Thursday, March 23, 2017

Role of mechanization in sustainable rice production highlighted during international exhibit

Martin Gummert, IRRI's postharvest and mechanization expert,
talks about the impact of mechanizing rice harvest. 

BANGKOK, Thailand— “There is a need to mechanize the rural areas to increase productivity as that is a key driver for change in the rice sector,” Dr. Bas Bouman, the director of a global partnership platform for making rice research more effective in meeting development challenges.

The leader of the CGIAR Research Program on Rice (RICE) made the statement at the AGRITECHNICA Asia, a trade fair for agricultural machinery and equipment held at the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Center on 15-17 March.

Bouman, an expert on sustainable agricultural development and food security at IRRI, presented IRRI’s mission to combat poverty, food security, health and environmental issues, and promote sustainable rice production.

“Mechanization should benefit farmers to have a better life and income and make good quality rice available in the market,” he said. Bouman also rallied the audience to take part in the sustainable rice platform in order to help small farmers maintain productivity while minimizing the environmental and social footprint.

Bouman was joined by his colleagues who discussed other issues at the exhibit’s series of seminars on the role of mechanization in sustainable rice production. Engr. Martin Gummert, IRRI’s expert in postharvest technologies, presented the advantages and drawbacks in mechanizing rice harvest (in photo).

“The rice combine harvester is a game-changing technology that made wetter grains available in big volume at harvest seasons putting pressure on the traditional postharvest system, especially grain drying,” he said.  “Combine harvesters solve the problem of labor shortage and harvesting cost can be lowered by up to 60%.

“However, unlike manual harvesting, combines leave rice straw in the field causing new problems,” Gummert added.

For every 4 tons of rice grain, 6 tons of straw are produced. In Asia, this amounts to about 550 million tons of straw.  Farmers usually dispose of the rice straw by burning or by incorporating the byproduct into the soil.

“Both practices of burning and incorporating in the field have adverse impacts on human health and the environment through smoke and greenhouse gas emission, respectively,” said Dr. Bjoern Ole Sander, a climate change specialist at IRRI, as he discussed the effects of a changing climate on rice production and the environmental impacts of farmers’ practices in managing the rice straw after harvest. Sander proposed a combination of limited straw incorporation combined with the straw collection and off-field use as a climate-friendly alternative.

Dr. Nguyen Van Hung,  a research scientist working on rice postharvest and byproduct management at the institute, also provided workable options in managing the massive amounts of rice straw from the use of combine harvesting and how farmers can earn additional income while ensuring environmental sustainability and protecting the health of people in the community.

“We are using life cycle assessment of different rice straw management practices to help identify sustainable straw management practices and provide recommendations to policy makers,” he said.

Engr. Carlito Balingbing presented the numerous advantages of laser-assisted land leveling technology and the many benefits that small rice farms have gained since it was introduced by IRRI in Asia in 1996. Laser land leveling is a climate-smart agriculture practice that helps conserve resources while increasing yields and farmers’ incomes. The benefits from a laser level fields include efficient water use, better weed and nutrient management, uniform crop maturity, among others.

The current trends in contract farming and the different strategies for promoting sustainable rice in the market through appropriate packaging and labeling were covered by Dr. Matty Demont, the lead of IRRI’s market and value chain research team.

“Survey results from Vietnam on customers’ preferences show that there is a market for sustainably produced rice,” he concluded. “It is very encouraging to observe that urban Vietnamese consumers are willing to pay price premiums up to 30% for sustainably produced rice when the product is accompanied by information on its production standards and traceability.”

The seminars led to enthusiastic discussions between IRRI and other organizations.

“We will develop further projects related to sustainable rice production using the updated information on rice straw management,” said Dr. Juejan Tangtermthong, the regional advisor on monitoring & evaluation at Better Rice Initiative Asia.

Dr. Mayling Flores Rojas, an agricultural systems mechanization officer at the Food and Agricultural Organization, also expressed interest in developing collaborative activities with IRRI, particularly in mechanization and postharvest technologies.

The AGRITECHNICA seminar series on the role of mechanization in sustainable rice production was organized by the German Agricultural Society (DLG) in collaboration with IRRI’s Postharvest and Mechanization Unit and GIZ through the ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood System.

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