Thursday, November 24, 2016

Public–private sector partnerships seek to develop mechanization of Cambodia’s agriculture

As part of the ongoing capacity building for mechanization in Cambodia, a rice straw baler
is demonstrated to farmers during a rice straw management field day held earlier this year at Don Bosco, Battambang. 

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, 5 November—Rapid advances and innovations in agricultural mechanization are making it difficult to fully understand how Cambodian farmers might best use these new technologies. Many roles previously held by the public sector in developing and introducing such technologies are being taken over by players in the private sector. However, this development offers opportunities for effective public–private sector partnerships to solve complex problems related to mechanization and postharvest activities.

The Postharvest and Mechanization Group at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been monitoring mechanization trends in Cambodia. Recently, it organized a joint research platform meeting on mechanization, postharvest, and byproduct management at the General Department of Agriculture of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (MAFF).

Key stakeholders from the government, private sector, university, civil society groups, and projects with mechanization activities discussed their current initiatives. They also looked to find ways to move forward, especially with stronger involvement of potential new partnerships tied to IRRI through the RICE program that will start in 2017.

“Labor shortages and the move towards commercializing rice in Cambodia increase the need for mechanization,” said Dr. Meas Pyseth, director of MAFF, during his presentation on the country’s bottlenecks in rice production.

Dr. Bob Martin, director of private Agricultural Systems Research in Cambodia, and Gary Townsend, manager at Harvest Center (Cambodia) Co., Ltd., presented interesting initiatives through public-private partnerships. These include evaluating new machines such as seed drills; drones to assist in nitrogen applications and in surveying as part of land leveling; tractors steered through GPS; and improved disk plows, rotavators, and balers. They see these as part of the trend towards managing large land areas with less labor.

Civil society and universities are also pursuing initiatives on improving technologies that are directly used by smallholder farmers, such as small mechanized sprayers, mulch-based cropping systems, and fertilizer spreaders. One aspect the meeting was the joint interest in looking at new direct seeding options in the context of a systems approach. This involves varieties more suitable for mechanization, minimum tillage, and improved rice straw management.

The discussion showed there are various areas where IRRI’s research could add value to ongoing initiatives and interest of different stakeholders in Cambodia where “mechanization is still young.”

“The meeting provided some direction to stay engaged with technologies already introduced in the country by IRRI,” said Engr. Martin Gummert, leader of the postproduction activities and research of the project, Closing the rice yield gap and reducing ecological footprints. “However, it also touched on new areas of interest to stakeholders.”

The IRRI mechanization group will continue the dialog with ongoing capacity building for mechanization as it has been doing recently through support provided to various partners by Mr. Gerald Hitzler, IRRI-Centre for International Migration and Development expert based at the Royal University of Agriculture in Phnom Penh.

The joint research platform meeting was led by Mr. Hitzler and Dr. Nguyen Van Hung, a scientist in IRRI’s postharvest and mechanization group.

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