Thai farmers taught to cope with soil salinity

Thai farmers taught to cope with soil salinity
A mind map is drawn by Siam Cement Group employees to summarise the idea behind the Pluk Kid Pun Suk learning centre in Nakhon Ratchasima province.

A big hurdle for northeastern farmers has been lowered thanks to the success of a Nakhon Ratchasima learning centre that provides knowledge about soil salinity management.

The Innovative Technological Project for the Restoration of Saline Land was started in 2008 through a collaboration among Siam Cement Group, the National Science and Technology Development Agency and the Land Development Department, with the aim to help farmers cope with salty soil by encouraging them to think out of the box.

The Pluk Kid Pun Suk learning centre, which is in Baan Toey in the province's Phimai district, was the result of local farmers succeeding despite the dire soil conditions and their willingness to share their techniques with other communities that faced the same problem.

The farmers have pinpointed techniques for producing crops that tolerate salty soil, and that information is passed on to others struggling with the problem.

Associate Professor Chalermpol Kirdmanee, the head of the project, said soil salinity was a serious problem for the agriculture industry in the Northeast and affected about 17 million rai (2.72 million hectares).

He said many farmers had the determination to learn new things but needed someone to guide them to the right path. The project encouraged them to think outside the box and use science-based strategies to solve problems.

"For some reason, they kept using the same method that their ancestors did over and over again, even though it was not working," he said.

"What we have to do is show them solutions with a quick result. Once they see the success of one person, the whole village is willing to follow."

When salinity in the soil covers more than 80 per cent of arable land in a village, it can severely damage production and as a result lead to a big drop in income for farmers who mostly grow rice.

Bunchert Seekaew, a Nakhon Ratchasima farmer, said the arable area in his village used to be covered in salt. He said people were usually in debt because of low rice production, with natural disasters such as drought and floods also taking a toll. But now farmers employed a mulching method, with rice straw used to protect the soil from the sun and prevent salty water under the land from surfacing and evaporating.

Bunchert said combining the method with organic matter like dead leaves and animal waste meant production had doubled from about 300 kilograms per rai to 600kg.

He encouraged other farmers to grow plants that could handle salty soil, such as tomatoes, mango and rose apple, for additional income. He said these crops alone were worth about Bt40,000 (S$1570) a year to him.

Under the project, a bio-organic fertiliser fund, currently worth more than Bt900,000, was set up to provide non-chemical fertilisers to farmers at a low price. Fertilisers are also sold and profits shared with members.

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