Thursday, 21 May 2015

Rice seed producers reaping the benefit of mechanisation in central Laos

Seed production is an important component contributing to the lowland rice production and food security in Lao PDR and its neighbouring countries. Most farmers use their own seed, and after a few generations the seed quality often becomes poor. Farmers then purchase high quality seed from seed producer specialists if they are available and affordable.

Weed can be removed with rotary weeder from row crops established with transplanter. Hatkhamhien village, Khammouan. Source: Shu Fukai, Project Leader

Rice seed producers in Khammouan Province in central Laos commonly form an association within their village, and work together to improve their operations. They may be considered to belong to the private sector, as their main activities are selling seed to millers. Farmers also grow rice for grain to consume at home, and may sell to other lowland farmers.

Due to the purity and the high quality of seed required for planting the next generation of rice in the field, seed producers commonly use transplanting. They remove weeds and off-type rice manually during the growth periods. However, recent increases in farm labour costs and the lack of labourers is causing difficulty in maintaining the practice of hand transplanting in central Laos. 

An alternative method is the use of a mechanical transplanter to replace the labour-intensive, manual transplanting by hand. The mechanical transplanter is being evaluated by the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute in Laos, and the University of Queensland in Australia, with funding from ACIAR. The project team has collaborated with seed producer associations in three villages in the Khammouan and neighbouring Bolikhamxay Provinces. This has resulted in field sizes doubling and has levelled the land for easy introduction of mechanised rice seed production.

Rice transplanter producing four rows of seedlings; Pakpung village, Bolikhamxay. Source: Shu Fukai, Project Leader

The seed producers were satisfied with the results after they established good crops through transplanting in the dry season of 2014/15. Resources to feed the transplanter for seedling preparation were a concern to the team. However, farmers realised mechanical preparation was much less physically demanding compared with the labour-intensive work of pulling seedlings and transplanting in the field. This also benefits women as they commonly look after the work. Another benefit of mechanical transplanting is the ease of weed control using rotary weeder as the transplanter forms seedlings in rows in contrast to hand transplanting.      

Rice crops have recently been harvested by combine harvester. The team are now evaluating the labour productivity gains and economic benefits due to modification of the rice fields, use of transplanters and combine harvesters. The results are looking promising.


By Professor Shu Fukai, Project Leader

Further information
Details about this project can be found through the ACIAR website:
CSE2012/077 - Mechanization and value adding for diversification of lowland cropping systems in Lao PDR and Cambodia
http://aciar.gov.au/project/cse/2012/077

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