By Erythrina; Z. Zaini

Introduction
Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. Rice is the most important cereal and staple food consumed in Indonesia and the country is the third-largest rice producer. Between 1998 and 2012, the average annual production was about 56.8 million tons (Mt) from a harvest area of almost 12.2 million hectares (Mha). However, with an annual population increase of 1.4 per cent, more food is needed every year.

Indonesia's stagnation in rice yields and in rice farmers' gross margins is similar to the situation which afflicted Australia in the early 1980s (Lacy, 1997). The Australian remedy was the development, validation and implementation (with extension service support) of a successful Ricecheck procedure (Jensen, 2012). Ricecheck is a dynamic rice crop management system that compares farmers' practices with best technology and management practices and learns through farmers' discussion groups to sustain improvements in productivity, profitability and environmental safety.

One way to increase rice production is through adoption of integrated rice crop management. In 2007, the Indonesian President announced the National Rice Production Improvement programme (P2BN, Peningkatan Produksi Beras Nasional). This action programme demands involvement of all stakeholders, including agricultural researchers, extension workers, academicians, farmers' organizations, and local leaders such as district heads.

The aims of this study were to introduce a workable set of rice crop check items and their target (indicator) values for a realistic target yield within an existing Indonesian Integrated Crop Management (ICM) package, quantify the relationship between the check indicators achieved by individual farmers and monitor the adoption of integrated rice crop management.

Methodology
The study was conducted in South Lampung Regency, Lampung Province, Indonesia from 2006-2007 at four villages with 78 farmers (60 males and 18 females). A multidisciplinary team of agricultural and social scientists conducted a Participatory Rural Appraisal to characterize the village-targeted agricultural resources, help villagers diagnose and plan interventions to overcome rice system productivity constraints, and thereby strengthen existing opportunities for income growth.

Using the outcomes of the agroecosystems analysis and of the familiarization training, Farmer Groups reviewed a set of prospective 'Ricecheck items' derived from an ICM package. Farmers were encouraged to try all 12 ICM components so that they could select the options that suited the biophysical, social, and economic circumstances and the availability of resources and component technologies. The ICM technology options were thus location-specific and dynamic. The Farmer Group subsequently adapted that set to local conditions and agreed to a set of Ricecheck items within a 12-component integrated rice crop management package.

Farmer Group meetings and outcomes
A Ricecheck Farmer Group consisted of 20-30 rice farmers and met regularly to improve their productivity and profitability by implementing the Ricecheck system of crop management. Each group would hold an initial planning meeting and then meet a total of 10 times before, during and after each rice crop season. The last two meetings were held after harvest: the first meeting to finalize the crop monitoring data, including the yield data, and the second meeting to review, analyse and interpret results and the relationships between checks achieved, yield results and gross margins.

Indonesia Ricecheck included Farmer Field Laboratories (FFL) in which Ricecheck farmers made participatory investigations of rice production procedures and where Ricecheck technologies and Ricecheck methods of rice crop observation, measurement and recording could be demonstrated. These activities aimed to: (a) support the discovery-learning procedures of Ricecheck; (b) enable Ricecheck farmers to explore technological and procedural rice production aspects with no risk to their food security and/or family income and welfare; and (c) provide awareness of the Ricecheck methodology to non-Ricecheck farmers in areas near to the Ricecheck operations and to local government and private sector stakeholders in pre-harvest field days.

Field monitoring of FFL-ICM was conducted in 2009 and 2010 to evaluate the level of adoption of the various components of the ICM technology. Monitoring was conducted at 285 farms in four provinces.

Results and discussions
Analysis of Ricecheck farmers' rice yields and gross margins
The Ricecheck system in support of ICM was based on the principle that yields would increase as adoption of the 10 Key Checks increased. The 10 Key Checks were to: (1) use locally appropriate cultivars; (2) use certified seeds with high vigour; (3) ensure effective leveling and tillage management; (4) synchronize seeding of the nursery; (5) establish sufficient plant population to ensure adequate grain-sink size; (6) apply fertilizer at the right time and the right amount based on site-specific nutrient management (SSNM); (7) avoid excessive water or drought stress; (8) ensure no yield loss due to weed and pests; (9) harvest at the right time; and (10) thresh at the right time.

The Ricecheck method was used to evaluate the success of ICM in farmers' fields. Figure 1 illustrates a strong relationship between the number of Key Checks achieved and increases in grain yield and gross margin. Farmers who achieved four Key Checks obtained 5.0 t ha-1 grain yield. Yields increased up to 8.0 t ha-1 as the number of Key Checks achieved increased from 4 to 9. Achievement of all nine checks resulted in a 59 per cent increase in grain yield.

The beneficial effects of achieving more Key Checks for increasing gross margin were more convincing than increasing grain yield (Figure 2). Achievement of nine Key Checks resulted in a US$ 916 ha-1 gross margin compared with $483 ha-1 for farmers achieving only four checks. The achievement of nine Key Checks resulted in a 91 per cent increase in gross margin. This 91 per cent increase, compared with the 59 per cent grain yield increase, reflected that there was a synergistic effect among ICM component technologies used by the most strongly adopting ICM farmers.

One of the aims of Ricecheck was to improve the adoption of the Key Checks since the higher the adoption rate the higher the yields. These results supported the results from Australia and the Philippines, indicating that the more Key Checks that are achieved (i.e. the number of best management practices adopted by farmers) the higher the yields (Singh, et al., 2005; Lacy, et al., 2005; Jensen, 2012).

 

Interpretations of yield gaps and gross margin gaps
The individual farmer data for checks achieved, grain yield and gross margin permitted additional analyses of the relative influence among the ten check items - for 78 Ricecheck farmers during two seasons - in terms of both yield and gross margins. The analysis for grain yield permitted interpretation in terms of yield-gap components among the 10 check items. Analyses for gross margins, and for gross margins in association with grain yields, permitted interpretation in terms of relative cost-effectiveness among the 10 checks in a real cropping situation.

Table 1 summarizes the benefits (in t ha-1 grain yield and in thousand rupiah ha-1 gross margins) from achieving each individual check and from achieving all of them. It also presents those individual benefits as a percentage fraction of their respective totals: (3,093 + 0.24) t ha-1, or (4,382 + 346) thousand rupiah ha-1

 

Development of ICM in Indonesia
During 2009 to 2010, adoption of the Ricecheck approach as part of the ICM/Farmer Field School (FFS) methodology expanded to 2 million hectares of irrigated lowland rice. Each of the 800,000 ICM/FFS units comprised 25 ha of farmers' fields and a one-hectare farmer managed Field Laboratory. Monitoring indicated that diffusion/adoption were relatively low for some ICM component technologies in 2009 and 2010 - notably for fertilizer application or SSNM. Because of incomplete adoption of the packages, some farmers' benefits were impacted by unnecessarily high applications and hence cost of inputs - particularly of nitrogen fertilizer, with consequent increase in diseases and their costs of control.

Often, adoption was not simply a yes/no decision (Noltze et al., 2012). For instance, farmers might decide to adopt a certain innovation but only applied it on part of their land, or, when several components were involved, they might decide to use only certain components but not others. The adoption decision was a process that extended over a certain period of time.

Collaborative research between the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development (IAARD) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) led to the development of SSNM, which provided science-based principles for best-bet fertilizer practices (Buresh et al., 2010). IRRI and IAARD further collaborated to develop a computer-based decision support tool, named Nutrient Manager for Rice or 'Pemupukan Hara Spesifik Lokasi' (PHSL) in Bahasa Indonesia, which transformed the science of SSNM into a field-specific fertilizer recommendation for rice farmers (Buresh et al., 2012).

PHSL contained 14 questions, which could be easily answered by farmers, usually with the assistance of an extension worker. Based on the farmer's answers, a fertilizer recommendation matching the farmer's rice growing conditions was provided. In order to reach more rice farmers faster, IRRI and IAARD have now developed a mobile phone application of PHSL, referred to as PHSL HP.

Conclusions

  1. The prototype procedures for Ricecheck Farmer Group formation and familiarization were effective. The evaluating agency for Ricecheck Indonesia operated at the interface between research and extension; it was effective in assisting the regular Farmer Group discussions. Efforts are now needed to develop national-scale training for local government Ricecheck extensionists.
  2. The development and testing of PHSL highlights the potential of recent advances in information and communication technologies to provide tools for reaching more farmers faster with appropriate information and services.

(References available upon request) .