Thursday, March 10, 2016

Innovative technologies turn rice straw from waste into productive uses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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