Cambodian Farmer Implements and Modifies Machinery, Improves Quality of Rice
This post is written by Sara Hendery, Communications Coordinator for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management.
Outside his home in Battambang, Cambodia, In Soun leans against a thin metal wheel almost as tall as he is. One after another, he gathers parts and pieces in a myriad of shapes—curled-up connectors, big and small containers, cylindrical plastic tubes. Many of them are attachments Soun has commissioned local manufacturers to make for the Eli Rice Seeder he leans against, a machine that plants rice in uniform rows instead of the traditional, labor-intensive method of manual transplanting or broadcasting by hand.
Soun is the first farmer in his village to use a mechanized tractor — now, he can add innovator to his list of titles as well.
Soun learned about Agri-Smart, the Eli Seeder developer, at a trade fair organized by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management (IPM IL). The quarterly event aims to increase access to productive resources by introducing farmers to private sector companies selling integrated pest management (IPM) tools and offering discounts for on-site purchases.
Utilizing air pressure, the Eli Seeder shoots seeds into the ground in straight rows that are not overconcentrated and easy to weed between. The process reduces seed rates, fertilizer use, pesticide use, and labor time. A low seed rate encourages farmers to buy more expensive, but better quality seeds, which garner higher prices at the market.
After using the seeder in his fields, Soun began thinking of other ways it could contribute to rice production. He added modifications such as new wheels, more productive seed vessels, and a sprayer for diffusing Trichoderma, an IPM IL-promoted biopesticide that boosts plant defense mechanisms against pests and disease. His Trichoderma modification alone has reduced his fungicide spraying rate to zero. Spraying it by hand used to take Soun 2 hours per hectare, but his modified sprayer requires just 20 minutes.
“My neighbors used to say ‘don’t bring the tractor through my field’,” Soun said, “but now they want to follow what I’m doing.”
Soun earns an additional $37 per hectare for using the Eli Rice Seeder in his neighbors’ fields, who are following his low seed rate.
Using the Eli Seeder has reduced Soun’s seed rate from 300kg per hectare to 80kg per hectare and has significantly decreased fertilizer rates. Excess fertilizer can make plants more susceptible to pests and disease—if Soun increased his seed rate by just 10kg, he’d have to add an entire bag of fertilizer to his inputs, which would be costly.
In Cambodia, and many developing countries, poor seed quality is a major contributing factor to food insecurity. Farmers use recycled seeds from previous seasons, which means planting excessive amounts and planting old weed seeds as well, which farmers combat with pesticides. In addition to pests and disease, exposed rice seeds also face the threat of being eaten by rats and birds or whisked away by drought and flooding.
“The quality of the grain is now better,” Soun said. “When a trader comes to buy it, they have no complaints or questions.