Transforming Arid Land for Sustainable Rice Farming

Samran Suikong is full of smiles as she swaps her plough and shovel for a microphone for the day. This is the first time the full-time farmer and a mother is assuming the role of trainer on sustainable Hom Mali rice farming. And despite her unfamiliarity with this new hat, she has fun sharing her farming experience during a two-hour time slot that’s filled with laughter.
Mrs Samran Suikong, a local farmer-turned-farming trainer from Roi Et province.
Mrs Suikong was among the “smart farmers” who joined a recent two-day training session for 52 local farmer trainers in Roi Et province in Thailand’s northeast. This was the first time such a “train-the-trainers” session had been held in a bid to enable local farmers to share their experiences and design and deliver training on sustainable rice platform (SRP) implementation through the peer-learning process.

Mrs Suikong was just one of the few farmers handpicked from more than 1,200 rice growers in Northeast Thailand participating in the “Sustainable Aromatic Rice Initiative” (SARI) supported by the Thai Rice Department, HERBA Bangkok Limited (Ebro), Mars Food Limited and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) Thailand Office.

The selected smart farmers from Thung Kula Rong Hai all share a thirst for change and a willingness to try a new way of rice farming.
“I’ve been doing rice farming for over 25 years based on the traditional practices we’ve used for generations. Yet, farmers are still poor and heavily in debt. However, since learning and practising a new rice farming technique, I now have ways to improve my financial status and write off my household debts,” Mrs Suikong said.
Her home province of Roi Et occupies one-third of the Thung Kula Rong Hai, an expansive, dry and harsh area in the middle of the region. Local communities not only in Roi Et but also in other provinces, namely Surin, Buriram, Yasothon, and Mahasarakham, are also earning an income from growing the world-renowned Khao Hom Mali Thung Kula Rong Hai, or Thai Jasmine Rice, to support their families.
Hom Mali Rice comes in two varieties – RD15 and KDML 105.

Types of Hom Mali Rice

Hom Mali Rice comes in two varieties – RD15 and KDML 105. The rice is elongated, slim, glossy and transparent, with a floral scent of pandanus leaves. Its texture is smooth, and the rice hull has a straw-like yellow colour. After being cooked for 15 to 20 minutes, it tastes slightly sweet, delicate, velvety and spongy and the texture becomes smooth, sticky and creamy.

Source: Rice Department

A simple strip-dropping technique for cost reduction and income generation

Mrs Suikong, did not hesitate to join the SARI project when she first heard about it in 2019, After attending a series of training sessions on Dry Direct Seeding techniques organised by GIZ field staff, she decided to put the theory learned into practice on her family’s 30-rai plot of land by switching from using the traditional practice of broadcast rice seeding to the direct seeding technique after ploughing.

Seed dropping farming helps reduce costs and increase income among smallholder farmers.
The mother of three concedes the experimental path has not been all smooth. She needed all her physical and mental strength to not give in to her husband and fellow villagers who disagreed with her new technique. “They questioned if I could really earn a better income from implementing this new rice farming method where rice seedlings are grown in separate rows of 25×25 cm instead of the usual green carpet of rice paddies grown from the broadcast seeding technique generally implemented in the Central Plains,” she explained. She recalled how some of them even laughed at her and said she was out of her mind.
However, the 47-year-old female farmer slowly noticed the changes for the better. Each land plot requires only 5-8kg of seeds/rai compared to up to 25-30kg of seeds/rai needed in the general broadcast seeding practice. In addition, the technique of dry direct seeding enables the roots to go deep in the soil. As a result, the seedlings are stronger and more resistant to pests and weeds without using large amount of pesticides.

In fact, chemical fertilisers are not even needed all that much, resulting in her overall expenditure on fertilisers dropping from THB9,000 to an average THB5,000. When the costs are reduced, her income and savings automatically increase.

Chemical fertilisers are not needed much nowadays. Farming costs are reduced and income and savings automatically increase.
Systematically recording an income and expense account is the other component of the knowledge she has acquired. Most farmers usually write payments directly on the calendar as a record, but this method cannot help them see the overall picture of household income and debt.

Technology, innovation and smartphones also enable Thai farmers to become true “smart farmers”. They can receive information and updates on the weather forecast, the right period to start ploughing and when the seeds will be dropped off by GIZ staff.

Perseverance always pays off

When the harvest season arrives, Mrs Suikong is now able to harvest up to 575kg/rai out from the seed dropping fields compared to the usual 350-370kg/rai harvested from the general broadcast seeding rice paddies. The overall profit she could earn from selling Hom Mali rice grown by seed dropping farming is about THB123,000/year, considerably higher than the THB96,000/year she earned from broadcast seeding.

An increase in income and profit together with a reduction are evidence of the success which Mrs Suikong has achieved in just one year and all on her own. The smart farmer is positive that she will be able to write off her 1.2 million-baht household debt if she continues with the dry direct seeding technique, records and maintains her income-expense account, follows the recommended ploughing technique and utilises technology and innovation to access agricultural knowledge online.

Her husband and neighbours who once laughed at her now show her respect and even ask for her recommendations about trying the new farming technique. The smart farmer aims to use her rice fields as a learning centre to share outputs and her experience not only with her neighbours but also with those who are interested in learning and putting new rice farming techniques into practice. Her daughter is also interested in developing the farmland as a community agri-tourism spot.
Mrs Suikong keep meticulous farming records to compare costs and income
between direct seeding farming and the traditional broadcast seeding technique.
Dr Atthawit Watcharapongchai, GIZ Director of Rice Projects in Thailand, said the training is based on the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation, the world’s first voluntary sustainability standard for rice. Developed together with supply chain actors, governments, development organizations, and the farmers that it aims to benefit, the SRP Standard enables objective comparison of all rice systems. For Thailand, it provides a framework for continuous improvement that is applicable to both irrigated areas in the Central Plains and rainfed cultivation areas in the Northeast.

The session is one of the project’s attempts to groom local farmers like Mrs Suikong and many others so they will be valuable resource persons for local communities and pass on sustainable agricultural practices to younger generations in the long term, he said. “Learning by doing is the best practice. Outputs from active implementation of alternative rice farming technique can provide better livelihoods for Thai farmers, and the sustainable rice farming practice in Thailand,” he said.
Mr Wilak Poontaetong, GIZ field manager, welcomed farmers to the one-day session
Group discussions in the afternoon.
Group discussions in the afternoon.
Group discussions in the afternoon.
Group discussions in the afternoon.


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