The point of view of the farmer
In most regions the farmers like to meet in informal groups. During these meetings questions are asked, technical issues are discussed. It is often wise to observe what is already being done in the region and to propose adjustments. Farmers like to see for themselves, to discuss between themselves after the technician has proposed different techniques. In any case, the Mekong Plus technician must be very practical and use examples and images.
One must focus on the resources of the poor: what can be done with little capital, on small parcels, at very low risk. This is quite different from what is taucht at university.
In remote villages, before we started the projects, often 30-40% of the animals would die of diseases or pests. Often they would then be sold on the local market. A huge loss for the farmer, and a high risk for the consumers. In Vietnam we have trained more than a hundred 'paravets' -villagers who can provide basic veterinary services. They have been trained over a period of 6 months, close to their own village, and part-time so that they could continue to take care of their farm even during the training period.
The training has been provided in coordination and with the support of the official extension services, as they only can deliver a proper certificate. The cost of such training is only about 170 €. 2/3 of the trainees have become village professional, full time, taking care of thousands of pigs and many more chicken etc. They are paid for their services by the farmers themselves, thei income can be more than 180 €/mois, a real miracle in the village context. The villagers have at last a good service not far, and at a reasonable cost. This gives a considerable boost to the development of livestock. For example one estimates each technician can help save at least 200 €/month/village worth of animals.
Mekong Plus provides a back-up for the difficult cases which are beyond the capacity of the village technicians; refreshment courses are also offered at regular intervals. Some technicians have become real experts!
After a few years the farmers have gained experience and do not require the paravets anymore. The latter have thus spent more time on their own farm. This is a good example of sustainable development, expanding at no cost.
In Cambodia there are VLAs (Village Livestock Assistant), one per village, ie. for about 150 famillies. Consequence : the VLAs never have enough work, thus little income, little experience and thus no motivation. Their training is also very short.
Mekong Plus has trained 40 paravets in Rumdoul, 2 per commune. Some provide good services but progress is slow: the people do not have much money to invest, they tend to stick to traditional techniques, and the vaccines are of uncertain quality because the cold chain is not stable.
For agronomy Mekong Plus cannot rely on village technicians in the same way. Paravets can claim payment for saving animals, who otherwise can die in a few hours. For crops it is different: the impact of their advice is not clearly visible and may take weeks. The communes have pay their technicians a little compensation instead, in return they do extension work.
In Cambodia much remains to be done. Government services are much less, the farmers are mostly in the hands of NGOs or companies selling fertilizer, seeds...
A cleaner agriculture
An estimated 90% of Vietnamese peasants put 50% of chemicals in excess, and often at the wrong time, without respecting the proportions. There are many cases of poisoning. The farmer also suffers: it is often barefoot and without a mask that the chemicals are applied.
In the mountains with ethnic minorities, the yields are very low, usually without fertilizers or pesticides or compost. Cambodia also: Svay Riêng farmers have much less money, they also say that chemical fertilizers are dangerous and bad for health. But then they often produce one single harvest of paddy (rice) a year with a yield of about a ton: equivalent on land Vietnamese 2-3 will harvest 3 to 7 ton each! The farmers in Cambodia suffer from a lack of employment and income.
We do not promote strict organic agriculture as it is still unprofitable: the consumers are not yet ready to pay a significantly higher price for organic products. Instead we promote a balanced agriculture, using the best practices: compost as much as possible instead of chemicals, and minimum doses of pesticides. See the video clip 3 '.
The good agricultural practices
Many farmers are convinced more fertilizer and pesticides is better: "Just to be sure, I put more than the dose".
This damages the soil, induces excessive costs, and finally their products are contaminated and even dangerous for the consumers.
For livestock of course vaccination is compulsory; one should also use biogas to reduce methane pollution and save trees. The residue is an odorless excellent fertilizer. An alternative: biological bedding, which saves labor and water.
We promote a better agriculture, both for the farmers and for the consumers.
The dry biological litter allows substantial savings in labor and water for the farmers. The litter is composed of rice husk, of cornstalks, sawdust, about 50cm thick. A microbiological mixture is applied (Balasa-N01) which, with manure and urine, eliminates pathogens, odors and insects.
After five months of each cycle, after the animals are sold, this litter is an excellent compost for vegetable gardens. another good point: the investment is minimal: about 20 Euros. Benefit is manyfold: instead of using much water and labor, rejecting polluted stinking waste, the farmer uses the littler as the best compost ever.
The commercial animal feed are very expensive. A better practice is to make them yourself with the right components available in the village, added with yeast. We promote the village production, do not waste on transport and the feed is better. Animals love it and eat more.
Disadvantage: while you can buy commercial feed on credit, pay only when you sell the animals, against a low interest (about 3%/month), with this make-it-yourself technique, you have to buy the ingredients in bulk, and pay cash. Solution: help small farmers to organize, combine purchases.
The pig stall is washed with much water, which flows, with the slurry into a long plastic bag (1m diameter x along 7-10m), airtied, with a little slope. The slurry moves slowly inside the tube and after 3 weeks the manure of just 3-5 pigs will generate enough methane gas at a low pressure, which is sufficient for cooking a family of 5. If there is too much gas and there are neighbors close by, one can provide them with gas as well! The manure surplus is odorless and is an excellent fertilizer.
Advantage: women should no longer fetch wood -a household consumes a small tree per month! Each year 100-200 new biogas have been installed, in total today probably over 3000. Thus 3000 trees are saved each month! The investment starts at 70 euros, all included. This is equivalent to the cost of firewood for 8 months.
Disadvantage : all farmers do not have enough capital for this investment. Pig meat prices fluctuate a lot, when they are too low poor farmers often stop raising the animals. But biogas cannot be stopped otherwise the plastic tube will dry and crack.
Rice fields are often very far: one cannot carry compost that far and huge quantities would be required. There is a very simple and cheap solution: no longer burn the rice straw in the fields, no need neither to carry them to the farm. Rather, after harvest the farmer can just spray it with an organic solution: Arose Trichoderma, a biological solution based on mushrooms, which accelerates decomposition. The straw is buried into the ground. This improves the soil a lot. Result: increased yields, the paddy is healthier and resists better to any disease or pest. The farmer uses fewer chemical treatments.
Mekong Plus follows the "cascade" approach, making good use of training farmers by farmers within the same village. Some farmers move faster than others, keen to try new techniques: Mekong Plus assists them and visit their fields regularly. At harvest, these "pilot farmers" organize a village meeting to present their work. They are very convincing, everyone knows them, and if need be, after the meeting they can ask more in private. They are very reliable, and always available in the village.
Pilot farmers can also be a source for new good seeds. This is additional income for them. Thus good practices are spreading fast.
The vegetable gardens are covered with a small net. There are plenty of benefits:
- production can be continued 12/12 months, in spite of the heavy monsoon rains
- the vegetables are protected from many diseases and pests. They are healthier and there is little or no need for pesticides.
Disadvantage: if there is much wind in the area and if the vegetable garden is not well protected, the nets can fly away and the whole investment be ruined. In Cambodia they use small nets, close to the ground, this limits the risk. The investment is also much less.