In the face of growing pressure on one of Asia's most important food production systems, experts are warning that farmers must get more help to make them more efficient.
Irrigated rice production provides about 75 percent of the world's rice needs, and has a particularly important role to play at the moment as international rice prices are at a 10-year high, while global stocks are at a 30-year low. However, at a meeting in Vietnam of more than 50 rice scientists from 13 countries, the problems facing irrigated rice farmers are being highlighted.
In Vietnam alone, industrial development has caused the loss of 300,000 hectares of irrigated rice land in the past 5 years. There is also increasing competition between rice farmers and industry over water needed for energy production and for access to water from the main reservoirs around Hanoi.
Other problems are the increased migration of farm laborers to cities, the reemergence of rice pests and diseases, and the increasing costs of production and inputs. However, there is also some good news.
Research efforts to help rice farmers boost their production efficiency and rein in their costs are being helped by new scientific knowledge in several key areas, including new technologies to optimize the use of fertilizers and reduce water use.
On 8-9 October, about 60 international rice scientists from 13 countries are to gather for the 3rd Steering Committee meeting of the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC) of the International Rice Research Institute and hosted by the Vietnamese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS). High on the agenda is how to assist farmers with access to irrigation to be more efficient in their production of rice.
Irrigated rice accounts for 80 percent of Vietnam's rice area, and is grown on about 3.4 million hectares, providing about 90 percent of the national production of 36 million tons. Vietnam is the second-largest exporter of rice, exporting 4--5 million tons every year.
For the past 10 years, the IRRC has worked with Vietnamese partners, mainly from VAAS institutes. The research, chiefly in farmers' fields, with the strong involvement of farmer communes, has shown that farmers can increase production by as much as 15% through better timing and a more balanced use of fertilizers. Also, farmers are able to reduce their water usage by 15--20 percent in the dry season and still maintain their rice yields.
Help is also on the way to fight the labor shortage through new methods of land preparation, crop establishment, and drying of the rice crop after harvest. Advances in ecological management of weeds and rats will also assist the farmers in their age-old struggle against these pests.
The IRRC, with major support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, promotes and sustains partnerships between national agricultural research and extension systems and the International Rice Research Institute to help farmers achieve increased profitability, food security, and environmental sustainability. The IRRC operates in the Philippines, Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.
With the consortium nature of this partnership, success stories, knowledge, and lessons learned from other countries can be applied in Vietnam to better manage its natural resources such as water and soil, and help increase and sustain rice productivity for small farmers.
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