Many congratulations to Ms Kim Ri Hwa for her FAO model farmer award which was presented to her last month in Bangkok. Her efforts have seen a tenfold increase in rice production on the Maejon Cooperative Farm where she has helped the 80 farming families turn their lives around. That is a significant success!
Kim achieved her results by adopting Conservation Agriculture (CA), which helped restore the quality of the soil on the coastal farm she now manages in partnership with the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee). Her success is particularly well timed as sea levels are impacting dramatically upon her region and across the southeast Asian region as a whole, causing high soil salinity and devastating crop losses.
Once the integrity of the soil on Maejon Farm was re-established, the introduction of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) helped, over a period of seven years, to increase rice yields from a paltry 1 tonne per hectare to an impressive 10 tonnes per hectare. This is an achievement not just for Ms Kim but also for SRI itself as it comes in the context of an average yield in North Korea of 5.3 tonnes/ha. Even commercial farmers in the country, using all the best management practices, latest seeds and chemical inputs do not often attain such results. The introduction of other innovations at the farm has also brought about an 80% increase in maize production as well as a 70% decrease in root diseases.
SRI and CA are well-suited to environments where soil degradation and climate change represent such grave challenges., Both encourage eco-friendly approaches which result in healthier soils and stronger root systems in plants that are then better able to withstand strong winds, flooding, lodging and drought. CA’s no-till principle results in less compacted soil that can more easily absorb water and SRI requires up to 50% less water and reduced inputs of up to 90%
CA was introduced to North Korea over 15 years ago by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the AFSC has been encouraging the adoption of SRI in the country since 2004. “It saves equipment, it saves fertilizer, and it also saves them labour in lots of ways. So, it really is a successful innovation,” explains AFSC’s country manager for North Korea, Linda Lewis, who believes SRI now has the potential to spread nationwide.
Kim Ri Hwa grew up in the city but embraced the world of agriculture after responding to a call for people to help develop the countryside. Hard work rewarded her with the position of team leader on a cooperative farm and she qualified as a crop engineer before managing the Maejon Cooperative Farm.
Other recipients of the model farmer award this year were Ar Promtaisong from Rayong province of Thailand, Phonexay Thammavong from Laos, Fazla Yoosuf from the Maldives and Samson Mahit Haitong from Vanuatu.
 Ireson, Randall 2013: The State of North Korean Farming: New Information from the UN Crop Assessment Report
 Redfern, Suzanne K., Azzu , Nadine and Binamira , Jesie S. 2012 Rice in Southeast Asia: Facing Risks and Vulnerabilities to Respond to Climate Change http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/agphome/documents/climate/Rice_Southeast_Asia.pdf
 Uphoff, N. 2007. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) as a System of Agricultural Innovation. Paper presented at the International Workshop: Farmer Participatory Research and Development 20 Years On. Future Agricultures Consortium, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, U.K. 12–14 December 2007 (available at: http://www.future-agricultures.org/farmerfirst/files/T1c_Uphoff.pdf).
Rampung Sorathaworn is a farmer from Surin province, Thailand. She tried out SRI for the first time two years ago, transplanting very young single seedlings in a widely spaced grid, following advice provided by the EU-funded, region-wide SRI-LMB programme. But she wasn’t sure that she had made the right decision when she began to hear her neighbours’ comments: “When they saw my field, the villagers asked how I thought I was going to grow any rice,” she says. “They kept saying: ‘Seedlings can’t grow like that – you need to plant 3 or 4 together. The Golden Apple snails will eat it all up!’ I wasn’t too sure it would grow either, but I told them I would wait and see”. Sure enough, within a couple of weeks, the villagers changed their tune and started asking “Why is it growing like this? How is it you have so many tillers!” And she says after that they began to pay a lot more attention, even helping her to count the tillers on her crop.
It’s transplanting season here in Pursat province, Cambodia and across south and southeast Asia. The air is thick with the mists rising from flooded paddy fields as the extreme heat evaporates yesterday’s rain. Conditions are stifling, yet across vast swathes of countryside, women are bent double, transplanting the rice seedlings that will produce over 700 million tons of the world’s most important food staple.
With an electrifying smile and fire in her eyes, the story of Smt. Mahakud is exemplary!
A Farmer, a Leader, an Entrepreneur and a Businesswoman, Smt. Binodini Mahakuda (63), is the resident of Nuamunda village located in Tumudibandha Gram Panchayat, Tummidibandha Block of Kandhamal Distirct, of Odisha. The village has 54 households (HHs) and the population predominantly belongs to the other backward castes (OBC) category. Only one HH of the village belongs to the scheduled tribe (ST). Smt. Mahakud, lives with her family, which includes her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. Her family belongs to economically backward class and falls in the below poverty line (BPL) category. The family has no patta land to cultivate but owns only .50 decimal homestead land.
Indigenous agriculture practices, crop diversity and indigenous heirloom seed diversity had been eroding in the region, including Nuamunda village. Residents of the village have been gravitated towards cash crops and abandoned the traditionally grown food grains of millets. The government had been pushing the local farmers to adopt high yielding hybrid varieties, chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers under the state supported OTELP programmes. In addition, close proximity of the village to local market had been also contributing to local farmers gravitating towards cash crops, use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. However, maize and finger millets are the only indigenous crops still cultivated by local farmers and much of the traditionally cultivated indigenous food crops have been disappeared from the village. As a result, food and livelihood insecurity of local communities in the region, including Nuamunda village has spiked over the years.
NIRMAN with the project support of CWS (Centre for World Solidarity) has intervened in the area in the year 2011. A Jaibika Krushaka Sangha had been formed at Nuamunda village by the NIRMAN to create awareness about the impacts of toxic chemicals and synthetic fertilizers and the benefits of organic farming. Smt. Mahakud had been one of the active participants of the Krusaka Sangha. NIRMAN has supplied heirloom seeds of few indigenous vegetables to farmers of the village. Smt. Mahakud has also received her share of heirloom seeds, she has cultivated them in the kitchen garden of her own backyard land with the support of her daughter-in-law. In the first year she reaped a good harvest and the family used it for own consumption. The same year, she has collected and preserved good quality vegetable heirloom seeds from the harvest and saved them for the next cropping season. She says that kitchen garden produces enough vegetables for her family. She has started sale of surplus produce of eggplant and okra at the local market. During the present harvest season, she already collected and preserved heirloom seeds of ridge gourd, eggplant, okra and cow pea, which she will use during the next cropping cycle. She says that the seed collection and preservation techniques she learned during training organized by NIRMAN on heirloom seed extraction and preservation very useful.
A Leader, Entrepreneur and Businesswoman, Mrs. Mahakud, dons many hats, she is not just a farmer, she is an avid heirloom seed collector and seed conservationist, in addition and most importantly, she is a local leader, an entrepreneur and a seasoned businesswoman. She is the President of the local self-help group (SHG), Maa Gojabayani Swayam Sahayak Dala. She says that village HHs, especially women suffered from inadequate financial circumstances and lack of proper access to credit during emergencies. They were bound to borrow money, often for healthcare, funerals or even food, from local, private money-lenders for a very high interest rate. To address this issue, she along with few other progressive women folk of the village took the lead and formed the SHG. Members of the SHG saves little amounts on a monthly basis. The pooled amount is used for giving soft and loans with interest to members of the group.
Mrs. Mahakud, also played a major role in motivation of SHG members to start business. The SHG under her leadership started sale of rice, which unfortunately did not taste success. The SHG then tried at sale of oil, but suffered a serious setback. However, neither the SHG members nor she were discouraged from the unfavorable outcomes. They remained determined and took up processing and sale of medical forest products of amla, harada and bahada. The SHG under her leadership has signed an agreement with the Dabur to supply value added NTFPs (amla, harada, and bahada), and the SHG has already supplied 20 quintals of Amla, 10 quintals of harada and 10 quintals of bahada, to Dabur during the current year. While most of the SHGs of this region have either sunk in debts from default bank loans or become defunct, the SHG of Nuamunda sailed and tamed the tides. Smt. Mahakud, set an example of good leadership, with her clear vision and active participation the steered the SHG towards profits and doing profitable business, that too without taking any loans from the bank or other credit institutions. With an electrifying smile and fire in her eyes, the story of Smt. Mahakud is exemplary!
Kumari Bai and her family hail from Debgaon, a village in Chattisgarh. Two persistent problems that the villagers were facing were lack of sustained year-long food security and low income from agricultural produce.
Kumari Bai was exposed to the benefits of implementing a ‘System of Root Intensification’ (SRI) to all crops, which helped her generate better yields.
This method incorporated traditional methods known to the farmers with modern technologies for better and a more sustained approach.