with the first category having more weight than the second. Furthermore, these criteria may vary depending on the topographical characteristics of the plots and the cultural practices in different villages across the country.
Table 3. Rice varieties’ common names reported in the literature for Guinea-Bissau from 1948 to 2023.
Rice varieties may be classified based on the crop cycle duration: short-cycle varieties (>90 days after sowing (das)), medium-cycle varieties (115–125 das), and long-cycle varieties (>135 das) [20][37][42][44][45][46][51]. This depends primarily on the rice species, as O. glaberrima varieties tend to have a shorter growth cycle compared with O. sativa varieties [33][39][53]. Nevertheless, comprehensive data on phenological stages, the temporal intervals between these stages, the quantification of phenological stages based on cumulative growing degree days, and other pertinent factors are still missing. Understanding the phenological stages of these rice varieties and growth cycles is crucial for developing more precise agronomic recommendations. Therefore, rice varieties in GB lack comprehensive life-cycle characterization, particularly because there is limited evidence for defined phenological stages and growth durations.
As shown in the analysis above, rice varieties cultivated in GB have significant genetic variability. Therefore, genetic and agronomic studies are both essential to identify and fully characterize the local varieties used specifically in the MSRP agroecosystem. This information will support adequate agronomic recommendations in times of socio-environmental changes, particularly in terms of water scarcity and salinity issues.


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