By PHUWIT LIMVIPHUWAT
“We expect an increase of at least 20 per cent in the yield of rice farming from our integrated solution, which incorporates agricultural training, financial training, chemical solutions, and technological innovations,” Connie Kang, global smallholder farming manager for Southeast Asia under the crop science division of Bayer Thai Co., Ltd., said in an exclusive interview with The Nation.
The Northeast region has some 2.4 million smallholder farmers, making up as much as 65 per cent of the small-holder farmers in the country, and covering 2 million hectares. The average rice production in Thailand is at 2.8 tonnes per hectare, but the Northeast produces an average of only 2.2 tonnes, Kang said.
“We do not only want to provide one or two chemical solutions to the farmers without also offering additional training on how to efficiently manage their farms and how to best apply these chemical solutions,” she said.
“One unique challenge to Thai rice farming is the difficulty of applying chemical solutions to the tall khao hom mali plant. During the flowering stage, rice crops in the region often face a disease problem, which directly impacts the yield. Thai farmers then have difficulty spraying chemical solutions to the tall rice plants in order to cope with this disease.”
To help farmers counter the problem, Bayer Thai has introduced drone applications to small-holder farmers in the Northeast. The drones fly over rice crops and apply the chemicals to the crop, Kang said.
Another challenge facing small farmers in Thailand is the problem of “weedy rice”. This has re-emerged as the dominant weed species, presenting a major threat to rice production in the Asean region in the past 10 years. Weedy rice directly affects the yield of farmers and presents an emergent threat to the income of small-holder farmers in Thailand, Kang said.
“Our team has found that in recent years, the weedy rice issue has started to re-emerge in Thailand. It is an extremely competitive and difficult-to-control species of weed threatening the yield of small-holder farmers,” she said.
The integrated solution that Bayer provides to farmers is geared towards coping with weedy rice. Bayer has set up demonstration plots in Ubon Ratchathani and Sisaket, interacting with 1500 small farmers.
These plots are aimed at showing to farmers that they can increase their yield by following Bayer’s good agricultural practices, Kang said. This includes demonstrating how to apply weed controllers and providing knowledge about pest management.
“In 2017, we set up 50 demo plots in the region and saw a 17 per cent increase in yield in demo plots compared to regular farms as well as an increase in net income of 18 per cent,” Kang said. “This year, Bayer Thai has increased the number of demo plots in the Northeastern region to up to 200, aiming at an increase in productivity of at least 20 per cent.”
Yet another challenge that small-holder farmers face is the management of their land as well as their finances. This makes them more prone to the impacts of climate change events such as drought, Kang said.
Bayer recognises that this is a key problem and has been providing a training programme called “Farming as a business”, which provides financial and managerial guidance to farmers, encouraging them to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset and look at their farms as a type of business, Kang said.
“Our integrated solution will allow small-holder farmers to supply high-quality hom mali rice so that they can sell their rice at premium prices,” she said.