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Organic rice farmers go against the grain

Update: June, 01/2013 - 10:08

Bich Huong

Farmers in Ha Noi's Chuong My District started harvesting the rice crop yesterday. Farmers are encouraged to use fewer agro-chemicals to make products safer and production more environmentally friendly. — VNS Photo Bich Huong

HA NOI (VNS)— Yesterday's nice weather proved ideal for rice farmers in Chuong My District's Dong Phu Commune as they set to work harvesting their crops, and it wasn't just the sunshine that had them smiling.

Last year, these farmers made a commitment to completely avoiding the use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertiliser on their crops, and they are finally reaping the rewards.

This is the second season that they have foregone the use of chemicals after receiving the training of experts from the University of Tokyo and Ha Noi University of Agriculture.

"My rice is growing well," said Bui Thi Khuynh, 53. "We only used organic fertiliser for the crop and it is making a big difference."

Last year, the commune's chemical-free crop was about 140 kilo for every 360 sq.m area. This year it looks as if that amount will rise to 170 kilos.

In fact, the productivity is mostly the same as in fields that are using pesticides and herbicides, and in some cases it is even higher.

However, this chemical-free method of farming is more labour intensive, as farmers need to weed at least three times during a crop season, whereas farmers who choose to apply herbicide only need to do this once. During harvest, Khuynh has to hire two or three other farmers to help, to whom she pays about VND200,000 (US$9 ) each per day.

"The most important thing is that our product is safe," she said. "I do the farming for my family's consumption first and then I sell the rest. It is quite popular because it is better for your health and tastier than rice that has been sprayed with pesticides."

It is also potentially more lucrative. Last year, Khuynh's rice was sold at VND25,000 per kilo, nearly double the price of normal rice.

Another local farmer, 67-year-old Nguyen Thi Ton, said that for the last few years local farmers have minimised the use of agro-chemicals as they had become more aware of the harm that they can cause to human health.

"If we overuse chemicals for crops, it will have a damaging long-term effect. We and our children eat the rice, but the problems might not become obvious for another 20 or 30 years. By then, the damage is done. We are willing to grow safer rice for ourselves, the next generation and consumers," she said.

Khuynh and Ton are from two of the 15 households in the commune that joined a project called ‘Improving Production and Marketing Capacity Improvement for Sustainable Agriculture, Farmers Empowerment, Rice Improvement and a Cleaner Environment' (PAMCI-SAFE RICE).

Vice chairman of Dong Phu Commune People's Committee Nguyen Van Bai said that farmers who had participated were happy to provide safe products for themselves and their consumers, who welcomed having more choice.

If they could find a stable market, they could expand the model and develop an agricultural brand for local safe rice, Bai said.

Dr. Kako Inoue from the Agro-Environmental Laboratory at the University of Tokyo said that when conducting research on the behaviour of farmers towards sustainable rural development in the Red River Delta, she found that many were overusing agro-chemicals in the belief it would lead to higher yields and reduced labour cost. Instead, it resulted in environmental and ecological degradation.

The subsequent PAMCI-SAFE RICE project encouraged farmers to produce rice without any agro-chemicals and to adopt the SRI (System of Rice Intensification) method to prevent pest damage and to achieve higher yields.

"Importantly, the project encourages farmers to eat their products themselves. We are not emphasising the economic value of safe crops. This is because we want farmers to continue their sustainable agricultural production for their own health. After that is established, they can share the remaining rice with society and make money for their efforts," Inoue said.

The project, funded by Japanese International Co-operation Agency, kicked off last May in the communes of Dong Phu, Dai Nghia and Dai Hung in the district, and will end in 2015.

The SRI is a technique to produce rice with less input (in the form of seeds, water and agro-chemicals). Seedlings are planted one by one, leaving more space than usual and intermittent irrigation is applied with less fertiliser and agro-chemicals. This technology sustainably provides a stable yield in harvest and a healthy paddy, resulting in less pest damage and heightened resilience against storms. The SRI method is also expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. — VNS


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