Dr Grant Singleton presents for the MyRice team. Photo: Reianne Quilloy (from IRRI)
The staple of Asia is an irresistible subject of research, especially in Myanmar, which has only recently been exposed to the technological and agricultural developments in much of the rest of the region. Here, rice is both a staple in terms of income, and a primary food source.
Leader of the MyRice project Dr Grant Singleton says Myanmar’s farmers can benefit hugely from basic educational changes in the way they harvest their crops.
“Just understanding things like nutrient management, knowing when to apply fertilisers, knowing the benefits of investing in inputs and how they can then lead to much larger returns on investment,” he says.
Many rice farmers also grow pulses, and did not understand how to store monsoon rice crops before focusing on pulse harvests.
“If you don't thresh and dry your rice within three days, then the quality drops very rapidly,” he says.
“We've found if you introduce these best management practices for post-harvest management of rice, we can save losses of between eight and 15 per cent. But more importantly you also provide better quality rice.”
It’s immediately obvious how such measures can and do improve livelihoods; the farmers involved in this project have been able increase their incomes by around 30 per cent, or about US$330 a year. But as is often the case, close interaction with the farmers is key, as is practical interactions among different villages.
“It was a very clear message that [farmers] need to see [new practices] first,” he says.
“And not only see it and for us to see results, but hearing from their farmer counterparts…We got farmers from one region and took them to another one and vice versa. We also took them to main rice trading floor, so to speak, in Yangon, the main market, and there they could see for themselves that if you do put focus on quality rice, and different types of rice, you could get premium pay point.”
The project has now reached more than 10,000 Myanmar farmers, and has led to the formation of a Learning Alliance platform enabling farmers, millers, traders and other stakeholders of the rice value chain to share experiences and exchange information.