Cutting costs for a higher standard
How rice farmers benefit from German non-profit
Ubon Ratchathani: The year 2020 may be remembered as just another bad year for rice farmers. A chronic drought this year has forced many farmers to cut down their crops or even stop harvesting.
Worse, the global rice market has seen weak demand and disrupted transport caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Yet some farmers have remained hopeful and taken this crisis as an opportunity to adjust. Among them is Pornapa Maneewan, a 51-year-old rice farmer living in Ban Don Moo village in Ubon Ratchathani's Trakan Phuetphon district.
Two years ago, Ms Pornapa joined a sustainable rice farming project developed by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), a non-profit group aiming to train people on sustainable farming while reducing their overall production cost by 2,000 baht per rai under the project.
The project is titled "Market-oriented Smallholders Value Chain Project Thailand" (MSVC TH), and Ms Pornapa praised the initiative for helping her reduce costs, produce premium rice and find a market for it.
The project has helped many farmers endure a tough year filled with drought and uncertainty. For example, one training course taught Ms Pornapa to test her soil to better estimate which type and how much fertiliser to use.
In the past, she used to only follow the instructions of fertiliser salesmen, which prompted her to dump a lot the products in the field, a move that drove production costs up.
After receiving the training, she began to use fewer chemicals and fertilisers to take care of her 25 rais of Hom Mali paddy field.
"I am happy with the project because I can sell my rice for a better price than at the market," she said.
"I get at least one baht per kilogramme higher than at the ordinary market."
"However, the most important thing is that I learn on how to cut cost and save my money," she said, adding she's managed to sell her organic rice at a higher price.
Atthawit Watcharapongchai, director of MSVC TH, said the project aims to promote the idea of the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) -- the world's first voluntary standard for rice.
The SRP aims to promote the sale of environmentally-friendly, safe and fairly-traded rice products.
The MSVC TH project now has over 10,000 small-scale farmers -- those with 20 rais of rice paddies per head -- in Surin, Roi Et and Ubon Ratchathani.
These farmers have been trained to use modern-day seed-dropping technology to reduce costs and lower greenhouse gas emissions, develop tailor-made fertiliser and stop burning rice straw and practice integrated pest management.
The project also aims to find markets for 60,000 tonnes of unmilled Hom Mali rice produced under the SRP standard by the end of this year. Last year, 30,000 tonnes of SRP rice was sold.
Mr Atthawit said the project targets smallholder farmers because they have less bargaining power and still lack access to technology, markets and financial services.
"The project's keywords are creating sustainable farming among Thai farmers and helping them access a fair and transparent rice market," he said.
The project continues to move ahead. On Oct 15, GIZ signed a memorandum of understanding with the Rice Department, Olam (Thailand) and Crop Life to develop a supply chain for rice trading.
Rex Thomas, general manager of Olam (Thailand), which is one of the largest rice buyers in the country, said the rice cultivated under the SRP is in line with global demand on environmentally friendly farm goods.
The company has purchased rice from the project since last year and is a major partner of the project.
"Rice is the second biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector after livestock rearing," Mr Thomas said.
"We see an increasing demand from consumers around the world in buying products which are good for them and good for the environment."
"Especially over the last few years, we have seen some of the largest buyers in the world, recognise this trend and to start buying accordingly," he said, adding the company plans to buy SRP-labelled rice from about 15,000 farmers under the project by 2022.