Thursday, May 30, 2013

Adoption of Niger Seed

In 2010, an ECHO Asia Notes article entitled The Recent Introduction of Niger Seed (Guizotia abyssinica) Production in Northern Thailand described how the production of Niger Seed, a drought-hardy oil crop, has spread farmer-to-farmer along the Thai-Myanmar border.  In the meantime, ECHO Asia has also released numerous sample packets and bulk orders of Niger among our regional partners.  

During a recent trip to Pang Daeng Nai village in Thailand's Chiang Mai Province, a community known for its agroforestry and green manure/cover cropping efforts, our friend Nam Saeng showed us his freshly expressed Niger seed oil from the crop he produced in 2012.  He reports that approximately two liters of Niger seed broadcast over roughly 1600 square meters of permanent hill field produced enough seed to fill six 20-liter cans.  This amount of seed yielded enough oil to meet his family's estimated needs over the next year.  He says that neighbors have noticed his results and expects others to begin planting Niger as well.

One of ECHO Asia's key roles is to highlight such underutilized crops for the benefit of smallholder farmers who often cultivate marginal land.  However, one need expressed by Nam Saeng is access to a low-cost mill to express oil for crops such as Niger seed (he had to travel some distance to have his seeds processed).  That leads to another key ECHO Asia role; locating and/or encouraging the development of appropriate technology for partnering development organizations to promote among their focus communities.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Shade Structure Frustrations at the ECHO Asia Seed Bank

As a result of climate change, many regions are experiencing record heat which is negatively impacting crop production.  One response to mitigate the effects of high temperatures is to grow crops under light shade.  Most garden crops tolerate and even thrive with some shade as the impact of extreme high temperatures can be muted by blocking intense sunlight.  This also helps to conserve soil moisture.
At the ECHO Asia Seed Bank, a shade structure was recently erected in the Thailand plot (we also currently have production plots named for India, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar).  Covered with 50 percent shade cloth, the positive effects were soon obvious.  Upon entering the plot, there was a noticeable temperature difference of several degrees.  The hot season vegetables looked great with less heat stress, especially with reduced evaporation from the plant bed soils, which also translated into less watering.

But experts say that along with higher temperatures, climate change will bring more intense storms.  Once such event occurred in early May, bringing most of the new shade structure to the ground.  Needless to say, it was a huge disappointment.

But we are determined to learn from our mistakes and press forward with a new and improved shade structure.  Stronger reinforced posts will be used.  We will also install an overlapping vent into the roof structure to lessen possible lift from high winds.  And we may also stretch clear plastic sheets across the structure to protect the production plots from the effects of heavy rainfall during the rainy season.