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