Thai 'smart' farmers lead drive to boost production

business September 14, 2014 01:00

By The Nation

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Two provinces part of project on improving crop standards

Two Thai provinces where rice production is considered “insecure and vulnerable” by officials are being targeted for inclusion in a study project working to improve crop standards of rice farmers throughout the region.
The Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in partnership with the Ministry of Education, is engaged in studying sustainable intensification of rice involving “Smart” farmers of Thailand in part of regional project.                                              [Smart farmers are local rice farmers selected for their skills who work as managers and lecturers to provide their community with counseling, servicing, collecting of information, and reporting problems in crop production.]
The project in Thailand is being implemented in six districts of the two food insecure provinces, Uttaradit and Surin. Both have been identified by the National Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Mapping System (FIVIMS) and have been selected by the Ministry of Education .
The project is also working in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, under one umbrella funded by the European Union (EU) as part of a global programme on agricultural and research for development.
The project is led by the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Oxfam, SRI-Rice of Cornell University, the University of Queensland together with the local ministries, and NGOs.
The food security challenges of rainfed smallholder farmers in Thailand  were reviewed during a regional inception and planning workshop at AIT in Pathumthani in April 2013. It was suggested that smallholder farmers’ capacity building and empowerment based on the “Sufficiency Economy” concept of the His Majesty the King was necessary.
The main points included development of knowledge and capacity of farmers to produce high quality rice using low inputs and at a low cost. The focus was on conservation of natural resources. Diversification of the rice farming system – integration of vegetables, legumes and other locally available options – along with reduced input use for cost saving were suggested as among the options to strengthen smallholder agriculture development.
Two season-long training projects – the Central Farmer’s Participatory Action Research (CFPAR)- were staged from March, one in Surin and one in Uttaradit provinces. In Surin, the three districts Srikhoraphum, Chumphon Buri and Tha Tum were selected and in Uttaradit, the districts of Tron, Pichai and Ban Khok.
Thirty farmers – 10 Smart farmers from each district – studied rice cultivation. The activities included collection, compilation, analyses and interpretation of the data.
In a recently conducted CFPAR meeting, the Smart farmers harvested the crop and final analysis was carried out involving local ministries which overwhelmingly showed that system of rice intensification (SRI )principles could save 20 per cent in cost of production and input, and yet provide a higher yield up to 30 per cent, compared to conventional rice cultivation.
As a follow-up to this CFPAR, the Smart farmers are now engaged in experimenting with SRI principles for healthy and profitable crops. They have set up 24 field experiments in the Famer’s Participatory Action Research (FPAR) in the 2014 wet season in all six districts.
The experiments range from reduced seed rates, water management, fertiliser management, and varietal response – all under the broader umbrella of SRI principles and practices based on the need and choice of each community.
The local offices of the project are based in Tha Tum district in Surin and in Tron District in Uttaradit which is managed by the Department of Non Formal Education Surin and Vocational Training Development Centre Uttaradit.