เครือข่ายเกษตรกรรมทางเลือกภาคอีสาน

AAN Yasothon – Seed Research Update

In Farmers Groups on 14/08/2009 at 9:42 pm

How do we get more farmers to plant indigenous rice varieties?  This question underlies an important part of our network’s movement for rice seed restoration, preservation and expansion.  Farmers’ groups throughout Esan are working together during this rainy season to plant research and demonstration paddies for at least 140 varieties of sticky and non-glutinous rice.  As our collective seed bank expands, the goal to invite more farmers to plant these seeds becomes a reality.  There are still limitations on many varieties, but a number of seeds that were once commonly planted, or bear significance to local culture are now available for expansion.

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On August 11, the Yasothon rice seed research team gathered to discuss the previous years’ progress, in terms of seed preservation and educational campaigns in local communities.  Sitting together at our network’s center in Ban Kud Hin, Kudchum district, farmers exchanged their experiences and planned next steps with P’ Thoy – AAN regional coordinator based in Mahasarakm province and P’ Sit, a masters’ degree student at Chiang Mai University, carrying out research in support of the network.  I was only able to attend the afternoon session, which was highly productive nonetheless.

The network’s educational campaign – which focuses on expanding production among farmers outside of the AAN farmers’ group – follows a three-step process.  First, information is shared with those interested in local seeds and some seeds are distributed to those committed to participation in the project.  Second, the seed research group comes back together at a later date to critically examine the process – are farmers committed to planting these seeds using proper methods?  What are the seed’s strengths and weaknesses?  Third, a curriculum is developed for the learning process.

Farmers are trained in proper System of Rice Intensification (SRI) techniques.  Plans for expansion are clearly set and the discussion about markets and value begins.  A major determinant for farmers’ participation is the possibility of a market for these largely unknown seeds.  Farmers want to plant the seeds that they know will produce high yields and earn a high price at the market.  But perhaps the more important question is if these seeds are well suited for the area they are planted in?  Facilitating both concerns is the job of AAN research team members, who help other farmers understand the value of local varieties beyond their price at the market.  Yet clever marketing is also becoming part of the strategy – one local variety that was historically fed to fighting cocks is now being packaged and labeled with information about its vitality-improving qualities.

So there is plenty of interest and change (some “movement”) happening in the sub-district.  At the merit-making event last winter, the AAN’s campaign involved a tasting of several different varieties and got to know their flavors and look at the history of their planting in each village.  This generated opportunities for villagers to learn who’s got what seeds and come find them.  The Non Yang “Sufficiency Economy” curriculum, developed with the Wiseman’s Learning Center, was a success with teachers and was generally a good thing to do with the school.  The school planted three different varieties together, which will be harvested and served together to students in the cafeteria…certainly a nutritional break from the usual white rice.  But some teachers still don’t quite get it – a few asked farmers’ group members where they could find “whole grain” variety seeds.  Community radio appearances have also helped raise awareness, as the local Wat Suan Tam broadcasts interviews with AAN members.

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But the best approach has been the display paddy, with information out in the open, on the road between Ban Non Yang and Ban Kud Hin.  Countless people stop by the paddy to ask, “What are you guys doing?”  It shows the whole process; presents examples for others to trust, and farmers get to see that the rice plants look beautiful and that yields will be good.  Using SRI also distinguishes the paddy from others, and proved that transplanting one seedling at a time is reliable.  The paddy is effectively a big advertisement for the research team’s campaign.

Behind the advertising, however, is the actual research paddy.  This year, 30 different varieties have been planted (up from 15 last year) – this is the “truth” behind the campaign, where the research team comes together and takes responsibility for local biodiversity.  As Paw Tongloh pointed out at our recent meeting, “environmental crises will show the strengths of our various varieties, but yields may be lower than ‘advertised.’”  The research team does field visits once a month, with farmers outside the team as well – generating another level of involvement and all team members record information about their own paddies before the monthly field visit.  The research paddy brings together farmers’ individual research in their own fields and makes any adjustments to the growing processes that are necessary.

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The next step for the display paddy is to make it a community learning resource, where all villagers can engage with the varieties growing there.  In terms of further research, the farmers hope for support from universities or seed research centers – past collaborations have been very fruitful – which will help farmers define the details of each varieties’ development and give farmers an opportunity to exchange their experiences.  From here until harvest season at the end of the year, the research will continue to be gathered and critically examined.  Details about each variety will emerge and farmers will become even more confident in their information-gathering skills.  We will continue reporting on the process over the next few months, as plants mature and the rains let up.

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  1. […] Researchers from the Sustainable Agriculture Foundation in Bangkok spent the day recently with the Kamet Seed Research Volunteer Group in Yasothon province to help collect a round of data from the group’s research […]

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