MANILA, PHILIPPINES — The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) completed a technical assistance project to help governments identify and prioritize appropriate climate-resilient agricultural technologies and practices for high-impact investment.

Under the ADB technical assistance Investment Assessment and Application of High-Level Technology for Food Security in Asia and the Pacific, IRRI and select national research organizations piloted the “Climate-smart practices and varieties for intensive rice-based systems in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Cambodia” project.

The pilot had three major components;

  • Identification of constraints, policy, institutional support, and logistics needed to scale up climate-smart water-saving mechanized technologies;
  • Demonstration of climate-smart agricultural practices (CSAs) related to rice-based systems; and
  • Development of a database along with evidence of benefits from CSAs using participatory approaches.

“Rice lands are threatened annually by climate-related stresses. This collaboration sets forward a proven climate-responsive framework that is built out of the current realities of smallholders in these climate-vulnerable areas,” said Arvind Kumar, the project’s lead from IRRI, adding that these environmental factors are further aggravated by limited landholdings and farmer knowledge.

Technologies and methods tested included alternate wetting and drying (AWD) and mechanized direct-seeded rice (DSR), the distribution of better rice varieties (high yielding, with short duration and better grain quality), introduction of mechanization for crop establishment and rice harvesting. The intensification and diversification of rice-based cropping systems in target areas were also prioritized for the pilot.

The farmers were also exposed to ICT tools such as Rice Crop Manager (RCM) for agro-advisory and market information and were given provisions for a crop insurance program.

Jit Kumari Yogi, a farmer-leader and a member of the women-managed local Community Forest User Group in Nepal cited positive returns from the introduction of DSR technology and mechanization to their cooperative.

“I am convinced that with continuous sound management, more women in our cooperative can reap increased yields and expect better incomes with these technologies,” said Kumari.

She also said that reduced labor and production costs will entice more involvement and interest among the youth in their community.

In Bangladesh, water savings of 32% was recorded based on the results in the pilot areas of 15 farmer-respondents using AWD and continuous standing water (CSW) irrigation methods. Total GHG emissions for a cropping season were also 41% lower for the climate-smart system than for the farmers’ traditional practice during the boro season under AWD irrigation than under the CSW method.

Similarly, labor savings of 43%–49% (in number of person-hours) was noted in Cambodia under the DSR system.

In Nepal farmers’ use of the mechanized seed drill in lentil production, which showed that from the whole-plot harvest, two of the three participating farmers exceeded the national average; with one having produced 25% higher at 1.26 tonnes per hectare, and the other 19% higher than the national average of 1.2 tonnes per hectare – a jump from the 5% yield increase of another participant farmer using the traditional method.

Individual findings across all sites were validated at separate in-country high-level consultative policy workshops in July where local officials, policymakers, and donors provided inputs on how to adopt the proposed sustainable agricultural packages.

IRRI hopes the project provides a basis to discuss and identify future needs for collaborative partnerships and investments to deliver science-based solutions that address challenges in crop and rice production in more climate-vulnerable areas in Asia.

“The ultimate goal is to equip agricultural decision-makers with tailored, evidence-based, comprehensive plans that they can set forward,” said Akmal Siddiq, Chief, Rural Development and Food Security Thematic Group, Sustainable Development and Climate Change (SDCC), ADB. “This enables more small-scale farmers in other climate-affected areas to learn and gain more with fewer inputs, time, and energy, while minimizing agriculture’s impact on people and the planet.”