Helping Farmers Improve Rice Yields
“We are learning a lot through the Nam Theun 2 Project. They give us new technologies and advice, but also they bring farmers together so that we can learn from each other. That is very helpful” Mr Phongsaly Mengsavanh, Somsanok Village.
Farmers in the lower Xe Bang Fai area of Khammouane and Savannakhet provinces have expanded the amount of submergence–resistant rice they plant in 2011 in an effort to improve harvests despite the regular floods in the area.
In May and June the Nam Theun 2 Power Company (NTPC) distributed over 35 tonnes of specially developed sticky rice seed to farmers, following trials conducted in fields close to the Xe Bang Fai over the last two years. The seed is being grown in around 80 villages prone to flooding along the Xe Bang Fai and its tributaries, including the Gnom River.
Around 1,700 farmers requested the seed, which was grown by NTPC extension workers from an initial 2 kg of seed developed by the National Rice and Cash Crop Research Centre. The rice is able to withstand several days of flooding late in the season, giving it a much better chance of survival than traditional varieties.
NTPC has trialled various improved rice varieties in demonstration plots, selecting the best seeds and multiplying them in the dry season, while inviting local farmers to visit the plots and to try seeds for themselves. According to Phongsaly Mengsavanh of Ban Somsanok in Mahaxai district, farmers in the area can expect their fields to be flooded in eight out of every ten wet seasons. “It’s always been like that”, he says, “but now we have rice that has a better chance of surviving the floods”.
Farmers like Mr Phongsaly are also benefitting from improved mixed-variety rice seed that NTPC has supplied for use during the dry season. Attending a farmers’ field-school in mid-May, he said that technical and organisational assistance provided by the company was helping villagers along the river to reap much better harvests during the dry season.
Water releases from the Nam Theun 2 hydropower project have altered the water composition in the Xe Bang Fai and may also prolong the flood season during some years, and this is why the company works with farmers to help them improve their output. During the 2010-2011 dry season, NTPC helped farmers in Mahaxai to grow rice in fields irrigated with water from either the Xe Bang Fai or the Nam Theun 2 Downstream Channel, which releases water from the Power Station into the river. Improved rice strains fed by water from both sources showed better yields than are traditionally expected in the area.
Another farmer, Pannee Sounlathong, of Ban Dang, also in Mahaxai, says that rice growers in his district are much better organised now. “We can meet each other more often, at field schools arranged by NTPC”, he said, “and we exchange knowledge and experience. We are learning together how to use new varieties and better systems for growing rice, and we can only benefit from that”.