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Collecting insects at an integrated pest management farmer field school in Pailin, October 2010.
PHOTO: CATHY REID
other insects and also spiders. We found a few
bad ones as well, but finally we decided not to
spray because there were more beneficial bugs."
He was pleased with what the workshop
achieved. "At the beginning the farmers didn't
know what IPM was, or what the good and bad
bugs were, or the best way to control them. So
they started with very limited knowledge. After
our workshop, they told us they understood
IPM, they could identify which were the good
and the bad bugs, and they knew when to
control and not to control them."
The project, Professor Martin says, has
encouraged farmers to diversify their crops
and adopt more sustainable practices. "Our
surveys show that the farmers in Samlout and
Pailin have only been growing crops for the
past seven or eight years (the war between
the government and the Khmer Rouge only
ended in this area in 1998). Around Pailin
in particular, there is almost a monoculture
of maize because of the strong demand for
stockfeed from Thailand."
Even though the soils are fertile, by growing
two maize crops a year the scientists expect
soil fertility to decline rapidly. In response, a
major focus has been introducing nitrogen-
fixing legumes such as soybeans, mungbeans
and peanuts. This coincides with efforts to
demonstrate the benefit of using rhizobia---
soil bacteria that fix nitrogen levels---and
"It's pleasing to see that the farmers are
already taking on the new technologies that
are available, such as the new varieties, the IPM
practices and limiting the use of herbicides
to control weeds when insufficient labour is
available," Professor Martin says. "But for IPM, the
farmers need access to the biological pesticides
and they're not yet widely available."
Professor Martin has started discussions with
potential producers and suppliers of biological
pesticides and rhizobia, now that farmers are
aware of the benefits of using them. Cool-room
storage with temperatures below 18º C is also
required to store the rhizobia and soybean seed.
"Climate variability is also a risk and this
year, for example, the farmers experienced a
number of failed crops in the early wet season.
So there is also potential for some conservation
VALUE OF NGOs
Professor Martin is positive about the benefits
of working with NGOs, especially their strong
participatory approach. "They are very good
at transferring technologies to farming
communities," he says.
"Our whole project design uses the
participatory action research approach, so we
have engaged with the farms at the outset
before we start putting in our trials and
demonstrations. This has allowed us to ensure
the technologies we demonstrate are relevant
to the farmers and will address their needs."
The NGOs have been assessing the
technologies in farmers' fields and their
data show not just the improved yields, but
impacts on gross margins. CARE International
and the MJP Foundation can now help roll
out the improved technologies to a broader
group of farmers.
To help spread the new ideas and technologies
beyond the areas where the MJP Foundation
and CARE International are currently working is
the next challenge. Professor Martin says there
are four avenues for reaching farmers---through
provincial government extension offices, NGOs,
the private sector and the education sector.
"They all have different strengths," he says.
"To be successful we need to look at all of the
different levels. The ACIAR project has produced
a number of hands-on manuals for producing
upland crops. These are valuable resources for
the public sector extension services, and other
extension providers, such as NGOs."
Since agricultural suppliers reach all the
farmers, talks are under way to engage them
to transfer technology. "The ones we've spoken
to are keen to hand out leaflets or booklets
with the seed and agricultural products they
sell," he says. "There is a lot of value in getting
information out about the safe use of pesticides
and having instructions in Khmer on the safe
and effective use of the chemicals."
Professor Martin thinks farmers need access
to techniques that improve sustainability.
"These include crop rotations, reducing the
amount of tillage and adopting conservation
agriculture-type principles," he says. n
* Touch Van will arrive in Australia in mid-2011
to undertake a PhD at the University of New
England as an ACIAR John Allwright Fellow.
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