A visit to Thailand
Rice is one of the leading food crops in the world, representing not only a vital part of the individual’s nutrition in every-day life, but also a great revenue potential for African as well as Asian economies, as a whole.
Although great efforts have been made to strengthen African rice production in order to meet domestic demand and increase farmers’ revenues, there still is room for improvement regarding strategic investments in research and development, production and trade infrastructure. CARI has realised that the Asian know-how in producing, trading and setting policies can be valuable benchmarks for combatting deficiencies in the African rice industry. Known as the world’s top rice exporter, Thailand serves as role model and a valuable benchmark. Therefore, a cross-continental learning exchange was established in 2016, a collaboration between CARI and the Better Rice Initiative Asia (BRIA). This year’s second exchange visit between BRIA and CARI partners from Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Tanzania took place from 21st – 25th August 2017 across different provinces in Thailand.
The main objective of the exchange was to provide participants with insights and a better understanding of the Thai rice value chain and its stakeholders. Consequently, participants from four West and East African countries were given guided tours and extensive discussion time at several locations, gaining valuable insights, of which four can especially be highlighted.
(1) The first stop of the exchange led to the Klang Community Rice Center in Ubon Ratchathani Province, which works together with OLAM in order to improve and convert their production efforts, according to the standards of the sustainable rice platform (SRP). The visit to the community-based farmers’ association created the opportunity to discuss about challenges and recommendations concerning rice farming practices, post-harvest techniques and packaging, as well as the management and organization of the farmers’ association group; topics that were of high relevance for the visitors from Africa.
(2) At Raitong Organics Farm Co. Ltd., an organic rice farm in Sisaket Province, discussions centered around topics of organic farming processes (ranging from land preparation to marketing), innovative technologies and trials (such as biological weed management), processes of material packaging and quality control. Even though there might not yet be a large market for organic rice in African countries, the holistic concept of the farm, run as a social business, was inspiring and holds large potential for the future of African rice farming.
(3) The third visit to the Ubon Ratchathani Rice Research Centre gave insight into key rice varieties and consumer preferences in Thailand. The participants learnt about challenges related to rice production, plant protection and therewith the importance of their on-going rice research. The Research Centre has more than 1,000 genes in its gene-bank, allowing for the continuous improvement of seeds and their resistance to pests and diseases, which is crucial for sustaining Thai farmers and Thailand’s rice brand. Moreover, current research areas at Ubon Ratchathani Rice Research Centre include rice genetics and variety selection, seed technology, biotechnology, soil fertility and natural resource management, all important topics that will help address future upcoming challenges.
(4) Thai Jasmine rice is well known and enjoyed around the world. At the Office of Commodity Standards, at the Ministry of Commerce, the group learnt about Jasmine rice quality standards, classification schemes, quality assurance and certification in accordance with Thai law. Even though the majority of participants work within the private sector, they acknowledged the importance and benefit of government involvement and regulation. With respect to commodity standards which not only hold restrictions and additional responsibilities for companies but support the creation of brands and create additional employment opportunities, an aspect of high importance for the African continent.
The experience of this field visit was extremely rewarding and appreciated by all participants. By learning more about rice cultivation in Thailand and exchanging with different organizations along the Thai rice value chain, valuable ideas and impressions were gained, leaving the participants optimistic about their new abilities to improve rice production processes in their home country. BRIA and CARI are looking forward to continue cooperating and supporting mutual learning and knowledge exchange in the future.