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Direct seeding mulch-based cropping systems for rice-beef production in the plain of Jars, Xieng Khouang Province, Lao PDR : an example of the creation - validation research and development methodological approach

Lienhard P., Tivet F., Bounkhampone B., Sosomphou T., Sayphoummie S., Phanthanivong I., Séguy L.. 2010. In : Chanphengxay Monthathip B. (ed.), Khamhung Anonth (ed.), Panysiri Khamkéo (ed.), Chabanne André (ed.), Julien Frédéric (ed.), Tran Quoc Hoa (ed.), Lienhard Pascal (ed.), Tivet Florent (ed.). Investing in sustainable agriculture : the case of conservation agriculture and direct seeding mulch-based cropping systems. Proceedings of the Regional Workshop held in Phonsavan, Xieng Khouang Province, Lao PDR, 28th October - 1st November 2008. Vientiane : Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry [Laos], p. 210-223. Regional Workshop on Conservation Agriculture, 2008-10-28/2008-11-01, Phonsavan (Laos, République démocratique populaire).

The Plain of Jars is an acid, infertile savannah grassland covering an area of about 60,000 ha in the western region of Xieng Khouang Province, northeastern Lao PDR. In this ecology, farming systems are mainly based on lowland rice cultivation and extensive livestock production. An increase in rice production and intensification of the livestock industry are two key components in the Lao government's poverty alleviation strategy for this area. The main agronomic constraints for developing crops and forage systems are related to serious unfavourable soil chemical characteristics. Low pH, along with nutrients deficiencies (in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium) and high levels of aluminium saturation probably have a negative effect on the growth of upland crops, as well as many pasture species. Moreover, severe phosphorus deficiency generates animal health problems. Since 2004, the Lao National Agro- Ecology Programme (PRONAE) has been working on innovative farming systems based on direct seeding mulch-based cropping system (DMC) principles, as a technical approach, and on a progressive in situ validation process with smallholders as a Research & Development (R&D) approach. The advantages of the methodology are presented through the case of a DMC system developed in 2005 by the project to intensify rice-beef production in the Plain of Jars. The farming system initially proposed was a 5-year rotational sequence where improved pasture land was implemented in the first year, fattening activities conducted in the following three years and pasture regenerated in the fifth year using rice as a cash crop to finance pastureland re- implantation. Costs and benefits of the system were simulated according to the data collected in the creation sites. At the end of the 5 years, an average net income of 160 $US/ year/ha and an average labour productivity of 2.5 US$ per ha and working day were expected. The system was then proposed to 89 families forming 16 farmers' groups in 12 different villages for an in situ validation covering 76 ha. Even though promising results have been described at the creation site, 3-years of continuous validation have revealed several constraints for mass extension. In- field monitoring and interviews with farmers showed the main constraints to be (i) Market channels' constraints or malfunctioning, (ii) Fencing costs and maintenance, (iii) Production costs rising faster than benefits, (iv) Credit access and supply, (v) Technical skills required for good-quality pastureland implementation and management and (vi) Cattle fattening management. This feedback has given rise to development-related discussions and proposals regarding credit access, market channel functioning and training supports to be provided to farmers. This feed back has also given rise to new research topics, such as (i) how to generate higher incomes during the first year of implementation and (ii) how to reduce fertilizer use (main production cost) while maintaining at the same time improved pastureland productivity. New farming systems based on direct sowing of rice associated with forage species on degraded native pastureland have therefore been tested at creation sites and are currently under validation with farmer groups. This rice-beef system "creation- validation" process shows (i) the need to maintain research activities in the development process and (ii) the merits of the "creation site / farmer validation group" system for determining the potential for technology dissemination....

Mots-clés : agriculture alternative; méthodologie; semis direct; culture sous couvert végétal; bovin; oryza; république démocratique populaire lao; agriculture de conservation

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