Graham Centre members Professor Deirdre Lemerle and Dr Jason Condon are sharing their expertise working as mentors on a program that aims to improve the profitability and sustainability of rice-based production systems in central and southern Laos.
The program is a collaboration between: farmers, Lao national, provincial and district governments; the Crawford Fund; the Australian Volunteer Program (AVP); and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
In 2019 Mr Matt Champness, mentored by Professor Lemerle and Dr Leigh Vial, and Mr Stephen Lang, mentored by Professor Lemerle and Dr Condon, began working in Laos with the APV.
Mr Champness’ work is focused on demonstrating a range of non-chemical weed control tactics in direct-seeded rice. You might remember Mr Champness as a Graham Centre Honours student who was awarded the Agricultural Science Medal when he graduated from Charles Sturt University in 2018.
Professor Lemerle and Mr Champness, visited several field sites in September and attended a number of farmers’ discussions about direct-seed rice and weed management and soil improvement.
“We examined several demonstrations set up by Matt to assess the techniques for early weed suppression,” Professor Lemerle said.
“Inter-row cutting of weeds with a hand-held and modified ‘whippa snippa’ shows considerable promise as a replacement for hand-weeding, and female farmers were very interested in this.
“The placement of nitrogen with the rice seed at sowing, rather than broadcast, also seems to favour crop suppression of weeds.
“Further work is needed to quantify the benefits and costs of these techniques.
“Matt is also developing extension tools to promote weed management to farmers, for example, YouTube videos and posters.”
Mr Lang’s work is examining improving soil condition and productivity with organic amendments.
“Stephen is setting up a soils analysis laboratory to improve the capacity of the Provincial Agricultural and Forestry Office (PAFO) to provide advice and speedy analysis of soil condition and nutrient status for farmers at the local level,” Professor Lemerle said.
“He is also helping develop a five-year plan for PAFO in soils capacity building for research, development and extension.
“Stephen will undertake field and pot experiments to examine the impacts of organic soil amendments and fertilizers on soil condition and productivity.
“Both Matt and Stephen are learning Lao and they are helping PAFO staff with written and oral English.”
Professor Lemerle said the program will expand capacity building over the next three years in Laos and for Australia in international agricultural development.