By SUMALEE SUWANNAKORN
A growing number have selected quality rice varieties for their paddy fields and completely shunned chemicals.
“We have stepped in to promote good agricultural practices in Laos since 2014,” Nikom Ruamsit said in his capacity as a project team leader for the Mekong Institute in Laos.
He said the project – which covers about 80 farming families, many of them in Khammouane – has taken off thanks to collaboration with local authorities.
It is part of the Regional and Local Economic Development – East-West Economic Corridor, which the Mekong Institute started in 2013 with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
Mekong Institute executive director Watcharas Leelawat said his agency had chosen to promote rice-growing in Khammouane because although this zone was designated a “rice basket” of Laos, most local farmers did not grow the best rice varieties or engage in “neat” farming in the past.
“If they follow our approach, they can generate more income,” Watcharas said.
Nikom said his team not only recommended quality rice varieties to local farmers, but also provided them with training.
“We have organised training and practice sessions. We have even prescribed paddy tests to check if the crops are really free from chemicals,” he said.
Thong-orn Chantawongsa, who chairs the Good Farmer Group in Ban Phak E Too, Khammouane, said about 30 farmer families had joined the MI project over the past year.
“We have had to do a lot of paperwork. It was quite complicated for us at first. But after we were familiar with it, we benefited. We know clearly about the costs and profit,” he said.
Initially, Thong-orn said local farmers did not know exactly how the MI project would benefit them. That was why four farming families pulled out, as well as being unhappy with paperwork requirements.
“But those who have stayed put are now overjoyed. After the project helped us acquire a certificate for growing chemical-free rice, we were able to sell our crop at a much better price,” Thong-orn said. “Even better is the fact that we enjoy lower costs.”
He pointed out that in the past, farmers found it hard to sell their rice even when they offered it at lower prices.
Thong-orn said he would help promote “Good Agricultural Practice” among more local farmers, so that others can enjoy bigger incomes too.
The Mekong Institute has also made efforts to strengthen rice mills in Khammouane and encourage them to buy crops from farmers participating in its higher-quality project.
In 2014, a cooperative of 13 rice mills bought just 14,360 tonnes from local farmers. But in 2015, the cooperative bought 25,202 tonnes.
“We now provide counselling to rice mills that are interested in exporting their product,” Nikom said.
Pedsamorn Buapantawong, who runs the Wanida Rice Mill in Khammouane, said his facility had improved itself significantly based on the MI guidance in pursuit of the “Good Manufacturing Practice” certificate.
“We have boosted everything from buildings, machinery, equipment, processing and staff,” he said.
The Wanida Rice Mill has hired 15 staff. It now exports rice to Vietnam and Germany, plus other parts of Laos.
Pedsamorn said he would know before the end of this month whether his rice mill would get a Good Manufacturing certificate.
“If yes, we will be the first rice mill in Laos to have been certified,” he said.
He said his rice mill had also set its sights on being the first to pass the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point criteria.
“We hope to develop the Wanida Rice Mill as a learning centre for interested people in the end. We also hope the Wanida Rice Mill will help raise Laos’ agricultural industry standards,” he said.