IPI International Potash Institute
IPI International Potash Institute

Research Findings: e-ifc No. 10, December 2006

Farmer participatory development and evaluation of locally adapted nutrient management practices

Buresh, R.J., and C. Witt

Below is a description of a farmer participatory approach for the development, evaluation, and promotion of nutrient management practices tailored to the field-specific needs of Asian rice farmers. This has emerged through collaboration between NARES and IRRI in several Asian countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines.

Step 1: Train local extension workers, researchers, and farmer leaders on guidelines for enabling rice farmers to develop field-specific nutrient management practices

The effective uptake by farmers of a relatively knowledge intensive technology, such as improved nutrient management for rice, necessitates the communication of consistent and explicit messages to farmers. The persons providing farmers with information on nutrient management must be familiar with the SSNM guidelines and how they can be used by farmers to develop and evaluate improved practices for specific rice fields. The implementation of this step requires:

  • Technical experts to serve as trainers.
  • A manual explaining how to enable rice farmers to develop and evaluate improved nutrient management practices for their specific rice fields.

Step 2: Empower farmers to develop nutrient management practices adapted to their specific rice fields

Trained extension workers, researchers, or farmer leaders can interact with farmers in a target community through a focus group discussion. This empowers farmers, through a series of questions based on the steps in the SSNM guidelines presented in section IV, to develop a nutrient management practice tailored to specific rice fields. The implementation of this step requires:

  • Appropriate selection of farmers within a target community.
  • Documentation, such as a flip chart, to guide farmers through the process of developing a nutrient management practice.

Step 3: Work with farmers in a target community to formulate and demonstrate a mutually agreed upon nutrient management practice.

Farmers' meeting in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Photo by R. Buresh.
Farmers' meeting in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Photo by R. Buresh.

A demonstration plot can provide farmers with visible evidence for the merits of an alternative nutrient management practice. The focus group discussion can be used to select the field for the demonstration and then develop, through a participatory process with farmers, a mutually agreeable nutrient management practice to be demonstrated in the field. The SSNM guidelines for example allow farmers to select whether to use single element or compound (NPK) fertilizer sources.

In implementing SSNM at the field and farm level, more uncertainty often exists regarding the optimal rate of fertilizer K and whether to apply a micronutrient such as zinc than with the optimal management for fertilizer N and P. The SSNM demonstration field can therefore include two improved practices for evaluation. For example, if through the focus group discussion there is considered to be a high likelihood of insufficient fertilizer K use with the farmers' practice, then one half of the SSNM demonstration field can receive only the recommended early fertilizer K application, which is typically higher than the farmers' practice. The other half of the SSNM demonstration field can receive both the recommended early fertilizer K application and the recommended fertilizer K application at panicle initiation. This can be valuable in demonstrating the merits of contrasting fertilizer K rates to farmers often unfamiliar or hesitant with the use of fertilizer K. On the other hand, if through the focus group discussion there is considered to be a high likelihood of zinc deficiency, then zinc sulfate can be applied to only one half of the SSNM demonstration plot field in order to assess the merit of zinc fertilization.

Step 4: Use the focus group discussion to provide farmers with techniques to diagnosis and overcome nutrient constraints in their fields

The need for fertilizer K and micronutrients, such as zinc, can vary among fields. For example, the need for fertilizer K is influenced by straw management and soil properties, whereas the need for zinc is influenced by duration of soil submergence. Through a focus group discussion, farmers' fields with high likelihood of K or zinc deficiency can be identified and targeted for evaluation of the needs of these nutrients.

The need for zinc fertilization can be determined by applying zinc sulfate at early rice growth stage to a small plot, typically about 5 m by 5 m, within a farmers' field. Comparative performance of the rice crop within the zinc addition plot and in an adjacent comparably managed area without application of zinc can be used to assess the need for zinc (IRRI, 2006). Similarly, the need for supplemental fertilizer K can be determined by applying KCl (0-0-60) fertilizer to a small plot within a farmers' field and assessing the comparative performance of the rice crop within the K addition plot and in an adjacent comparably managed area without application of additional K. The implementation of this step requires:

  • Pre-weighed fertilizers packets with sufficient zinc sulfate or KCl for application to a pre-determined field area.
  • Simple instructions for farmers on how to implement K and zinc addition plots to assess the need for these nutrients.

The fertilizer, instructions, and brief training are provided to farmers, and then farmers completely implement the simple trial in their field. The K and zinc addition plot trials can be supplemented with soil test kits and soil analyses to enhance abilities for predicting locations most prone to K and zinc constraints.

Step 5: Conduct periodic farmer meetings and field visits

Field visits provide farmers in a community with the opportunity to observe crop performance in demonstration plots and in zinc or K addition plot trials. Periodic field visits and farmer meetings can provide farmers with answers to questions arising from demonstrations and with orientation to SSNM guidelines.

References
International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). 2006. Site-specific nutrient management. http://www.irri.org/irrc/ssnm/. Accessed 23 Oct 2006.