More than 20 years have passed since Udorn Khamwongsa switched from working as an electrician in northern Thailand to becoming a full-time farmer in her hometown of Ubon Ratchathani’s Warin Chamrap district.
As the third generation farmer in the family and a representative of the community, she is interested in seeking new methods to improve rice yield and farming productivity. The 43-year old single mother is happy to take time out from her busy farming schedule to participate in trainings and seminars held by agricultural officials and non-governmental organisations.
Since late 2019, she has attended training activities of the market-oriented smallholders value chain project Thailand (MSVC TH) introduced by the Rice Department, Olam (Thailand) Limited, Crop Life and GIZ.
Initiated in 2018, the project enhances the importance of connecting the market with farmers and fully supports driving the market through capacity building among farmers and systemising sustainable rice cultivation practices. The project was piloted in Ubon Ratchathani province, which is home to the country’s largest rice growing area of 4.1 million rai.
After a year of participating in a series of training activities for farmers, she found the crop calendar introduced during the training session very useful in managing her rice farming. She knows the exact time for seeding, sowing, fertilising and harvesting. The training session also enables farmers to learn about their soil quality and how to make tailor-made fertiliser formula suitable for soil conditions of each member’s land plots. She also put into practice recommendations given by instructors and project staff on efficient use of fertiliser and chemicals which significantly helps farmers reduce their rice growing costs.
The reality is that Thai rice farmers usually overuse fertilisers and pesticides. Excessive use of chemicals destroys and creates imbalances in soil fertility. “In the past we just applied as much fertiliser as we liked. There was no calculation whatsoever. Thanks to this course, I have learned when and how to effectively fertilise my rice paddies to improve soil quality and stabilise the ecosystem,” she said.
Ms Udorn has learned that farmers should fertilise the rice paddies by using tailor-made fertilisers and split applications based on the right time and recommended amount. By using this method, she has been able to reduce the use of fertiliser by 40%.
Apart from the rational use of fertilisers and direct seeding technology, know-how on good tillage or soil ploughing ishelping farmer Koon Songsuk, another member from the province’s Lao Suea Kok district, to reduce rice residue while improving the quality of soil in his rice fields.
Despite facing climate change and a drop in global rice prices, the knowledge acquired from the training has enabled both farmers to enhance the quality of rice grains. Rice harvested from the two farmers’ rice paddies is mature and healthy. There are not many admixtures and broken grains. Although neither were able to harvest much rice from the recent season due to flooding, the rice grown by farmers joining the project is of good quality and in demand by millers in the community.
Winyoo Weerananthawet, manager of Kit Udom Rice Mill, a miller in Trakan Phuet Phon District, said he participated in the MSVC project mainly due to rice quality. There are not many admixtures compared to usual rice products. Following briefings by the project staff and site visits, farmers joining the project do not burn off their rice stubble and agri-waste to help reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission.
“As a miller and rice buyer, we trust in the rice products from farmers joining the project because we know they are of good quality. We feel proud to support the sustainability of Thailand’s rice supply chain,” he said.
After buying the rice products, his company works with Olam to distribute them to their clients for export. The company also helps raise consumer awareness about the sustainable rice project on social media, ensuring the products receive attention from consumers. He is hopeful that the sectors involved, the government included, will help promote the importance of sustainable rice and adopt the MSVC project as a model for expanding the production to other parts of the country.
Montree Promaluksan, Field Manager of the MSVC TH project, said up to 11,000 tonnes of Hom Mali rice valued at 113 million baht were produced and delivered to the market by a total of 2,411 farming members during the harvest season late last year.
Apart from the income earned from selling the harvested rice to the millers, farmers joining the project recently received extra cash of 100-150 baht/tonne on top of the amount of the Hom Mali rice sold to the millers. The extra cash was distributed to boost morale and offer local farmers an incentive to commit to the project’s key goal of sustainability.
It is not compulsory for farmers joining the project to sell rice to millers who have signed a memorandum of understanding with the MSVC TH project. As the project has been expanded to cover another two northeastern provinces, Surin and Si Sa Ket, and the number of farmers joining the project has increased to 16,000, Mr Promaluksan is hopeful that up to 60,000 tonnes of unmilled and export-quality Thai Hom Mali Rice will be produced under the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) and distributed to the market this year.
Key physical appearance for millers and buyers to determine rice quality
Quality: free from other rice varieties, weeds, hay