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On farm testing of designs of new cropping systems will serve indonesian farmers

Last modified January 16, 2007 12:25

In the Guide to Agricultural Meteorological Practices bound to be published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) next year, S. Venkataraman and co-authors indicate that rice is the most important staple food grain of 50% of the world’s population. Nearly 80% of the rice is produced in Asia. India and China have the largest and second largest area of the crop. China and India are the largest and second largest producers of rice accounting for about 30% and 20% respectively of global production. However, only 5% of the total global production of rice enters international trade. Thus, for many countries national self-sufficiency is the crux of the matter in rice production.

By KEES STIGTER, HARIPADA DAS AND NGUYEN VAN VIET

 

ON FARM TESTING OF DESIGNS OF NEW CROPPING SYSTEMS WILL SERVE INDONESIAN FARMERS


By Kees Stigter, Haripada Das and Nguyen Van Viet, c/o Agromet Vision, Bondowoso, Indonesia


In the Guide to Agricultural Meteorological Practices bound to be published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) next year, S. Venkataraman and co-authors indicate that rice is the most important staple food grain of 50% of the world’s population. Nearly 80% of the rice is produced in Asia. India and China have the largest and second largest area of the crop. China and India are the largest and second largest producers of rice accounting for about 30% and 20% respectively of global production. However, only 5% of the total global production of rice enters international trade. Thus, for many countries national self-sufficiency is the crux of the matter in rice production.


However, this remains a worry in Indonesia. Arguments continue that this is worsened here by the fact that it can only be harvested twice a year. However, when I (KS) look around me in that part of East Java where I live several months each year already for a long time, during the rainy season (and sometimes also beyond that) I always see rice in all stages of growth. I see always farmers planting rice and always farmers harvesting rice throughout the seasons. When I ask about this, the reply is that it has to do with the cropping systems practised. I then wonder why such or other systems cannot be designed elsewhere, making rice available more evenly throughout the seasons together with other crops, including cash crops.


In an editorial in the Jakarta Post on December 15 of last year, it was correctly explained that the rice imports were justified after all, because 75% of rice growers are net rice consumers themselves and higher rice prices hurt the poorest the most. Indeed the editorial stated correctly that it is virtually impossible to achieve and maintain food self-sufficiency if food security in Indonesia remains based on rice alone. In the Straits Times (ST) of Singapore of 18 December 2006 a World Bank economist is quoted saying that because of this impact on the poor, “it is important to depoliticise rice trade policy”.


What is important in everybody’s eyes, says the ST, is for the government to devise a long-term agricultural plan, revitalising extension programmes that have left farmers with poor seeds, with deteriorated irrigation facilities and with even poorer advice on what to do about boosting productivity. Due to the Washington based Centre for Global Development, crop diversification and providing access to well working supply chains is a way out of the poverty trap. More farmers must move out of rice and into higher-value crops as a way of pulling themselves out of poverty, says the World Bank. At least crop diversification is highly necessary, supported with fiscal and monetary incentives and technological assistance, proposes the earlier quoted Java Post editorial. The rice research project manager Lee Calvert at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Latin America states that part of the poverty-alleviation rationale for participatory research is that improved rice production—made possible by varieties that yield better, mature earlier, or tolerate drought (or, it may be added, by the new System of Rice Intensification, SRI)—will give farmers greater flexibility in their use of land and labor. This in turn will allow them to more easily diversify into higher value crops, without losing the food security provided by rice. Participatory research on rice also provides a practical entry point for building farmers’ capacity to innovate and organize, he says.


This being so from the point of view of a growing economy (presently at the expense of a growing gap between rich and poor, like in India and China as well) and with in mind the protection of the poor and therefore a permanent and growing import of rice in Indonesia, what is the experience elsewhere? Possibly there are also completely different but equally compelling reasons for such policies.


An interesting example contributed by agrometeorologists comes from Vietnam, encouraged by a workshop for provincial agrometeorologists in Hanoi in 2001 in which two of us (Viet and Stigter) were involved. After that the government continued, as a form of preparedness for disasters due to increasing climate variability and climate change, to plan and design alternative cropping calendars and patterns, as well as water and tree management. Especially sowing times for the ongoing seasons in the Central highlands and the Mekong delta as well as some permanent changes in cropping patterns with two to three rice crops annually, in which one rice crop is replaced for a rotation with maize, sweet potatoes and cassava have been successful.


We reported this in a multi-author paper in New Delhi last November in a WMO Workshop on challenges to cope with disasters. Such measures, we added, must be very much differentiated after the incomes and cropping systems of farmers. However, these developments indicate that the present tendency of higher rice prices in Vietnam are not only a matter of weather and strong export demands but also of production adaptation choices made by the government.


Another very recent example from India, that we published in the same New Delhi paper, confirms earlier reports on available contingency plans of Indian state governments. There was an absence of monsoon rains of 20 days last summer in most areas of Chhattisgarh state. As soon as monsoon rains returned, farmers were advised to select their crop(s) among the short duration varieties of rice, red gram, green gram, black gram, soybean and groundnut for sowing. The extension officers of the state department of agriculture were in constant touch with (progressive) farmers to implement the advisories. The farmers in Raipur district of the state decided to sow rice for larger areas and soybean for the remaining areas. This all worked out fine. It may be noted here that the information had been delivered to the farmers well in advance, precise in space, coherent with available options and in a local language understandable to the farmers.


These examples illustrate that the greater variability and the likely change of climate also ask for crop diversification as well as organizational flexibility. It has been reported by Chinese authors that the forecasted higher minimum temperatures will be detrimental to crops such as rice in lower latitudes. Prolonged dry spells that are predicted to increase in parts of Asia in number and duration can also play serious havoc with food production. India again delivered the example of such a period of more than five weeks in all the districts of Assam, July/August last year, although the seasonal rainfall total had been forecasted as “normal” in that region. A drought situation was declared by the state government, while unusual high temperatures were prevailing almost throughout the state. In view of this, farmers were advised to stop sowing “Sali” rice, as the delayed sowing of this would cause severe moisture stress, and to start sowing short duration pulses with minimum irrigation. Subsequently after onset of new rains, the farmers were advised to sow more pulses. By September these crops were positively assessed by extension officers.


These climate disaster issues are the second great argument for national weather services, research institutes and universities to jointly convince the Indonesian government of the necessity of funding the design of new cropping systems and testing them on-farm in various regions in a participatory approach. The extension experience with farmer field classes in the subject of Integrated Pest Management that has brought Indonesia international reputation can also be used in such undertakings. Indonesian agrometeorologists can then also use their equipment purposely instead of observing its present underutilization.


The absolutely needed improved disaster preparedness in its various forms, that my colleague L.S. Rathore from the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting in New Delhi and myself illustrated as agrometeorological advisories in another paper at the same WMO Workshop mentioned above, can this way be served at the same time as food considerations and more purely economic aspects of cropping systems.


It should be seen as making services work for poor people. Is this a government’s task? It indeed is, as Geoff Mulgan explains in “Good and bad power: the ideals and betrayals of government”. He has more fear that governments will be too weak than too strong, but good government may best be had when morally upright citizens take responsibility of their actions. This applies to agricultural scientists as well. On farm testing of designs of new cropping systems will definitely serve Indonesian farmers.


A somewhat shortended version of the above paper was published on p. 7 of the Jakarta Post (Indonesia) on Monday 22 January 2007 under the title "New cropping systems to help farmers".


Kees Stigter is the founding president of the International Society for Agricultural Meteorology (INSAM, www.agrometeorology.org) and can be reached via cjstigter@usa.net; Haripada P. Das recently retired from the Indian Meteorological Department in Pune, India and can be reached via hpd_ag@rediffmail.com; Nguyen Van Viet is Director of the Agrometeorological Research Centre, Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology, Hanoi, Vietnam and can be reached via agromviet@hn.vnn.vn

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