Rice growing technology for salt intrusion area puts farmers on right track to double-cropping goal, but shortage of agricultural machinery challenges poor farmers in Ayeyawady Delta

Access to agricultural machinery is a major  challenge for farmers who are double-cropping  rice in salt-intrusion areas, even though the  growing method itself is simple. Photo: Aye Min Soe
Access to agricultural machinery is a major challenge for farmers who are double-cropping rice in salt-intrusion areas, even though the growing method itself is simple. Photo: Aye Min Soe

Yay Win Chauk Village (Ayeyawady Delta), 4 Feb—  With the discovery of a new method for growing rice in the dry season in salt-intrusion areas, rays of hope for local farmers to escape the poverty trap are shining in the Ayayawady Delta.
When they witnessed the success of rice-growing in dry season for the first time in their lives last year by selecting quality seeds through salt water testing, and planting them in fields irrigated with water from rivers when tidal salinization is low, local farmers in the delta now have hope of earning increased income from a second yearly paddy crop, and showing willingness to practice the SWSS (Salt Water Seed Selection) method in the dry season.
“The new method has brought prospects for more income to us because we can double crop,” said U Thet Naing Tun, 41, one of five farmers in the village of Yay Win Chauk in the Ayeyawady Delta who has planted a second crop on 18 acres of land.
Yay Win Chauk, in the Ma Gu Village tract of Bogale Township, has 63 households, 35 of which farm, and 28 are landless. The village is one of the villages in the delta hard-hit by Cyclone Nargis six years ago. The storm destroyed Yay Win Chauk and left 43 per cent (or nearly half) of the village’s residents dead.
Since then, they have been struggling, relying on rice-growing in the monsoon season only.
Even when they are paid after a good harvest, they have to repay money borrowed from private lenders for agricultural inputs at high interest rates, and then have to borrow again for the next crop, leaving them trapped in a cycle of debt.
“Rice growing in the dry season will work for us,” said U Thet Naing Tun, saying that farmers in the delta have pinned high hopes on the second crop for extra money because the income from the first harvest is rarely more than enough to pay off their debts and agricultural loans.
After harvesting rice grown on a rain-fed 30 acres last year, U Thet Naing Tun put in a second crop of less than two acres last dry season. The two acres yielded about 50 baskets an acre for a profit of more than K50,000 per acre.
All farmers agreed the modern method is very simple to use, saying they have to select strong and healthy seeds using the SWSS technique and plant them in fields irrigated with water pumped from a river when the there is very little salt in the water.
“Local farmers have traditional knowledge about river salinity and understand when the salinization in the rivers is high or low. We just have to try to fill the gaps between their indigenous knowledge and the modern method,” said U Myo Myint, a veteran agriculturalist working for Proximity Design providing farming advisory services with a participatory approach to local farmers.
Proximity Designs is supported by the multi-donor Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), which works in Myanmar to alleviate poverty and hunger.
“An agricultural method should be simple and can be accepted by farmers,” said the veteran agriculturalist who worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation for more than 37 years.
“This strategy for double cropping in salt intrusion area is very scientific. For our achievement, we should say thank to those who did research in post 1980s and drew a map of the Ayeyarwady Delta’s salt intrusion areas,” U Myo Myint added.
Since the 2013 monsoon, the Farm Advisory Services of Proximity Designs has successfully disseminated knowledge of several techniques that effectively reduce input while increasing farmers’ yields and income in brackish and saltwater-intrusion areas.
In the 2013-14 farming season, the five farmers from Yay Win Chauk Village double-cropped 18 acres, planting the second crop in November and harvesting in January before a saltwater intrusion,  earning more than K34,000 per acre.
In 2014-2015 farming season, 12 farmers have adopted the double-cropping techniques.
Most planted their second crop in December due to unexpectedly heavy rain in November and will harvest between February and March, according to Proximity Designs.

Farmers in Ayeyarwady Delta have pinned high hopes on the second crop for extra money. Photo: Aye Min Soe
Farmers in Ayeyarwady Delta have pinned high hopes on the second crop for extra money. Photo: Aye Min Soe

U Myo Myint is also ready to disseminate their technical know-how to other salt-intrusion and coastal areas, underlining his commitment to implement double-cropping where possible.
Proximity Designs has estimated a farmer can earn more than K34,000 an acre from rice grown in the dry season.
“We should take care of the future of farmers, and should help them to be resilient or they will walk away from their land,” he added, expressing a worry the current shortage of farm laborers in the country could grow.
The number of farmers who practice SWSS in the dry season has reached 17,150 so far, putting about 85,000 acres into dry-season cropping in the Ayeyarwady Delta, according Proximity’s statistics.
To grow rice in dry season, farmers have to choose short-term or 100-day rice seeds so they can have time to prepare the land again and to irrigate in a timely fashion while salinity is low.
Farmers in other areas have also expressed a willingness to practice the new method for growing dry-season rice for the first time in their lives.
But challenges await.
To practice double-cropping, farmers need to work very efficiently in harvesting their first crop and getting the land ready for the second planting before the rivers become too salty.
“We cannot use draught cattle again in the dry-season because they worked for our first crop in rainy season and if we use them again in dry season again, they can die from over-work” said Kyaw Soe, one of the farmers in Yay Win Chauk Village. “We cannot afford to pay compensation for hired cattle if they die, and we have no harvester and only two power-tillers in our village.”— GNLM

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