The future of rice farming among the nations of the Mekong | Asia Pacific

The future of rice farming among the nations of the Mekong

The future of rice farming among the nations of the Mekong

Updated 12 May 2014, 7:21 AEST

Agricultural scientists are meeting in Cambodia with regional policy-makers to improve rice farming in the Mekong region.

Convened by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, it caps ACIAR's five-year rice research programme with a focus on Laos, Cambodia and Bangladesh.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Dr Mike Nunn, Research Program Manager for Animal Health, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

LAM: The emphasis of the Phnom Penh event I understand is to talk about findings from ACIAR funded research. Is this with a view to changing the region's policy settings for rice farming?
NUNN: Yes, we've  invested about 15 million dollars over the past five years in this research and what we're trying to do here is to get the scientists who are specialists in various disciplines to distil, or  provide for the policymakers what the implications for the policy are of that research. 
This research is very broad, because rice farm systems are very diverse, so we have research conducted on things like agronomy, that is how to grow more rice for in land, how to manage the water better, how to look at markets and what of consumer preferences, what types of rice people want, how to reduce the amount of labour, that is what simple farm machine can one use for sowing and harvesting rice, and  issues such as when the rice is harvested, how can you use the rice straw for growing livestock, pigs or cattle or chicken, can you grow vegetables amongst the rice that is growing or after the rice is harvested.  They've also been trying to look at the constraints that occur in terms of getting access to markets, both within the region and for export overseas.
LAM: So how easily is this research translated to reality. For instance, are policymakers in Laos or Cambodia, for example, are they able to execute these suggestions?
NUNN:  I'll give you an example from Cambodia where we are now.  Cambodia as most of the Mekong is going through a rapid rate of change. So last year, Cambodia exported about four-thousand tonnes of rice.  Five years ago, it was exporting less than 40 tonnes of rice, so there was a huge amount of change here in the region. Cambodia is still remains a poor country and about a quarter of its population still live below the poverty line and 80 percent of people here rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, so rice-based farming systems are vital to this region.
A farm here is about one hectare of land and that supports a family of five people, who will have some chickens, pigs and a couple cattle perhaps, and it's a matter of trying to work within that system to improve them. And one way to do this exactly, and it has been very successfully here is to grow different types of rice and if one grows paddy rice, one might get a total of 600 dollars per tonne. If one grows rice that's called fragrant rice, that is a better quality of rice and it continues to (indistinct) in many, many markets, you get price rather than 600, you get one thousand dollars.
LAM: And finally, finally Dr Mike Nunn, what would you say are the Mekong region's main preoccupations where rice farming systems are concerned. What are some of the main challenges here?
NUNN: The main challenge and one of the biggest ones is get rice farming farmers who are used to growing rice (indistinct), but to get them to get the knowledge and information to diversify into other crops, to take advantage of the opportunities that are emerging for other commodities such as fruits and vegetables and livestock.

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