Monday, August 25, 2014

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.

Plan-act-reflect-share

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