Rice farmer and community nurse Bui Thi Thiet, 40, lives with her husband, their two children and mother-in-law in Qui Hau commune, Tan Lac district, Hoa Binh Province, 2-hours drive from Ha Noi. She shares the changes she has seen since she joined the farmer’s seed system initiated by the provincial Farmer’s Union with support from Oxfam.
Until a few rice crops ago, I used to buy hybrid seeds from agriculture inputs shop before each crop. The price was expensive, for our 3,000 sq. meter paddy fields we have, the cost was about 1 million dong (appr.US$50). Sometimes, when the neighbors started to soak the seeds ready to sow, we still did not have enough money to buy seeds for new crop.
Even when we had bought seeds, it was still hard for us to farm. Hybrid seeds usually come unlabelled – we did not know where they were from, or in bags printed in Chinese that we could not understand. There was no guarantee of the quality of the seeds, or the yield. We had to invest in specific types of fertilizer and insecticide as the rice planted was insect-prone, which resulted in more input costs. Planting hybrid rice also requires more water, especially when the rice starts the heading process.
When the farmer’s seed system was introduced in our community, I did not believe in it 100 percent. I just was hoping I could produce my own seeds so I would not have to buy seeds from the shop again.
The project sent extension officials to teach us basic techniques from seed selection, the seeding, growth monitoring, throughout the first crop, together with hands-on practice from then on.
Some people dropped out of the training because they thought it was a waste of time. We received 10,000 dong (50 cents) to take part in each half day training session but people thought they could do more at home or their farm, or find labour work to earn four times the training incentive. But I thought they were only short term benefits, if I did not take part in the training I would not know how to apply new technique to my own rice field.
Since I started to participate in the project, I understand more and feel more confident. Before, I only planted rice for the sake of it and applied fertilizer at any time. What I have learnt most from the project is techniques to care for the rice properly and fully. Moreover, I’ve started to produce my own seeds so I am saving money from not having to buy seeds anymore. And if we manage to produce new variety of seeds with higher yields, I will be amongst the first to try and have the technique to do so.
Farmer Thiet tells the changes with the farmer’s seed system. Photo: Chau Doan/Oxfam
I’m on the fifth crop with the project. I’m no longer having to wait for the shop to supply the seeds before each crop, now I can get them from my kitchen. I am able to choose specific type of seeds to suit different pieces of paddy fields we have.
Other farmers can use the seeds we produce too. They could exchange 1,5 kg of rice for 1 kg of seeds – this is equivalent to 9,000 dong, eight times cheaper than buying hybrid seeds from the shop.
We use different techniques for our own rice, single planting so we save more seeds. For each 1000 sq.meter, we would need 5 kg of hybrid seed, now only 3-4 kg. Our seeds attract fewer insects too – our pilot fields remain clear while the neighbouring fields are affected by insects.
The yield of our farmer seed system is better. We harvest plenty for the spring-summer crop, and for the summer autumn crop, we have 2 tons from our 3,000 sq. meter field, enough rice to eat from October through to June the following year.
The farmer’s seed system is not yet fully developed because our fields are small and scattered. We try to gather a few neighboring fields to produce seeds for us and other farmers in our community. We need more and bigger fields to be able to produce enough to meet the demand and to make a profit.
I hope the local authorities further provide support us so that we can expand the project, and have greater variety of seeds, such that we can create more suitable local seeds to reduce farmer’s input costs.
I will continue doing this even if there is no further support as now I clearly see the benefits – I can produce my own seeds and exchange them in my community.