Thursday, March 10, 2016

Proper rice straw management may increase Southeast Asian farmers’ income

CAN THO CITY, Vietnam—A new German-funded project on using rice straw in an environmentally sustainable way could bring income opportunities for farmers. 

In Southeast Asia, rice straw is a major rice byproduct that is usually burned in the field, a practice that has detrimental effects on the environment and human health.  

A new project, Scalable straw management options for improved farmer livelihoods, sustainability, and low environmental footprint in rice-based production systems, has been launched in the Philippines, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It aims to provide a holistic approach to identify and promote environmentally sustainable options to manage rice straw while improving livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) held an inception workshop on 3-4 March in Can Tho City to lay the groundwork. The workshop gathered major public and private stakeholders from the three target countries and project partners from Germany and project satellite countries such as Indonesia and Thailand. They provided updates on the latest rice straw management research activities and initiated the project's strategic collaborative activities.

According to Martin Gummert, IRRI senior scientist and project coordinator, the project’s main activities include: (1) assessing different straw management options including value adding potential and environmental footprint, (2) building capacity of farmer intermediaries on providing advisory services for best straw management practices, and (3) providing policymakers with information on creating enabling environments for best practices on rice straw management. 

Gummert added, “Engagement with the private sector is important to develop business models on how farmers can make use of the equipment to the most benefit.” 

These activities will be carried out through interlinked outputs focusing on innovative technologies, management options, and business models; the carbon footprint of mechanization; new technologies such as carbonization of straw that produces biochar; sustainability assessment; and outreach strategies.

The Mekong River Delta produces about 10 million tons of rice straw, 10% of which comes from the rice fields of Can Tho province, according to Nguyen Thi Kieu, deputy director of the Department of Agricultural and Rural Development. “Hopefully, this project will come up with practical solutions to manage rice straw as well as increase farmers’ income,” said Nguyen.

To initiate outreach, the project linking to IRRI’s existing consortia and projects such as the Closing the Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP) project, national initiatives such as the One Must Do, Five Reductions in Vietnam, and Better Rice Initiative Asia.

Prior to the workshop, Nong Lam University and Cuu Long Rice Research Institute (CLRRI) organized a rice straw baler demonstration and a straw collection and management seminar at CLRRI on 1-2 March. Through these events, workshop participants were able to see the equipment in action and exchange views on currently available rice straw management technologies. The field demonstration and seminar were supported by CORIGAP.

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