New seed cleaner gives paddy a boost

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Rice farmers don’t always use the best seed. Our Foundation, an NGO and a cooperative are helping growers in Cambodia get a better deal. German quality and serious flooding are also part of the story...  

Good seed is the foundation of a good rice crop. In Cambodia, most paddy farmers use farm-saved seeds. They sow them by broadcasting, i.e. throwing them onto the field by hand. «Their yields are therefore much lower than they could be», comments Hervé Thieblemont, Head of our Seeds2B program in Asia. «Sowing good-quality seeds lets smallholders reduce their planting rate and grow a much healthier crop. Their rice yields can increase by 5-20%.»

To improve local harvests, we have supported the establishment of a Farmers’ Hub dedicated to producing high-quality rice seed at small scale. As part of the Australian-driven CamSID* program, SFSA made a rice seed cleaner and a generator available to the NGO Ockenden. Together with Nhov Nharn, Ockenden’s MD in Cambodia, we chose the K06 model from the German company PETKUS. «Our first experiences with it have been really impressive;» comments Nharn. «We are so pleased to have it in action. Having a highly-quality cleaner is very, very important for our country’s farmers.»

As Nharn makes clear, the situation has so far been unsatisfactory both for the 80% of smallholders using their own material and those others who buy seed in. «The 80% have to sow much too much seed, 180 to 350kg kg per hectare. The other 20% often unknowingly buy poor-quality seeds, sometimes with weeds mixed in the bag as well.»  

Good news against a sad background

By using the PETKUS K06, Ockenden and the Battrang Agricultural Cooperative can offer farmers the numerous benefits of clean seed. As examples, Nhov Nharn lists lower planting rates, less dust and rapid separation of the lower-grade material as animal food. The smallholders can thus save money, suffer less hassle and get better yields.       

«There is also a special twist to this story», explains Hervé Thieblemont. «The fruitful contacts between Ockenden and our Foundation are actually the result of some bad news for Cambodia: the major floods of 2011 and 2013. Ockenden first formed part of the relief program, and then moved on to restoration and recovery for the affected communities. In 2016, Nhov Nharn joined our CamSID workshop on Leadership in Rice Production. We have been in touch ever since.»

The cooperation doesn’t stop at rice, either. «We’ve also worked with the Syngenta Foundation on watermelon, corn, mung bean and other crops», says Nharn. «We continue learning a lot from this relationship. Ockenden feels confident about passing on the skills and knowledge to our beneficiaries, the Cambodian smallholders.»  

*CamSID stands for “Sustainable intensification and diversification in the lowland rice system in Northwest Cambodia". Here's more. Our thanks go to the Sydney University producers of the CamSID Newsletter for information used in this article.