On September 28, 2018, Central Sulawesi was hit by a devastating earthquake which made 300.000 people homeless. The area of Kulawi high up in the mountains was particularly hit by the earthquake due to the extensive damage on roads, houses and paddy fields. With the support of ZOA, our local partner MDS implements a project to support the victims by building up their livelihoods. The project revolves around Field Farmers schools in which the farmers learn new techniques in rice farming.
The area of Kulawi faced a shortage of rice which was due to the low productivity of the rice paddy fields (wet rice planting), antiquated cultivation systems, using local rice varieties and inadequate pest and weed control techniques. The average yield of the rice paddies was only 5 ton/hectare while the standard in the well advanced area of Java is Indonesia is 7 ton/hectare. Till the start of this project, not many parties had attempted to increase the farmers’ knowledge, both technical and non-technical in conducting environmentally friendly cultivation systems.
Introduction of Field farmer Schools
In the Field Farmer Schools, the local farmers were introduced by specialists in SRI (System of Rice Intensification). Farmer groups from the 3 participating villages implemented the new system. A yield of 6.6 ton/hectare was the result, an increase of 30%! This has led many members of the Field Farmer Schools and also farmers outside the group to embrace to system. ZOA-MDS selected 5 farmers who were mentored intensively in this system to become role models and instructors for the next planting season.
Initial doubt by the farmers
In Kulawi, the farmers initially doubted the SRI cropping system, it did not suit with their habits. Moreover, one week after planting, the rice turned yellow and almost wilted, but the ZOA-MDS agricultural experts actively supported the farmer groups to intensively cultivate their fields with organic fertilizers, intensified weeding and pest control with natural pesticides. This made the rice plants to start growing well and slowly the group became more and more convinced of the new system.
The planting method explained
In a number of aspects, the new planting method is different than the way the farmers used to work. ZOA-MDS wanted to increase the rice production by growing seedlings on trays before they are planted which means a faster start. The preparation of the field is another important for the success of the system. The field is leveled and made free of weeds before the organic fertilizer is added. After the field is prepared the drainage system is made in order. More on the preparation in this MDS-vlog:
The rice plants are planted only 1 cm deep instead of 5 cm which gives a faster growth . Only one plant per hole and not a bunch and planting with distances of 25 cm between each plant for which a measurement tool was used .This distancing makes it also easier to control the weeds with a pucker which is a sort of rake. If the seedlings are growing as the should, it is easy to replant one. See this vlog created by MDS on planting:
During the Field Farmer Schools practice sessions, the farmers went out to demonstration plots to learn but also to check the progress of the crops . Measuring and observing the plant on growth, amount of leaf’s but also on the amount of insect observed . See this vlog of MDS on observation:
There is also expectation that organic and natural produced rice will receive a higher price in Palu as it can be used for sticky rice, but this is not yet backed up with a survey. With the improvements, the consultant expects to increase the yield to 3.5 ton/hectare for the farmers.
Farmers embrace new techniques
In the beginning of the project, the farmers had doubted the SRI method because it was very different with their usual method of planting. When they put the seedlings one by one to the hole, they doubtfully asked questions to the MDS staff, “Are you sure? Are you sure this methods will bring better results?” After a difficult start, the paddy started to turn green and grow even better as expected with up to 50 tillers from only one seed instead of 30 tillers from 5- 10 seeds as they were used to. Finally , the farmers were convinced and decided to practice this method in their own land from now on.
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