Friday, February 24, 2017

Cambodia and IRRI discuss strategies for increasing the country’s rice production in the next 10 years

Besides visiting the Philippine Department of Agriculture on February 20, His Excellency Dr. Sokhun of MAFF (third from left) also came to IRRI to discuss expanding Cambodia’s seed systems as it is preparing to position itself as a rice exporter. Also in photo are Dr. Ouk Makara, CARDI director; Dr. Hean Vanhan, GDA director general; Dr. Matthew Morell, IRRI director general; Mr. Ngin Chhay, DRC director; Dr. Bruce Tolentino, IRRI head for communication and partnerships; and Dr. Abdelbagi Ismail, STRASA project leader.  
LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—Cambodia is seeking ways to considerably increase its annual rice production in the next 10 years.  This was the focus of the discussions between Cambodia's senior agriculture officials and scientists from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on 21 February at IRRI headquarters.

"The most important priorities for the country right now are the seed systems and varieties that can adapt to drought, flooding, and other stresses caused by climate change," said Mr. Ngin Chhay, director of the Department of Rice Crops at the General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA) of Cambodia.

Dr. Abdelbagi Ismail, the leader of the Stress-tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia project, briefed the officials on “Accelerating the Adoption for Stress-Tolerant Varieties by smallholder farmers in Cambodia (ASTV), a project he also leads and is supported by the United States Agency for International Development.

"IRRI is pursuing this opportunity because of the success and impact these climate-resilient rice varieties had in South Asia,” he said. “Our hope is to repeat this success in Cambodia and see how these varieties can really make a difference for farmers’ livelihoods and food security in the country."

To facilitate the distribution of seeds and the targeting of appropriate varieties to specific environments, IRRI is conducting the Remote sensing-based Information and Insurance for Crops in Emerging economies (RIICE) project in the country. "In RIICE, we monitor the rice areas every season," said Dr. Nasreen Khan, head of the GIS lab at IRRI. "We use radar technology that can penetrate clouds. Every 12 days, we get satellite images to help analyze and map rice production areas. The project also provides estimates of yields in the middle and the end of the season for local monitoring."

Dr. Yoichiro Kato, an agronomist at IRRI, stressed the important role of crop and nutrient management practices for increasing productivity. “Besides improving the seed systems and developing new enabling policies, we also need to improve farmer’s management practices to maximize rice production,” he noted.

Over the past years, IRRI has been working with the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) to not only develop improved rice varieties, but also assess the impact of best management practices with improved rice varieties. On-farm demonstrations of CARDI and IRRI across 192 sites showed that rice farmers can harvest an additional ton when new varieties are combined with best management practices on nutrients and pest control. Moreover, farmers' net income also increased.

"We also want IRRI’s assistance in developing integrated pest management approaches and implement these within the country," Chhay said.  "Cambodian farmers commonly misdiagnose some rice diseases and often use chemical control ineffectively.”

The IRRI-led Ecologically-based Participatory IPM Package for rice in Cambodia project aims to develop site-specific, environment-friendly integrated pest management (IPM) packages for rice farmers in the country.

Postharvest management and technologies are also critical to Cambodia’s goal of becoming a major rice exporter. "Postharvest issues are playing an increasingly important role in Cambodia,” said Secretary of State H.E. Ty Sokhun of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. “We still command a competitive price at the farm level, but our concern is transportation and processing."

Engr. Martin Gummert, IRRI postharvest and farm mechanization expert, shared an overview of how IRRI has been working with Cambodian farmers and industry leaders on different postharvest technologies since 2005. Some of the technologies that have been introduced include combine harvesters, flatbed dryers, laser levelers, hermetic storage systems, and others.

In 2016, the Royal Government of Cambodia and IRRI celebrated 30 years of working together to secure the country’s food and develop its rice sector.

Prior to their IRRI visit, Sec. Sokhun and his party met with the Philippine Department of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol in Manila to discuss and learn from the seed systems in the Philippines and touch bases on trade between the two countries; the Philippines will import rice from Cambodia while Cambodia will import poultry and pork from the Philippines.

The visit was facilitated by the ASTV project. Dr. Georgina Vergara, ASTV scientist based in Cambodia, joined the Cambodian delegation.

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