Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Myanmar: IRRI and partners conduct quality rice seed production

The Myanmar Department of Agriculture Research (DAR), Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation conducted a hands-on training on quality rice seed production to improve the capacity of farmers, extension workers from both government and implementing partners, and seed producing agencies to produce quality rice seed that may ultimately increase the country’s rice productivity at Myaungmya Research Farm, Yezin from 29 September to 2 October.

The training was attended by 32 progressive farmers of LIFT A, LIFT B, ACIAR, and USAID projects with IRRI from Bogale, Mawlamyinegyun, Labutta, and Maubin townships; 13 staffs from local institutional partners (WHH, GRET, MercyCorps, Proximity Design, Radanar Ayar); and 3 Department of Agriculture (DOA) staffs. U Myint Aye, DOA district officer and U Htain Linn Tun, Myaungmya Research Farm Manager closed the session and distributed the certificates to all the participants.

The training was primarily aimed for sustainability of IRRI project in the delta region by enabling progressive farmers for seed purification and production for self-sufficiency to marketing through home-scale to community seed bank approach which plays a vital role in subsistence agriculture.

The hands-on training on quality rice seed production was based on principle of “learning by doing” and focused more on practical activities in the rice fields with only one classroom session on rice plant morphology, growth stages of rice, nursery bed establishment, crop management, quality seed production and quality control, and postharvest postharvest handling from seed drying to storage methods, and developing knowledge dissemination and action plans for quality seed production.

Practical demonstrations covered identification of distinct morphological characters of rice plant, seed purity and germination test, dry and wet bed preparation, transplanting, fertilizer calculations, panicle selection, panicle to row sowing, transplanting, rouging at different growth stages, and seed drying and storage.

The inaugural session was chaired by Dr. Romeo Labios, IRRI Scientist in Myanmar with Dr. Khin Maung Thet, IRRI-USAID scientist; and local officers from Department of Agriculture (DOA). U Myint Aye, district officer, and U Tin Myaung Nyein, township staff officer of Myaungmya area, provided the support and collaborated with IRRI in Myanmar.

The training was sponsored by LIFT-A project and Dr. Ye Tun Tun. IRRI-LIFT A team members (Dr. Swe Zin Myint Thein, May Nwe Soe, Sandar Winn, Aye Aye Thant, Aung Myat Thu, and Palal Moet Moet) coordinated and served as resource persons. Dr. R.K Singh, IRRI senior scientist, facilitated the event.

Posted at IRRI News 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

IRRI News: Vietnam: CORIGAP team conducts workshop on environ...

by Reianne Quilloy

The Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprints (CORIGAP) project conducted  a workshop to discuss issues around sustainability and develop means to promote environmentally sustainable practices in rice production in Vietnam. About 40 participants from research, policy and extension, private, and farming sectors attended the Participatory Impact Pathway Analysis (PIPA) workshop in Can Tho, Vietnam on 30 September 30 and 1 October 2014.

The participants conducted several exercises to examine issues and opportunities, identify shared vision towards sustainability, and map the present rice value chain actors in Vietnam. From these, they developed change pathways and strategies where the CORIGAP project could help.

Speaking at the PIPA workshop, Pham Van Du, deputy director of the Crop Production Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, noted the growing challenges Vietnam faces as it increases its rice production to meet the global market demand.

“Recognizing these challenges to sustainably produce high quality rice, establishing strong relationship among stakeholders is important” Dr. Du said. “The bottom-up approach of the PIPA workshop could be an effective method to help us take the steps to reach our target for Vietnam.”

The CORIGAP project is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation which is currently implemented in six major rice-growing  countries in Asia, including Vietnam.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

IRRI News: Thailand: CORIGAP team conducts workshop on the en...

by Reianne Quilloy and Rica Flor

The Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP) project conducted a Participatory Impact Pathway Analysis (PIPA) workshop for 30 participants from 12 different Thai organizations in Bangkok, Thailand on 8-9 September. The workshop is aligned with CORIGAP’s objective to measure environmental footprint rice farming using ecological indicators.

The PIPA workshop is a starting tool to guide the participants in identifying the changes needed to achieve shared goals.  Group exercises were conducted to gain a deeper understanding of how various stakeholders are linked (or not) in the collection of data on ecological indicators, what data they need to collect, and where the project could provide support.  The group formed a learning alliance and identified topics of interest to be discussed and implemented in 2015.

By bringing varied stakeholders together, CORIGAP aims to facilitate coordinated collection of data that can be used to develop policies on optimizing productivity and sustainability of irrigated rice production systems.

“We need to gather ecological indicators to help us identify rice farming practices that are environmentally safe and profitable,” said Mr. Chanpithya Shimphalee, the director general of the Thailand Rice Department.

“It is important to start thinking about sustainability and ecological indicators,” said Dr. Sombat Thiratrakoolchai from the Thai Chamber of Commerce. “Some companies will do everything to meet the demands of foreign markets. We could wait for foreign markets to force us, or we could plan ahead.”

The PIPA workshop was facilitated by Engr. Martin Gummert, Dr. Sarah Beebout, Ms. Reianne Quilloy, and Ms. Rica Flor.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dr. Grant Singleton receives lifetime recognition of excellence in rodent biology

By Trina Leah Mendoza

Dr. Grant Singleton, IRRI principal scientist, was awarded with the Lifetime Recognition of Excellence during the 5th International Conference for Rodent Biology and Management (ICRBM) on 25-29 August in Henan, China. This special honor was given to Dr. Singleton in recognition of his international scientific leadership in rodent biology and his untiring efforts in promoting the ICRBM around the world.

Dr. Singleton “has made major advances in the management of rat damage to rice crops in Southeast Asia, and has championed the need for ecologically based management of pest problems based on good ecological science.”

He continues advancing ecologically based pest management through his work at IRRI, particularly in the Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP) Project, where he is currently the coordinator.

Dr. Singleton presented two papers, reviewing 15 years of ecologically based rodent management (EBRM), and rodent impacts on food security in Southeast Asia. He also delivered the concluding remarks of the conference with Prof. Charles Krebs, world-renowned ecologist.

Other CORIGAP scientists and national partners also presented papers and posters in the conference. They were Dr. Alex Stuart (CORIGAP postdoctoral fellow), Dr. Nyo Me Htwe (postdoctoral fellow, Myanmar), Dr. Sudarmaji and Arlyna Budi Pustika (Indonesian collaborators), and Dr. Nguyen Thi My Phung (CORIGAP consultant, Vietnam).

Around 165 delegates from 25 countries attended the event, which convenes every 4 years. The conference was hosted by the International Society of Zoological Sciences. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

IRRI News: A study on bats begins at IRRI

IRRI News: A study on bats begins at IRRI:  IRRI researchers got their first taste of studying bats in rice field ecosystems in August as part of a col...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thai partners undergo workshop on rodent management and damage assessment

By Trina Leah Mendoza

Alex Stuart (center) shows participants how to identify different rodent species
and determine their breeding condition. Photo by Duangporn Vithoonjit

Rodent damage during postharvest storage was one of the problems mentioned by Thai farmers when scientists from the Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP)
assessed their needs in May 2013. In December 2013, rat and mouse problems were widely reported by farmers, with damage to seedlings in one of the farmers’ fields in Nong Jik Ree Village, one of CORIGAP’s project sites. In other regions of Thailand, reports of rodent damage to rice have been increasing over the last few years, with outbreaks of rodent population recently reported in Central Thailand.

To strengthen the knowledge and capacity of rice researchers in Thailand, 38 staff members from the Thai Rice Department attended a workshop on rodent management and damage assessment on 31 March-01 April 2014 at the Chainat Rice Research Center in Chainat Province. These staff members represented 23 provinces from the north, south, center, and east of Thailand.

The 2-day workshop was led by rodent experts Grant Singleton (CORIGAP coordinator) and Alex Stuart (CORIGAP postdoctoral fellow). Seminars and training sessions were given on ecologically based rodent management and on how to conduct rodent damage assessments. Group discussions were facilitated to understand more about rodent issues throughout Thailand.

Two field visits to CORIGAP treatment plots in Nong Jik Ree Village in Nakhon Sawan Province wereconducted to demonstrate setting up and checking of traps, burrow counts, and damage assessment. The participants also experienced how to identify rodent species and determine breeding condition.

Three rodent species, Rattus argentiventer, Rattus sakeratensis  (formerly R. losea) and Bandicota savilei, were trapped in rice fields and another species, Rattus exulans, was trapped in a grain store at the Chainat Rice Research Center.

Workshop participants are guided on how to set up
rodent traps in the field. Photo by Duangporn Vithoonjit
“We estimated that fresh rodent damage at the ripening stage ranged from 1 to 3% per treatment plot, with an overall damage of about 2% per field site,” says Alex Stuart. “As majority of damage by rats occurs before the ripening stage, studies have shown that damage estimates made at the ripening stage should be multiplied by four to give a conservative estimate of yield loss. We then estimated the yield loss caused by rodents to be about 8%.”

The logistics for the workshop were organized by Ms. Ladda Viriyangkura and Ms. Duangporn Vithoonjitfrom the Thai Rice Department.Two Rice Department zoologists working on rodents, Ms. Urassaya Boonpramuk and Ms. Thasdaw Katenate, provided assistance throughout the workshop, and each presented a seminar on their current research activities.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Postharvest activities to reduce losses ramp up in Myanmar

By Reianne Quilloy, Christopher Cabardo, and Rica Joy Flor
Demonstrating a technology such as the solar bubble dryer requires a hands-on exercise for participants
 to be able to experience and assess the feasibility of the technology. Photo by Reianne Quilloy

Rice production in Myanmar is hindered by inefficient postproduction management and inadequate facilities, resulting in high postharvest (PH) losses and low-quality grains that affect farmers’ income. Initiatives to spread technology options and build capacity of different stakeholders are being led by various projects at IRRI. These include the CORIGAP Project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
and projects funded by the United Nations Office for Project Services and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. These projects focus on stakeholders in the Ayeyarwaddy Region and Central Dry Zone, where more than half of Myanmar’s rice supply is sourced.

Technology demonstrations

Technologies such as the solar bubble dryer (SBD) and flatbed dryer (FBD) were demonstrated in Myanmar. The SBD is a new and portable alternative to dry grains, which uses the sun’s energy even during overcast days and at night. Another drying technology that has been researched and used in other countries
is the FBD. It is a 1-ton-capacity airtight storage system that protects grains from deterioration and quality loss.
Postharvest specialists Yan Lin Aung and Christopher Cabardo explain the principles of the solar bubble dryer. 

IRRI postharvest staff demonstrated these technologies in Maubin, Labutta, Bogale, and Daik-Oo townships to over 200 participants in separate events from November 2013 to April 2014. They were farmers, IRRI staff , staff from local and international nongovernment organizations (NGOs), and government staff from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Agricultural Research. The events featured discussions
on principles of grain quality, drying,and hermetic storage to help participants understand PH techniques to produce good-quality grain. They also learned how to operate the equipment correctly.

Participants also provided the feedback needed to assess technology adaption measures in the communities.
The SBD is currently in the testing and development stage, where feedback such as those coming from Myanmar can help further improve the technology.

“These are simple technologies that can be promoted and integrated into existing programs of the other
organizations that aim to increase farmers’ productivity,” Martin Gummert, CORIGAP’s postharvest expert said.

In the coming months, Engr. Gummert and his team will continue to conduct training and technological
demonstrations in the major rice-producing areas in Myanmar. The team will also complete the postharvest loss assessment trials and farm-level adaptive trials of IRRI Super Bags, a 50-kilogram capacity airtight storage bag, in the near future.
Martin Gummert, IRRI postharvest expert, shows the trainees how to install solar panels
of the solar bubble dryer with the right electrical wiring. Photo by Reianne Quilloy

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Learning cycles continue in Myanmar

By Reianne Quilloy, Martin Gummert, and Rica Joy Flor

Iterative learning cycles involving different stakeholders target learning not only on technical aspects but also
on changing the wider dimensions and values under which farming communities operate. While the key problem is that farmers do not receive good profit from their rice crops, introducing new technologies alone will not be enough since the success of improvements will depend on many actors along the value chain (e.g., traders, seed producers, local manufacturers). Identifying and trying suitable entry point technologies is one
key factor, but helping groups within communities to support these entry points is also essential.

Laying the groundwork

In Myanmar, a village-level learning alliance (LA) approach was used to gather people from various sectors to address a problem in which they have a common interest. LA members in Bogale and Maubin townships wanted to learn about producing good-quality rice for higher profit. They tried using threshers, dryers, or new varieties that are suitable to the area and that will give farmers more time to manage their produce to improve rice quality.

In the first learning cycle in Bogale, the group explored whether setting up a dryer and linking it with an existing communal storage system managed by GRET, a partner nongovernment organization, would work. Private sector partners locally manufactured lightweight threshers and a flatbed dryer for village trials. Topics in the second cycle included training operators, coordinating users, defining the terms for ownership and
equipment use, and orienting millers and traders were topics in the second learning cycle. While the technology has been made available and there is interest or knowledge among users, the LA encountered concerns about additional investment costs, no market incentives for improved rice quality, and much distrust
between farmers and market actors.

The LA members in Maubin were introduced to lightweight threshers and new varieties. Through participatory trials, farmers learned about suitable new rice varieties as options. The goal to improve timing of cropping activities through new varieties and improved quality and selling time to obtain higher profits is yet to be reached.

New topics, new cycles

Farmers interact with wholesale market actors in Wadan.
Photo by Reianne Quilloy
While some learning cycles continue, a new goal is to find avenues to link farmers with markets that could provide incentives (e.g., pay higher prices) to produce good-quality rice. LA members composed of farmers, millers, NGO partners from GRET and Welthungerhilfe, and private sector partners interacted with actors from the local wholesale depot in Wadan and the export wholesale market in Bayint Naung, Yangon, to observe how grains are priced, how trade happens in the local and export market, and to meet people who can make selling to this market an option. Links with members of the Myanmar Rice and Paddy Traders’ Association could potentially help farmers understand how market actors value quality and what other options they have to sell their grains aside from local millers and traders. LA members also learned about possible seed sources and production through a visit to a government-owned seed farm at Hmawbi.


A key part of these iterative learning cycles are facilitated reflections on what happened, what they
experienced, and what resulted for future planning and implementation. From an activity to learn about markets, U Kyaw Ei, a Bogale rice farmer, shared the farmers’ observation that, “rice produced in Bogale is priced the lowest of nine townships trading the same variety in Wadan.” They also noticed that the low price has a lot to do with low-quality grains. The market visit enabled them to connect with agents at the wholesale rice trading center in Wadan. The next step is to try and produce better quality rice and assess how that would work with this new market link.
PhD scholar Rica Joy Flor (standing, right) facilitates a reflection activity among participants. Photo by Reianne Quilloy

For the upcoming cycle, farmer volunteers from the Bogale group will mechanically dry their harvest and
assess the quality. Other farmers who have committed to store their harvest in GRET communal storage will try to sell their produce in the Yangon market. The group from Maubin will try and learn about adjusting timing of harvest by using threshers and short-duration varieties. An LA meeting will be scheduled at the end
of the 2014 monsoon season to reflect and share about this learning cycle.

The village-level LA is supported by projects funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, the United Nations Office for Project Services, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Learning more about Indonesian rice farmers

By Trina Leah Mendoza and Rowell Dikitanan

CORIGAP social scientists interviewed farmers in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in late May to early June 2014 to
learn more about their current rice management practices, market access, gender equity, and women empowerment.

Farming practices, yield, and income

A baseline household survey was conducted in four villages (two treatment and two control villages) in Yogyakarta to document current farming practices, yield levels, income, knowledge and attitudes on crop management options, as well as environmental indicators.

CORIGAP agricultural economist Rowell Dikitanan and plant protection specialist Arlyna Budi Pustika from Yogyakarta’s Assessment Institute of Agricultural Technology (AIAT) coordinated the survey with a team of interviewers composed of officers from AIAT and local extension, and graduates from Instiper University.

A total of 180 farmers were interviewed using a computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) software. Before the conduct of survey, the interviewers were trained by Mr. Dikitanan for them to become
familiarized with the questions and CAPI soft ware. Regular consultations were conducted to ensure collected data were correctly entered and to address problems encountered by interviewers.

Initial results indicate that majority of farmers, most of whom were male, have small rice plots of about 0.09–0.26 hectare. Their average yield ranges from 4.40 to 6.08 metric tons per hectare at 14% moisture content.

Most farmers have adopted a rice-rice-palawija (e.g., corn, soybean, peanut, chili) cropping system. They practice manual transplanting, harvesting, and threshing. Transplanting is usually done by female laborers. During harvesting and threshing, there is not enough labor due to the aging population of farm laborers.

Market access, gender equity, and women empowerment

Dr. Pieter Rutsaert, CORIGAP postdoctoral fellow, conducted focus group discussions with a total of 91
farmers to investigate market access and evaluate gender equity and women empowerment in the CORIGAP project villages.

“In terms of women empowerment at a household level, a good, strong balance exists between husband and wife, and household decisions are made together,” shares Dr. Rutsaert. “At the community level, however, women are not included in main farmer group decisions (such as variety selection), and female farmer
organizations generally do not receive information from extension officers.”

Women have few or no options besides rice farming, although they are open to learn new technologies.
The respondents showed interested in postharvest quality improvement, food processing, and producing nonagricultural products such as batik (traditional Indonesian-designed cloth), but they need access to more knowledge through extension services.

Highlights of farmers’ discussions on market access included the time of selling rice having a big influence on its price. Farmers sell directly to traders, not millers, since milling is a service that farmers have to pay for. Farmers prefer a mobile milling unit that comes to their houses because it is more convenient. The stable milling unit, however, produces more, better quality rice (less broken rice).

Dr. Rutsaert identified opportunities that could improve market access such as improving the drying process to reduce broken grains, and use of airtight IRRI Super Bags for better storage to delay the time of selling until market prices increase. He also recommends strengthening training and extension services to male and especially female farmer organizations, emphasizing the need to organize female farmers and arm them with more knowledge and skills.

Results of these interviews and surveys will guide CORIGAP scientists and national partners in using the best
rice management practices, participatory methods, and science-based tools to raise farmers’ livelihoods and profit in project sites in Indonesia.

Friday, August 1, 2014

IRRI News: Interns study effects of pesticides on amphibians ...

IRRI News: Interns study effects of pesticides on amphibians ...: Four students from Northern Arizona University (NAU), USA, concluded their 7 -week study on whether different forms of pesticide use ...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

RIPPLE January-June 2014 now available

The 25th issue of the RIPPLE newsletter is out now! The January-June 2014 issue presents some highlights of the first year of the Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP) Project. This includes news on the 1st annual meeting of CORIGAP in Vietnam and workshops on rodent management and damage assessment in Thailand and on improving farmer profitability in Myanmar. Progress on postharvest activities and learning alliances in Myanmar are also showcased. Initial results of a baseline survey and group discussions on market access, gender equity, and women empowerment in Indonesia are highlighted. This issue also features profiles on Dr. Nuning Argo Subekti, CORIGAP key scientist for Indonesia, and Prof. Xuhua Zhong, longtime partner of the IRRC and 2014 IFA Norman Borlaug Award laureate. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Video on participatory varietal selection of rice in Myanmar now on YouTube

Rice fields in the lower Ayeyarwaddy Delta of Myanmar are prone to salt-intrusion and floods, and farmers usually do not have access to new high-yielding, short-duration varieties that can withstand these stresses.

The International Rice Research Institute, through the Livelihood and Food Security Trust Fund Project of the United Nations Office for Project Services, has introduced high-yielding varieties for favorable areas and stress-tolerant varieties for the salt- and flood-prone areas to farmers through participatory varietal selection (PVS).

The PVS process was captured in a video titled Participatory varietal selection of rice in Myanmar. This video highlights the PVS steps taken by farmers in Labutta Township, Myanmar, and the experiences and new knowledge gained by some farmers who joined the PVS trials. The video also features the top four selected varieties in the three townships involved in the project in the 2012 and 2013 wet seasons, and in the 2012-13 dry season.

Click here to watch the video. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sowing their choices

by Trina Leah Mendoza
Soe Moe Kyaw’s family was fishing in a different village when Cyclone Nargis devastated their township in 2008. The result was grim. He lost his wife and child, and several of his relatives. After this tragic loss, the remaining members of his family abandoned fishing and turned to rice farming, vowing to always be close to their homes and loved ones in case another catastrophe strikes.

However, their village in Labutta Township is near the Ayeyarwaddy River. During the summer, the water of the river is so low that waters from the sea intrude into the river and the water becomes brackish and unsuitable for growing crops. Rice crops in the village could never survive during the summer. Mr. Kyaw and other farmers in some villages in the lower Ayeyarwaddy Delta can plant only one rice crop a year because of the high salt content in the soil. To make matters worse, the traditional rice varieties they cultivate not only produce low yields but also take longer before they can be harvested. As a result of these conditions, farmers usually harvest an average of only 2.8 tons per hectare, compared with the 4.2 tons per hectare in more favorable areas.

Taking charge of their lives

Replacing the rice varieties they plant is one solution available to Mr. Kyaw and his fellow farmers. But, in the past, the choices were usually limited to a few varieties that were introduced each year by seed companies and government agencies. Most of these were developed through conventional breeding programs and tested at research stations, which do not represent farmers’ fields. Although varietal release systems prioritize some traits, farmers often look for other traits when choosing varieties.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been working with Myanmar’s Department of Agricultural Research (DAR), Department of Agriculture, and nongovernment organizations led by Welthungerhilfe, Mercy Corps, and GRET to provide new options for rice production along the coastal areas of the Ayeyarwaddy Delta. Funded by the United Nations Office for Project Services, the Livelihood and Food Security Trust Fund Project aims to improve food security and livelihoods of rice-producing households, particularly in Labutta, Bogale, and Mawlamyinegyun townships.

The 3-year project introduced farmers’ participatory varietal selection (PVS) of high-yielding varieties for favorable areas and stress-tolerant varieties for salt- and flood-prone areas.

“Grain yield is not the only criterion for selecting rice varieties; we also consider other factors such as the results of grain quality preference analysis and sensory evaluation of PVS,” explains Dr. Glenn Gregorio, deputy head of IRRI’s Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology Division.

Farmers’ choice

Fifteen flood-prone and 12 salt-tolerant high-yielding rice varieties, as well as those that yield well in favorable conditions, were evaluated in researcher-managed fields and compared with the farmers’ variety at six sites during the 2012 wet season, and at 15 sites during the 2013 dry season. A total of 181 farmers joined the PVS preference analysis training in the 2012 wet season. And, in the 2013 dry season, 134 farmers joined a similar activity.

The eating and cooking qualities of the four or five most preferred varieties selected from field performance were then sensory evaluated by 126 farmers in the 2012 wet season and by 123 farmers in the 2013 dry season. Notably, a quarter to more than half of the farmers who participated in each of these activities were women.

“PVS is useful for us because we can now change our old traditional varieties for new ones that are higher-yielding or resistant to pests and diseases and tolerant of stress,” says Soe Oo, a 51-year-old farmer from Min Kone Village.

“At five of the six sites during the 2012 wet season, Saltol Sin Thwe Latt was the consistent choice of farmers because of its good taste, color, gloss, softness, and cohesiveness,” explains Romeo Labios, IRRI’s PVS consultant in Myanmar. “At all sites, Saltol Sin Thwe Latt and Swe Ta Soke had the highest average yield—3.9 tons per hectare.”

Based on yield and sensory evaluation during the 2012-13 dry season, five rice entries produced the best yield, ranging from 3.3 to 4.1 tons per hectare. These are IR10T 107, IR10T 108, IR10T 109, IR10T 111, and CSR 36.

“The seeds of these varieties are being multiplied at DAR in Yezin for the large-scale farmer-managed trials in the 2013-14 dry season,” says Dr. R.K. Singh, IRRI’s senior scientist who is leading the varietal improvement program in Myanmar. “Farmers will receive 5 to 10 kilograms of seeds from three selected new varieties to be planted in larger plots in their fields. To sustain the availability of good-quality seeds in the community, selected farmers will produce seeds on their farms with technical guidance from our project staff.“

Knowledge flows

Aside from discovering new varieties, the farmers also learned better practices for growing their crop, such as direct seeding, proper fertilizer, and weed and herbicide management, through PVS trials. This new knowledge brings changes in old traditions and farmer practices in rice cultivation.

“I learned how to grow salt-tolerant varieties,” says Mr. Kyaw. “For our crops to avoid the harsh salt waters in March and April, we need to plant in December instead of January—one month earlier. If our plot is successful, it will be good for the whole region.”

“This will ensure that their preferred salt-tolerant varieties will be harvested before the salinity of the river becomes too high,” explains Madonna Casimero, IRRI’s representative to Myanmar. She and Dr. Labios believe that adjusting the cropping calendar will allow farmers to plant another crop, one that is more suitable than rice during the dry season. This will help them earn more income.

The benefits of PVS trials have spread to neighboring villages and improved the food security and livelihood of farmers through higher-yielding and stress-tolerant rice varieties of their choice. Best of all, Mr. Kyaw and many other farmers who used to struggle with making ends meet no longer have to leave their loved ones behind in search of a better life.

This article was originally published in Rice Today Vol. 13 No. 1, January - March 2014
View the full issue here

Monday, June 23, 2014

IRRI News: Vietnam: IRRI heads workshop on the future of the ...

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IRRI News: Vietnamese officials visit IRRI for a closer look ...: Thirty-two officials from Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Petrovietnam Fertilizer and Chemical Corporati.

Monday, June 9, 2014

IRRI News: Myanmar: IRRI heads workshop for improving farmer ...

IRRI News: Myanmar: IRRI heads workshop for improving farmer ...: Written by Romeo Labios and Trina Leah Mendoza Partners of   Diversification and intensification of rice-based cropping systems in lowe...

Thursday, May 8, 2014

CORIGAP baseline survey in Thailand goes paperless

Duangporn Vithoonjit, agricultural research officer of the
Chainat Rice Research Center, enters farmer's data directly
into the digital questionnaire.
Photo by Rowell Dikitanan
The Central Plains of Thailand is the main rice bowl of Thailand. In late November 2013, a baseline survey was conducted in key villages in Nakhon Sawan Province. The household surveys provide key baseline information for planned field activities in the central plains region under the Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP) Project.

Rowell Dikitanan, CORIGAP agricultural economist, developed a questionnaire using Surveybe, a computer-assisted personal interviewing software used in collecting data. “A key advantage of using the software is that it allows enumerators to enter survey data during the interview, which reduces the time and cost spent in data encoding,” explains Mr. Dikitanan. “Also, it has real-time validating features, making the data relatively more accurate.”

Aside from questions on farmers’ practices, costs, and income, the questionnaire, designed for CORIGAP countries, has questions on crop residue and environmental indicators (see related story on “Setting environmental indicators”), and on the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of farmers on key rice management technologies.

Mr. Dikitanan and Pornsiri Senakas, chief of the Rice Crop Protection Division, Bureau of Rice Production Extension (BPRE), undertook the survey with assistance from officers from the Rice Department, Land Development Department, Nakhon Sawan Rice Seed Center, Chainat Rice Research Center, and students from Kasetsart University.

The survey team reviews the data collected and problems
encountered after interviewing farmers in a village.
Photo by Estela Pasuquin
Eighty-five farmers from four villages in Takhli District were interviewed, most of whom were female.

Initial results indicate that farmers’ common method of planting rice was by wet direct seeding using a seed sprayer. Most farmers pumped water to irrigate their fields and did not pay irrigation fees. They usually sell all of their harvested fresh paddy to the government and the rest to millers.

Their average household size is four members, who consume about 1 kilogram of rice per day. The area of their largest rice parcel ranges from 2.1–3.7 hectares, with mean yields of 4.5–5.6 tons per hectare.

Mr. Dikitanan is now processing the data from the baseline survey, and will conduct follow-up surveys in the coming years to monitor the progress of CORIGAP activities in Thailand. Tablet computers will be used for survey tools in Thailand and other CORIGAP countries.

By Trina Leah Mendoza and Rowell Dikitanan

Training held on ecological management of pests

Participants process samples from the IRRI fields to assess invertebrate damage.
Photo by Macario Montecillo
Management of rice pests (rodents, weeds, insects, birds, and golden apple snails) needs both a strong ecological and social dimension. A training course on ecological management of pests in rice agroecosystems at IRRI headquarters from 4 to 15 November 2013 brought together animal and plant scientists, communication specialists, and social scientists to share advances in this area.

Seventeen participants came from all over Asia and two from the United Kingdom—a mix of researchers, extension workers, and students. These participants were given the opportunity to acquire knowledge and field skills in (1) applying knowledge of ecology toward managing rodents, weeds, and insects in rice agroecosystems; (2) using the scientific approach to study pest management at a landscape level; (3) applying field and computer technologies that lead to better management; (4) using decision analysis of pest problems, and determining the processes and factors that influence farmers’ decisions; and (5) using the principles for effective transfer of knowledge to end users.

Dr. Alex Stuart demonstrates the identifying features
of a Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) that the group
trapped in the local market.
Photo by Macario Montecillo
At the start of the course, the participants individually presented their current or proposed projects on pest management. After two weeks of intensive lectures and field work, they reported on what they would do differently given what they had learned from the course.

Field activities involved learning to build a trap-barrier system and installing rat traps in the field and in the market, and identifying insect pests and weeds. Participants also experienced bird watching and snail and insect sampling.

Adding a social dimension to crop protection, the participants conducted key informant interviews, focus group discussions, and surveys with farmers, and learned how to do systems analysis. They also practiced developing key messages for identified technologies (e.g., weed management) and thinking of appropriate communication tools and strategies to promote these technologies to target audiences.

“As a trainee, the course has shown me different parts of the agroecosystem that I have considered before but not had a great deal of knowledge about,” says Richard Smedley, a PhD student in bird ecology. “For example, weeds have always been a consideration in my work but I know very little about them. As a resource person, enthusiastic trainees have approached me with questions about birds, and it really shows how some participants are now considering birds in rice fields, their effects, and the ecosystem as a whole.”

Participants learn to construct a rodent trap barrier system.
Photo by Macario Montecillo
The course is on its third offering since 2007. It was organized by the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium and supported with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation through the Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP) Project.

The course was co-convened by Grant Singleton, rodent management expert and CORIGAP coordinator, and David Johnson, weed management expert and head of IRRI’s Crop and Environmental Sciences Division. Charles Krebs, a world-renowned ecologist and professor, joined IRRI scientists as a resource speaker.

Completing the team of IRRI resource speakers were Finbarr Horgan (insect ecology and management), Bhagirath Chauhan (weed ecology and weed science), Alexander Stuart (ecology and management of insects, rodents, and snails), Rica Flor (cultural and social impact assessment), Trina Mendoza (science communication), and Richard Smedley (bird ecology).

By Trina Leah Mendoza

Capturing farmers’ practices in Myanmar’s rice granaries

Farmers transport 45-day-old rice seedlings by boat for
planting in Bogale, Ayeyarwaddy Delta.
Photo by Arelene Malabayabas
More than 60% of Myanmar’s total rice production and half of its rice harvest area are located in the Ayeyarwaddy region and the Central Dry Zone. Some areas are highly favorable with freshwater all year, but generally, the lack of inputs and poor knowledge of best practices for rice production lead to substantially lower yields than comparable delta areas  elsewhere in Asia. Other areas are flood-prone and affected by salinity or drought.

Based on household surveys, more than 50% of farmers in Ayeyarwaddy and West Bago in 2006, and East Bago in 2012, used insecticides, whereas very few farmers used fungicides, rodenticides, and herbicides.

IRRI is now working with national partners and nongovernment organizations to raise the livelihoods of rice farmers and reduce risks in rice environments in these regions. Through the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT) projects funded by the United Nations Office for Project Services, best pre- and post-harvest management practices, and different rice varieties will be provided as options.

Baseline surveys were conducted to find out the current rice management practices, and income and costs incurred in rice production of farmers at project sites. These surveys will serve as a guide in monitoring and evaluating the impact of the projects.

Surveys were conducted in farming households in freshwater, brackish water, and saline areas in Bogale and Mawlamyinegyun in the lower Ayeyarwaddy Delta, and in saline- and drought-prone areas in irrigated and rainfed areas in Thazi and Ye-U in the Central Dry Zone. A total of 240 respondents were interviewed.

Arelene Malabayabas, agricultural economist of the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium, led the survey with assistance from staff of the Department of Agriculture, Department of Agricultural Research, and IRRI-Myanmar office. Ms. Malabayabas trained them in collecting, cleaning, and analyzing data.

IRRI Myanmar researcher So Pyay Thar interviews a farmer
in Meiktila Township, Mandalay, in the Central Dry Zone.
Photo by Arelene Malabayabas
Initial results in the lower Ayeyarwaddy Delta
Most farmers in Bogale and Mawlamyinegyun grow rice for family consumption. The mean cultivated areas for rice in both townships were 1.9 and 4.2 hectares in the monsoon season and  2.7  and 3.1 hectares in the summer season, respectively. Farmers from the saltwater-prone areas cannot grow rice during the summer.

In both townships, rice yield is higher in the summer. The average yield in Bogale is 2 tons per hectare in the monsoon season and 3.7 t/ha in the summer. In Mawlamyinegyun, the average yield is 2.6 t/ha in the monsoon season and 3.4 t/ha in the summer.

The use of material inputs is very low for both townships due to farmers’ lack of capital. During the monsoon, 70% of Bogale farmers directly seed their rice crop, while 87% of the farmers in Mawlamyinegyun transplant rice. In the summer, all of the farmers in Bogale and 94% of the farmers in Mawlamyinegyun practice direct seeding of rice.

A bullock cart passes by a golden stupa, a place of worship
in Myanmar.
Photo by Arelene Malabayabas
Initial results in the Central Dry Zone
The average area cultivated for rice in Thazi in the Mandalay Region during the monsoon season is 1.2 hectares for saline areas and 1.6 hectares for nonsaline areas. Farmers in Thazi are not able to grow rice in the summer due to drought and salinity problems. In Ye-U, Sagaing Division, the average rice farm area during the monsoon is about 1.2 hectares for rainfed fields and 1.9 hectares for irrigated areas.

All the farmers in Ye-U and 92% of the farmers in Thazi transplant their rice crop. Aside from rice, Thazi farmers grow chickpea, green gram, groundnut, and sesame, while farmers in Ye-U grow only chickpea and groundnut.

During the monsoon, the average yield in rainfed freshwater areas in Thazi is 1.8 t/ha, whereas the average yield in Ye-U is 4 t/ha in irrigated areas and 3.4 t/ha in rainfed areas. In the summer, rice yield in Ye-U is 4.4 t/ha.

“We will return toward the end of 2014 to conduct follow-up surveys to monitor changes in practices and the income of farmers,” says Ms. Malabayabas.

By Arelene Julia Malabayabas and Trina Leah Mendoza

Strengthening participatory learning in IRRC projects in Myanmar

Participants involved in a game to introduce value-chain concept.
Photo by Chris Cabardo
The Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC) facilitates exchange of learning among various stakeholders. It continues to do so in different projects in Myanmar through impact pathway workshops and village-level learning alliances.

PIPA workshops
Two Participatory Impact Pathway Analysis (PIPA) workshops were held: one in Bogale on 11-12 July and another in Maubin on 2-3 December 2013. These were attended by representative farmers from project villages, village leaders, extension institutes, NGOs, millers, and local manufacturers.

The PIPA is a guided exercise in which participants from different sectors identify the underlying causes of a shared problem: farmers not producing a rice crop with good quality and selling it with good profit. Participants then examine opportunities, formulate their visions of success, and map the network of people in the value chain relevant to the community. Coming from various sectors, they interact and discuss sometimes-differing views. They then bring together what they found out and make explicit possible change pathways to overcome the problem. Lastly, they identify strategies for the project to facilitate change for different groups in each pathway.

In the past, PIPA workshops in Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines helped to raise awareness and guide promotion and dissemination strategies of an IRRI postharvest project funded by the Asian Development Bank. By anchoring the analysis at a community level in Myanmar, the IRRC hopes to gain more from this participatory process to reach stakeholders and support wider uptake of suitable technologies. Beyond developing impact pathways for the introduction of new technologies, it also helps to generate ownership for project activities, new initiatives, and co-funding.

A group representative shares the change pathways identified by the private-sector group.
Photo by So Pyay Thar
Learning alliances established at the village level
At the end of each PIPA workshop, participants discussed forming a village-level learning alliance for activities on specific topics. The learning alliance is composed of members of a multistakeholder network that will identify, share, and adapt good practices.

The learning alliances started focusing on improving quality and linking with better markets. Different groups explored options for suitable rice and pulse seeds; threshing, drying, and storing grains; and better links with millers. According to IRRI postharvest specialist Martin Gummert, “Alliances at the village level will provide an open and flexible platform for sharing, allowing for faster feedback on what works or does not to a wider network of actors from different stakeholder groups.” It can also serve as a coordination mechanism to link various stakeholders implementing different but related activities.

Learning alliance members examine the flatbed dryer in Kyee Chaung Village during a demonstration.
Photo by So Pyay Thar
Learning alliance meeting
In December 2013, the learning alliance in Bogale met again to monitor the first round of activities planned in July. By then, a mechanical dryer unit had been installed successfully in Kyee Chaung Village. Initial discussions on business model and coordination on joint use had been started by small groups within the alliance.

The event opened with a demonstration of the mechanical dryer and discussion on how it operates. In the learning alliance meeting, 46 participants who were NGO staff, millers, male and female farmers, as well as project staff joined. They were divided into two groups: dryer operators and users. The operators discussed their technical questions on operations with IRRI scientists and the dryer manufacturer. They also discussed management issues. The users discussed interest in using the dryer, particularly with the target of making the service available to farmers in eight surrounding villages. They also discussed initial fees to sustain dryer operation, options so that farmers will have an incentive to dry and get higher quality grains, scheduling and coordination on use, and information needs.

For the next learning cycle, farmers from Kyee Chaung will try drying mechanically, storing in different ways, and then examining the results. GRET, a key NGO partner in the village, will help coordinate some activities. There will also be training and orientation for operators and millers, and a learning activity on moisture content before milling. These aim to help alliance members learn about good-quality rice and encourage price incentives for it. The learning alliance will meet again in the next harvest season to update and review what happened.

These participatory activities in Myanmar are in support of the LIFT and ACIAR projects to involve a wide stakeholder network and obtain support for technology change and impact.

By Rica Joy Flor

Setting environmental footprint indicators in rice production

CORIGAP coordinator Grant Singleton discusses yield gaps.
The Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP) Project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation aims to increase the productivity of irrigated rice systems while reducing the environmental footprint. An environmental footprint, according to Oxford Dictionaries, is the “impact of a person or community on the environment,” or the demand on resources in the environment.

Rice’s environmental footprint, or demand on the environment, includes land use, water use and quality, energy, ecological systems, and soil quality. However, for the Project to know whether it is successful in reducing rice’s environmental footprint, indicators need to be identified. An indicator is a standard measurement: it represents an environmental process that can be monitored over decades. Indicators at the farm level could be profitability and efficiency in the use of water, nutrients, fuel, and pesticide. At the landscape level, indicators could be water quality, biodiversity in plant and animal populations, global warming potential, salinity, and others.

A workshop on setting environmental footprint indicators relating to rice farming ecology was held on 18 November 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand, one of CORIGAP’s partner countries.

Mr. Chanpithya Shimphalee, director general of the Thailand Rice Department, gave the opening remarks. Fifty participants from different bureaus of the Rice Department, government offices, Chainat Rice Research Center, Nakhon Sawan Rice Seed Center, Kasetsart University, and IRRI, attended the workshop. Grant Singleton, CORIGAP project coordinator, presented an overview, plans, and progress of the project as well as the draft environmental footprint indicators for Thailand.

IRRI environmental scientist Estela Pasuguin summarizes
 environmental indicators in rice production
Estela Pasuquin, IRRI environmental scientist, summarized rice production environmental indicators at the farm and landscape level. After the discussion of appropriate indicators in rice farming ecology, the participants were grouped to select priority indicators. Two groups included soil and water as part of the priority environmental footprint indicators. One group suggested prioritizing all the indicators since they are interrelated.

Ruben Lampayan, CORIGAP key scientist for Thailand, and Alex Stuart, CORIGAP postdoctoral fellow, discussed the work plan for Thailand in the upcoming dry season, including protocols.

By Trina Leah Mendoza

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Vietnam: Project on closing yield gaps assesses progress in first year

Rice scientists, extension specialists, and other key partners from six countries gathered on 18-21 February 2014 to discuss the progress and plans of the Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP) Project.

CORIGAP is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

“This meeting is important, as the CORIGAP Project aims to increase productivity through new technologies while diversifying sources of income,” said Le Hung Dung, leader of the Can Tho People’s Committee, in his welcome remarks.

“CORIGAP builds on the results over the past 16 years of the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC), through which most countries involved increased their rice production,” said Carmen Thönnissen, donor representative and SDC senior advisor with the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. “The component technologies developed through the IRRC are now integrated through CORIGAP.”

“CORIGAP’s objectives are aligned closely with the mission of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) of IRRI,” said Grant Singleton, CORIGAP coordinator. “We aim to reduce poverty, improve health, and reduce the environmental footprint of rice production through strong partnerships with national agricultural research and extension systems.”

Pham Van Du, deputy director general of the Department of Crop Production of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, gave a presentation on the VietGAP and Small Farmer-Large Field (SFLF) initiatives of Vietnam. Participants also visited farmers’ fields involved in SFLF and in the use of rice straw for mushroom production.

Key IRRI scientists and national partners from China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam presented about their activities and results for 2013, plans for 2014, and challenges and opportunities.

Presentations also covered research progress and plans on the development of a field calculator, communication, market chain issues, postharvest issues, environmental indicators, and learning alliances.

“As CORIGAP develops, we will see more country priorities come through,” said David Johnson, GRiSP Theme 3 leader and IRRI representative on the CORIGAP Advisory Committee, during the open discussion. “This is a great chance for a science-based approach to make better changes for the future.”

The meeting was hosted by the Can Tho People’s Committee and the Can Tho Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The international advisory committee of CORIGAP also attended the meeting.

By Trina Leah Mendoza

The Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC) and CORIGAP—a closely integrated partnership

Food security and environmentally sustainable production of lowland irrigated rice are a high priority in most Asian countries. Therefore, it is not surprising that several different partnerships and consortia are tackling
these crucial issues. How then does the new project, Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP), link with other different regional initiatives?

The CORIGAP Project builds on technologies and practices developed by the IRRC over the past 2 decades that aim to reduce postharvest losses (Photo by Matty Demont).
The Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC) has been a flagship for promoting cross-country learning
and collaboration in Asia since 1997. The lead funding agency for the IRRC until 2012 was the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the tremendous effectiveness of the consortium across economic, sociocultural, capacity-building, and research disciplines has been objectively reviewed by Rejesus, Martin, and Gypmantasiri (see RIPPLE January-June 2013).

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), through the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), continues to provide strong support for the IRRC. SDC is now funding CORIGAP, a program of activities that builds on the platform provided by the IRRC. Other regional activities that are taking advantage of the IRRC umbrella are the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP), initiatives on Good Agricultural Practices for rice (Rice GAP), new projects on rice cropping systems in Myanmar, and linkages with the Agricultural Competitiveness Project of the World Bank in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. The SRP has strong stewardship from the United Nations Environment Programme and IRRI.

In Asia, the IRRC continues to play a strong role in facilitating research and development on rice-based cropping systems and, in particular, fostering cross-country learning across many scientific disciplines and development initiatives. And, CORIGAP is a new major program of research that builds on the local country partnerships and new rice production technologies developed over the past two decades by the IRRC.

In this article, we have covered many acronyms and different programs on research and development. The sea of acronyms may at first appear confusing, but the IRRC provides an effective platform for integrating many different initiatives. The IRRC platform therefore adds value and provides efficiencies through promoting partnerships across many countries and diverse partners. To try to make the interlinkages clearer, we provide a graph that shows how each of the programs/projects relates to others.

We are at an exciting phase of cooperation that strengthens regional partnerships. These cross-discipline partnerships are essential if we are to ensure regional food security over the coming decades while promoting
environmentally sustainable rice production in the food bowls of Asia.

The IRRC is not an exclusive club—it is open to whoever wishes to be part of the exciting journey that we are on. Please contact us if you wish to explore how you can become part of the team.

By Grant Singleton