Benefits drive the adoption of rice straw management practices in the Mekong Delta

 Reianne Quilloy   |  

New research reveals the factors that can influence rice farmers in the Mekong Delta in their decision to use sustainable rice straw management practices.

 

A breakthrough technology for using rice straw as a growing medium for mushroom has been developed as an option to burning. The technology has helped the mushroom industry grow significantly, making mushrooms one of the top crops in Vietnam. (Photo: IRRI)

Technology for using rice straw as a growing medium for mushrooms has been developed as an option to burning. The technology helped the mushroom industry grow significantly making it one of the top crops in Vietnam. (Photo: IRRI)

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Vietnam is one of the main rice-producing and exporting countries in Southeast Asia. Rice production in the country is continuously increasing due to the expansion of cropping areas and improved farming methods. Consequently, producing more rice means producing more rice straw as a byproduct.

In many rice-producing countries, burning is an easy and often practiced solution to clear the land of rice straw for the next crop. It is estimated that over 24 million tons of harvested rice straw are produced annually in the Mekong Delta. 

However, the practice has adverse effects on peoples’ health and contributes to environmental pollution.

Extensive research on rice straw has shown that there are alternative ways to reduce and even use rice straw. However, there is still a need to understand what influences farmers’ decision to accept or assess alternative practices and technologies.

A survey with 111 farmers was conducted to understand their risk and benefit perceptions as well as farmers’ acceptance of eight rice straw management practices developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and its partners. The research group used fact sheets that illustrate the technology and described its features, benefits, and costs.

“Our results show that farmers evaluated the rice straw management technologies based on their perceptions of benefits,” said Melanie Connor, a social scientist at IRRI’s Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint Project (CORIGAP) project and lead author of the study. “The farmers’ knowledge about climate change also played an important role when assessing rice straw management technologies.”

Farmers who had more knowledge about the consequences of climate change assessed the new practices and technologies more favorably. The farmers evaluate the new rice straw practices and technologies using their knowledge and are actively evaluating risks and benefits.

The adoption of rice straw balers in the Mekong River Delta has significantly improved rice straw management. (Photo by R. Quilloy, IRRI)

The adoption of rice straw balers in the Mekong River Delta has significantly improved rice straw management. (Photo by R. Quilloy, IRRI)

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“However, for practices they know, like rice straw burning, farmers rely on their experiences and perceived benefits which, in some cases, outweigh, the risks associated with the practice,” Dr. Connor said. “Moreover, farmers are still willing to burn rice straw even if they perceive the practice as having high risk with few benefits and have low acceptance.”

The authors suggest considering risk communication and risk mitigation strategies when designing interventions for farmers in terms of policy. They also recommend providing tangible rice straw management options and communicating the benefits of rice straw management.

The research was funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation through CORIGAP; Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development; Scalable straw management options for improved farmer’s livelihoods, sustainability, and low environmental footprint in rice-based ecosystems; and CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

Read the study
Connor M, de Guia A, Quilloy R, Hung VN, Gummert M, and Sander BO. (2020). When climate change is not psychologically distant – Factors influencing the acceptance of sustainable farming practices in the Mekong River Delta of Vietnam. ScienceDirect: doi.org/10.1016/j.wdp.2020.100204 

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Ms. Quilloy is a senior communication specialist at the Mechanization and Postharvest Cluster under IRRI’s Sustainable Impact Platform.

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