Monday, October 17, 2016

New publication: Learning together in the Ayeyarwaddy Delta

A publication of the project "Livelihood and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), features the Postharvest Learning Alliance as one of the approaches used that was able to gather different rice value chain stakeholders to link smallholder farmers to the market. 

The chapter unraveled the mechanisms used by rice stakeholders, especially farmers, to provide an array of technical options and encourage social learning that evaluates technology. 

Click here to read the whole publication. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Laser land leveling introduced to Indonesia’s tidal swamp areas to boost rice productivity

by Reianne Quilloy 
Reposted from Rice Today online 

SOUTH SUMATRA, Indonesia—“Now, I and my fellow students who came here can better help our parents in running our farms,” exclaimed Dulhamid, a high school student at a specialized agricultural school in nearby Tanjung Lago. He was enthusiastically talking about his recent attendance at a demonstration of a laser land-leveling system that could improve the productivity of rice farms in the tidal swamp areas in Palembang and other parts of Indonesia.
Farmers, extension workers, and students in Palembang learn firsthand the basic of laser land leveling. (Photo by R. Quilloy)
Twenty-four farmers, extension agents, and local students attended the demonstration, held 28-29 September. It clearly showed how the technology could become a vital tool for increasing agricultural production while reducing the cost of growing rice and thus encourage its adoption.
One of the challenges that limit farmers’ rice production in Mulya Sari and neighboring villages in Banyuasin District is their unleveled fields. Unleveled rice fields consume three times more water than leveled fields. They also suffer a 5-10% yield reduction due to uneven crop maturation and higher weed infestation. However, traditional land leveling using draft animals or two-wheeled tractors are quite laborious that still leave the field inadequately leveled.
Land leveling using the laser system is faster and more effective in ensuring an even surface. In laser-leveled fields, irrigation water reaches every part of the field thus reducing waste from waterlogging and runoff. Evenly distributed water in rice fields can also control weeds so farmers can reduce their use of herbicides.
The event was organized by Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprints (CORIGAP) project in collaboration with the Assessment Institute for Agricultural Technologies (AIAT).
“Our goal at AIAT is to assess technologies being introduced and make recommendations for the government’s extension arm,” said Budi Raharjo, AIAT researcher and postharvest specialist. “This is part of our efforts to reach our national rice sufficiency goals and an initial step to introduce the laser-leveling technology in the country. It is also gaining a lot of interest in other provinces.”
Caling Balingbing, a scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), conducted the demonstration and provided training on topographic field surveying and operating and maintaining a tractor.
“We want to know more about this technology and the experience of farmers in other countries, said Pak Ruwanto, a farmer from Banyuasin. “We also hope that other farmers in Indonesia can see and use this technology so we can all benefit.”
“We learned how to do the pace method as part of the topographic surveying and I was able to operate a tractor,” added Dulhamid.
During the demonstration, IRRI and AIAT introduced the concept of the Learning Alliance. This is an interactive and participatory activity that brings together different stakeholders to assess and develop ways to optimize the use of new technologies so smallholder farmers can truly benefit from them. The CORIGAP project has been using the Learning Alliance as a platform where different stakeholders with common interests can share and learn from each other’s experiences.
CORIGAP is a 4-year project implemented by IRRI and funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

More Myanmar rice farmers are trying improved technologies to reduce postharvest losses

by Reianne Quilloy

Reposted from Rice Today online 

Myanmar farmers learn about improved methods for drying paddy at a recent Learning Alliance meeting.
(Photo by Christopher Cabardo)
LETPADAN TOWNSHIP, Myanmar –A project that improves the productivity and sustainability of irrigated rice systems continues to engage Myanmar farmers and other actors in using improved technologies that will protect them against postharvest losses. The new technologies are expected to help upgrade the country’s overall rice value chain.
Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprints (CORIGAP) is a project implemented in six countries to improve food security and alleviate poverty by optimizing the productivity and sustainability of irrigated rice production systems. The project uses an interactive and participatory process among farmers, scientists, extension agents, public and private sectors, and other stakeholders—known as the Learning Alliance—to conduct action-oriented research centered on improving the rice value chain for smallholder farmers.
In previous meetings with CORIGAP, most farmers in Gyoe Pin Sakhan village said it takes them 2 to 3 days to dry their rice grains under the sun, a traditional method they usually practice. While sun drying is cheap, it is also unreliable and difficult to control the temperature. They lose up to 7 baskets of paddy if they are unable to dry it to the ideal moisture content for storage. Some farmers opt to sell their paddy right after harvesting due to the lack of storage facilities and drying spaces.
U Tin Shwe is a farmer who has been participating since 2015 in CORIGAP’s Learning Alliance activities organized by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Myanmar’s Department of Agriculture. He learned about different drying options and decided to tap IRRI’s collaborator, the Pioneer Postharvest Development Group, to build a flatbed dryer that could provide farmers with an alternative to sun drying. Locally made dryers ensure the use of readily available materials for easier maintenance and after-sales service.
In a Learning Alliance meeting conducted on 11 September, 25 farmers expressed their interest to assess the performance of the flatbed dryer. Five farmers from the group also volunteered to dry their paddy using U Tin Shwe’s newly built flatbed dryer during the coming monsoon season in October. “We want to assess the benefits related to the use of a flatbed dryer,” one participant said. “Are we going to get a higher price for our paddy if we use the flatbed dryer?”
The farmers were also interested in using GrainSafe™ to store their grains. GrainSafe™ is a 1–ton capacity hermetic storage system that maintains grain viability.
“I appreciate the IRRI team for coming to Letpadan,” U Tin Shwe said. “We hope that IRRI continues to visit us. We are excited to see the trial results. This can pave way for more farmers getting better quality rice.”
CORIGAP activities in Myanmar are funded by the Swiss Development Agency and Cooperation. Similar Learning Alliance activities in Myanmar are also conducted in Maubin Township, through the MyRice, a project funded by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research.

Cambodia assesses new technologies for safe and sustainable rice straw management.

Reposted from IRRI News

BATTAMBANG, Cambodia, 30 April—Cambodian rice farmers will soon have access to sustainable rice straw management techniques that will curtail the air pollution and potential health risks associated with rice straw burning.

The Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), the Don Bosco Agro-Vocational School (DABVS), and the Postharvest and Mechanization Unit of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) organized a technology demonstration event for extension agents, government agencies, the private sector, and NGOs in Cambodia to help promote better options for rice straw management.

The event (photos), conducted at the DABVS model farm, showcased a rice straw baler machine for collecting the straw in the field, spraying urea or Trichoderma fungi to hasten the decomposition of rice straw, and mechanical equipment for chopping and dispersing rice straw into mulch. These technologies drew a lot of interest from the participants. The rice straw baler technology from Vietnam, in particular, opened a possibility of developing business models to add value for farmers on the use of rice straw either as feedstock or for mushroom production.

Another technology aims to transform rice straw into renewable energy. “The huge energy potential that can be derived from rice straw through the use of an anaerobic digester can generate fuel for cooking and electricity for home lighting,” said Nguyen Van Hung, an IRRI postdoctoral fellow working on renewable energy from rice residues. “This technology on anaerobic digestion of rice straw is being piloted at IRRI to generate sufficient data before further delivering it to farmers.”

Sustainable rice straw management technologies are becoming more important as rice farming produces millions of tons of the material every year. “The increase in mechanization for rice production, through the wide adoption of combine harvesters in Cambodia has been a game changer that has resulted in more rice straw being left in the field, especially in intensive production systems,” said Martin Gummert, IRRI senior scientist and head of IRRI’s Postharvest and Mechanization Unit. “Farmers opted for burning as the cheapest option due to a lack of technology for collection and the short turn-around time between cropping seasons that is not sufficient for decomposition before the next seedbed preparation.”

However, smoke from burning rice straw contributes to air pollution that causes acute and potentially serious health problems. “Moreover, burning rice straw in the field brings minimal benefits to the soil with the addition of potassium silica from charred straw and ash,” said Walter Zwick, senior expert on agronomy from Germany, who is helping in the operation and management of the DABVS model farm.

The project team discussed the next steps for Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, which will focus on the promotion of a rice straw baler and further studies on Trichoderma and mushroom production.

The project, Scalable straw management options for improved farmer livelihoods, sustainability, and low environmental footprint for rice-based production systems, is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany (BMZ), which supported the technology demonstration.

Training on reducing postharvest losses conducted

Reposted from IRRI News 

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines— Extension professionals, researchers, and farmer leaders from seven Asian countries attended two weeks (4-15 April) of rigorous training (photo) conducted by the Rice Science Academy at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

In cooperation with IRRI's Postharvest Unit, the training course, Rice: Post-Production to Market, was designed for the participants to learn about different postharvest technologies that can help reduce grain losses and increase a crop's market quality.

“This training is about learning to do things,” said Joseph Rickman, a mechanization and production systems specialist at IRRI. “We gave the right information needed while, at the same time, participants had hands-on involvement in all the exercises.”

The course consisted of exercises and classroom discussions about assessing rice quality as well as actual manual and mechanical postharvest operations (harvesting, threshing, drying, milling, and storage).  The participants visited rice mills, farming communities, and government and private institutions to get a holistic understanding of postharvest processes and how they affect the quality and market value of rice.

Rice markets and business models were presented to reinforce an understanding of the rice value chain and help determine the opportunities to introduce suitable postharvest technologies in different farming communities.

A certification exam gauged the participants’ skills and knowledge acquired during course and to ensure that they can now make informed decisions in measuring losses and identifying appropriate postharvest technologies to reduce losses in their respective countries.

“Postharvest losses in Nepal are more than 15%,” said participant Santosh Tripathi, a rice breeder and agronomist in Nepal. “The practical exercises and lectures equipped me with new skills and knowledge that I can share with my fellow agricultural technicians back home to reduce postharvest losses.”  

Another participant, Mahargono Kobarshi, a researcher at Indonesia’s Ministry of Agriculture and an active partner in IRRI’sCORIGAP  project said, “I found the training very useful. Learning about new technologies such as the solar bubble dryerand visiting different rice institutions and farming communities gave me some direction on how I can help further improve the rice situation in Indonesia.” 

In addition to Nepal and Indonesia, participants came from Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines to attend the course facilitated by Rickman and Martin Gummert, head of IRRI’s Postharvest Unit.

Proper rice straw management may increase Southeast Asian farmers’ income

Reposted from IRRI News

CAN THO CITY, Vietnam—A new German-funded project on using rice straw in an environmentally sustainable way could bring income opportunities for farmers. 

In Southeast Asia, rice straw is a major rice byproduct that is usually burned in the field, a practice that has detrimental effects on the environment and human health.  

A new project, Scalable straw management options for improved farmer livelihoods, sustainability, and low environmental footprint in rice-based production systems, has been launched in the Philippines, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It aims to provide a holistic approach to identify and promote environmentally sustainable options to manage rice straw while improving livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) held an inception workshop on 3-4 March in Can Tho City to lay the groundwork. The workshop gathered major public and private stakeholders from the three target countries and project partners from Germany and project satellite countries such as Indonesia and Thailand. They provided updates on the latest rice straw management research activities and initiated the project's strategic collaborative activities.

According to Martin Gummert, IRRI senior scientist and project coordinator, the project’s main activities include: (1) assessing different straw management options including value adding potential and environmental footprint, (2) building capacity of farmer intermediaries on providing advisory services for best straw management practices, and (3) providing policymakers with information on creating enabling environments for best practices on rice straw management. 

Gummert added, “Engagement with the private sector is important to develop business models on how farmers can make use of the equipment to the most benefit.” 

These activities will be carried out through interlinked outputs focusing on innovative technologies, management options, and business models; the carbon footprint of mechanization; new technologies such as carbonization of straw that producesbiochar; sustainability assessment; and outreach strategies.

The Mekong River Delta produces about 10 million tons of rice straw, 10% of which comes from the rice fields of Can Tho province, according to Nguyen Thi Kieu, deputy director of the Department of Agricultural and Rural Development. “Hopefully, this project will come up with practical solutions to manage rice straw as well as increase farmers’ income,” said Nguyen.

To initiate outreach, the project linking to IRRI’s existing consortia and projects such as the Closing the Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP) project, national initiatives such as the One Must Do, Five Reductions in Vietnam, and Better Rice Initiative Asia.

Prior to the workshop, Nong Lam University and Cuu Long Rice Research Institute (CLRRI) organized a rice straw baler demonstration and a straw collection and management seminar at CLRRI on 1-2 March. Through these events, workshop participants were able to see the equipment in action and exchange views on currently available rice straw management technologies. The field demonstration and seminar were supported by CORIGAP.

Innovative technologies turn rice straw from waste into productive uses

Reposted from IRRI News

CAN THO CITY, Vietnam—Farmers were able to see firsthand the latest technologies that turn rice straw from waste into a useful and renewable resource during a field demonstration at Cuu Long Rice Research Institute (CLRRI) on 1 March.

Although the use of combine harvesters has been a game changer in rice productivity, it leaves behind enormous amounts of rice straw especially in fields using intensive cropping systems. Each year, about 26 million tons of rice straw are left in the vast areas of Can Tho after combine harvesting. Most farmers burn the straw because it is the easiest and quickest method of disposal so that the field can quickly be prepared for planting the next crop.

To give farmers better disposal options, the Postharvest group at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), through theClosing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia (CORIGAP) project, initiated a farm demonstration featuring technologies for gathering rice straw for productive uses. The event was conducted in collaboration with Nong Lam University and the Vietnam National Extension Center.

 “We are pleased to see the progress of mechanized rice production in Vietnam,” said Professor Nguyen Hong Son, director of CLRRI. “This initiative that IRRI started also resonates with our vision to make rice farming environmentally sustainable while helping more farmers.”

Through the demonstration, participants learned more about straw balers, which are machines that collect rice straw scattered across the field. They were able to observe the performance of three locally-manufactured balers and one imported brand. They saw how much straw each baler can collect and how many laborers each baler requires.

A multisectoral forum about rice straw management initiatives in the Mekong Delta was held the next day (2 March). It was locally organized by Vietnam’s National Extension Center led by its director, Phan Huy Thong.

The aim was to discuss how research breakthroughs and extension efforts on rice straw technologies can be improved. The forum attracted extension staff from more than 30 provincial branches of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and extension centers in Vietnam. Representatives from IRRI, private institutions, academe, and research institutes in Cambodia, Germany, the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia also attended the forum.

Another group attending the forum represented the private sector including local manufacturers, feedstock company owners, and farmers. Members of this sector saw potential areas for improvement being mushroom production technologies, feedstock, organic fertilizer, and equipment subsidies.

According to Thong, the forum is in line with the country’s policy direction on the elimination of rice straw burning in the field.

CORIGAP initiated the rice straw collection business model in 2013, which has led to more rice straw-related activities and the establishment of a rice straw management Learning Alliance in Vietnam.

IRRI and German equipment company forge a win-win partnership

by Carlito Balingbing, Joseph Sandro, and Reianne Quilloy
Reposted from Rice Today online

In addition to water, fertilizer is also an important input in rice production on the irrigated lowlands of Asia. But, unlike water, which usually flows naturally for even distribution onto farmers’ fields, the uniform application of fertilizer is laborious and difficult.

Substituting fertilizer for salt and sand. In Europe, the POLARO is used to spread salt and sand for better road traction. In Asia, this lightweight machine can be attached to a four-wheel undercarriage for fertilizer and crop care application. (Photo: Isagani Serrano, IRRI)

Fertilizer boosts rice yield when applied in the right amount and at the right time. Applying it uniformly ensures an even distribution of nutrients to the rice crop. However, for years, uniform application has been a big obstacle for most rice farmers and even on the Zeigler Experiment Station of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. Although fertilizer spreaders are commonly available, they usually are designed for use in large fields pulled by big tractors.

In 2014, an informal meeting between Walter Zwick, IRRI collaborator in Cambodia, and Helmut Lehner, owner and managing director of Lehner Agrar GmbH in Germany, led to a consultation with Martin Gummert, IRRI’s postharvest expert. during which Mr. Lehner made an offer to the IRRI postharvest team to test POLARO, a battery-operated mechanical spreader developed by the German company for applying sand and salt onto highways, but it works just as well for fertilizer distribution on small rice farms. Mr. Lehner donated one unit to IRRI to assess its performance against manual fertilizer application.

“We thought that this mechanical spreader had tremendous potential to help smallholder farmers obtain a uniform spread of granular-based fertilizers in the field,” Engr. Gummert said.
IRRI’s postharvest team measured up to 9% yield increase using POLARO to apply urea and complete fertilizer. (Photo: Miriam Gummert, IRRI)

After three cropping seasons, the postharvest team measured up to a 9% yield increase, with urea (46-0-0) and complete fertilizer (14-14-14), when the POLARO spreader was used. It also took less time to apply the fertilizer using the mechanical spreader. Manual application took approximately 2 hours per hectare, whereas mechanical application using a tractor, running at 2 kilometers per hour, took 1.3 hours per hectare. Another field trial was done for one cropping season in Battambang, Cambodia. Compared with manual application, there was a 5–6% yield increase with the POLARO spreader.

Sealing a win-win collaboration

Armed with the field results and suggestions for machine modifications, the IRRI postharvest team organized a roundtable discussion with Mr. Lehner and his team to tackle collaboration strategies. This led to Mr. Lehner’s commitment to improve the design to make the spreader more compatible for use by smallholder farmers. He also provided IRRI with funding for further adaptive testing of the new version of the POLARO spreader in the field.

Realizing that the utility of the machine could be further maximized, Mr. Lehner’s team developed an additional sprayer applicator for pesticides (herbicides and insecticides), which consisted of a spraying boom, a tank, and a pump that fits the modified frame of the POLARO. As with fertilizer application, the spraying of pesticides in Asia is mostly done manually, with very uneven distribution. This can lead to potential negative effects on the environment and the health of the operators.

Mr. Lehner then sent IRRI a free unit of the new spreader/sprayer, that is, a two-in-one system of a fertilizer spreader and pesticide applicator. This new version is being tested and will be used in field trials in 2016.

Precision farming for sustainability in Southeast Asia

Improved fertilizer and pesticide application reduces waste, emission, and pollution and protects the health of operators and consumers. These benefits are key to IRRI’s quest to develop rice production practices that are more environmentally sustainable than the current practices.

Collaborators in the Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprints project (CORIGAP) in Vietnam and Thailand quickly realized the tremendous potential of the fertilizer/pesticide spreader when briefed on the results from the IRRI farm. CORIGAP aims to close rice yield gaps through environmentally sustainable means.

“For the 2016 rainy season, we want to use the POLARO fertilizer spreader in our treatment fields and compare it with farmers’ fields that employ manual fertilizer application, and then observe its effect on yield and farmers’ income,” said Ladda Viriyangkura, expert on rice inspection and certification from the Thailand Rice Department. “We are also interested in its added use to improve herbicide application,” she continued.

Additional free units donated by Lehner GmbH to IRRI’s partners in these countries will enable further testing of the spreaders under smallholder farm conditions.

Partnership for sustainable rice production

The partnership between IRRI and Lehner GmbH also benefits IRRI’s partners, who are now able to verify another technology for mechanized rice production with their clients and other rice consumers through more sustainably produced rice.

Engr. Balingbing is a senior associate scientist, Ms. Quilloy is a communication specialist and facilitator of the Learning Alliance, and Engr. Sandro is an assistant scientist at IRRI.

Smallholder farmers develop business models for postharvest services

Reposted from: IRRI News

MAUBIN TOWNSHIP, Myanmar –Farmers from rice-based villages have developed business plans for the sustainable use of postharvest equipment and generating income by providing postharvest services to other farmers.

Eleven farmers, representing three farmer groups from Maubin and Daik-U Townships, created practical business frameworks for threshing, drying, and storage technologies developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The plans were formed with assistance from the Department of Agriculture and IRRI's postharvest group.

Through the Learning Alliance (LA), IRRI will lend threshers, solar dryers, and hermetic storage technologies to the farmer groups that will provide postproduction-related services to other rice farmers. The LA is a platform supported by the project, Diversification and intensification of rice-based cropping systems in lower Myanmar (MyRice), and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. The farmer groups will then use the earnings to pay for the equipment through MyRice.

 “If we can prove that the plans we developed are profitable for these farmers, we can use this model to help other smallholder farmers in other regions of Myanmar,” said Martin Gummert, IRRI’s postharvest expert. “MyRice has demonstrated effective postharvest technologies. This is an opportunity to sustain the use of technology that is already tested and found technically feasible. At the same time, this will help other farmers increase the value of their rice by providing access to the technologies.”

Using this approach, which is similar to leasing, IRRI can demonstrate the viability of the business model without the need for an upfront investment. Such an investment is an unrealistic requirement for farmers who have to take considerable risks when trying a new technology.

The farmer groups, which are also LA members, and Dr. Myo Aung Kyaw from the Pioneer Postharvest Development Group, discussed mechanisms to manage the equipment.This Group is one of IRRI’s key partners in Myanmar. They also formed groups to assign roles and responsibilities to ensure proper maintenance of the equipment as well as a practical business plan that provides services to potential clients.

The farmer groups will validate and fine tune the initial business model developed during the April 2016 harvesting season.

Through the LA, MyRice will provide the technical assistance and advice on managerial issues that might occur during the piloting.

“If we can fully develop a business model for at least for one technology, we can use the data as a benchmark to develop more business models for other postharvest technologies that will cater to other interested farmers or farmer groups in Myanmar,” Gummert said.