Northern farmers learn to avoid risks
The programme tests out diversified farming systems with farmers to maximise economic returns and spread risk, as there are trade-offs with tree based farming systems. In the short-term there is a need for farmers to have benefits to ensure food security while trees are maturing. Over the long-term there is a need to ensure that farmers have other sources of income if prices fall.
A farmer partner in the research from Namor Neua village in Oudomxay province, Mr Khamla Lorkham, has been taking part in trials to test rubber trees intercropped with job's tears and fruit trees. He earned over two million kip from the sale of job's tears. Other short-term yield crops include cardamom and pineapple.
Head of the rubber research group in Pangdou village, Mr Xayeng, said “We had heard about rubber from relatives in Luang Namtha and were looking for options out of shifting cultivation. The programme has helped us understand different planting techniques for rubber as well as giving us ideas about how to produce and clone rubber seedlings on our own.”
The programme worked with six farming families in 2004 and expects the trees to be harvested next year. While Mr Xayeng is not worried about rubber prices, the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI) is carrying out studies on global rubber prices and supporting the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to host the Asean rubber conference in June 2009 so as to better understand how global rubber prices will affect Lao farmers NAFRI is also testing out intercropping systems with tree crops such as teak and agarwood in Phonexay district, Luang Prabang province.
Mr Kheua Vanny from Thapho village is testing growing teak with short-term cash crops and planted 2.5 hectares in 2005. The first year he grew teak with job's tears and earned 3.6 million kip. The next year he added sesame to his field and made 4.5 million kip. Now he is experimenting with broom grass. “Teak trees will make a good profit in the future. We were made an offer on the farm but didn't sell because we can also make short-term profit while waiting for the teak trees to mature,” he said.
He said there are now 22 families participating in similar trials and other farmers are using these techniques after seeing the benefits. Another participating farmer, Ms Nangya Niaphiaxong from Poung Pao village in Phonexay district, said “My family moved from the upland areas in 2002 and starting participating in the trials in 2002. We now plant agarwood with fruit trees such as lychee, bananas, and pineapple.” Each year Ms Nangya receives about 500,000 kip from her pineapple crop.
Beyond field trials, NAFRI is also looking at wider issues related to tree plantations. In 2007 it carried out a study on contract farming arrangements for rubber planting in Namor district. The study found itwas necessary to improve the participation of local people and improve the dissemination of rubber contracts to farmers.
NAFRI has also worked with the National Agriculture and Forestry Extension Service (NAFES) to improve information on small-holder rubber production throughout the country. In 2006, NAFRI and the NAFES held a workshop to raise awareness among policy makers on best practices and policies for establishing a rubber industry and how this could benefit smallholders.
In 2008, NAFRI and NAFES developed materials for smallholder rubber producers to fill the gap in knowledge in rubber planting in Laos. The purpose of these materials was not to promote rubber production, but to help farmers and extension staff make better decisions about if and how to produce rubber.
Vientiane Times, 17 Feb 2009
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