Myanmar Central Dry Zone: Crop Yields Drop Due To Salinization

By Henrylito D. Tacio

Davao, 4 April 2017. It is known as Central Dry Zone and covers 13 districts and 57 townships. The region of Mandalay, Sagaing and Magway is home to 11.5 million people or 27% of the total population in Myanmar. With an average population density of 99 persons per square kilometer, it is the third most densely populated in the country.

“The topography is generally undulating,” explains Dr. Amy Soe, of the Department of Agriculture Planning, which is under the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, on why the region is called as such.  “Most of the local streams are dry for much of the year with water flow limited to rainy periods.”

Myanmar farmers can turn to irrigation strategies to tackle salinization.

Myanmar farmers can turn to irrigation strategies to tackle salinization.

The average rainfall is about 650 millimeters per year.  No wonder, the region’s agricultural systems are complex; farmers cultivate paddy and non-rice crops (pulses, oilseeds, cotton, tobacco, and vegetables, to name a few) and raise livestock at the same time.

Most of the people are dependent on the southwest monsoon, which starts in mid-July and lasts until October.  “Over the last decade, there has been a higher frequency of lower amounts of rainfall occurring annually,” Dr. Soe reports.

But what’s even more alarming is that the soils, the primary source of farming, are being blown away by strong winds and eroded during an intense rain.  The continuous farming of the land has resulted in soil salinization, as what Dr. Soe’s study found out.

The study – done in Mandalay, Sagaing and Magway – was conducted with support from the ELD (Economics of Land Degradation) Initiative and the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA).

In Myanmar, irrigation plays a crucial role in crop production.  But once water is misused, it may result to salinization.  “Salinity is a common problem in dry regions where the rainfall is too low and irrigation is practiced without proper drainage,” Dr. Soe explains.  “Such irrigation practices can lead to accumulated salts in the root zone, which give negative impacts on soil properties and crop productivity.”

More often than not, salinization takes place among rice fields.  It takes about 3,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of rice, reports the Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Mandalay, Sagaing and Magway have come under study in what is called the Myanmar Central Dry Zone.

Mandalay, Sagaing and Magway have come under study in what is called the Myanmar Central Dry Zone.

“Water quality is usually associated with both the salinity and sodium content of the water,” Dr. Soe says.  “Sodium present in irrigation water can adversely affect soil structure and the growth of the crop.”

Farmers know it well.  Generally, they get to know the soil condition through the texture and color.  “At the time of rice planting until harvesting, they observe that some parts of their farms have white salt crust.  This results to the stunting of the crop’s growth.  Later on, the leaves of the plants turn red and the proper yield cannot be fully attained.  In some cases, the whole crop turns dry before harvest,” says Dr. Cho Cho San, who is with the policy and planning unit of the agriculture’s Department of Planning.

When this happens, farmers may abandon their farms, according to a study conducted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

But there are some farmers who try to solve the salinity problem by adopting various conservation measures.  Among them are the following: application of organic and chemical fertilizers, using farm yard manure, intercropping, mulching, no-tillage cultivation, crop rotation, and appropriate drainage.

While 90% of farmers know that their farms are degraded due to saline water that comes from irrigation water, the study showed, 80% of them believed there are no policies and programs that can curtail land degradation, particularly salinity problems.

The study said: “Even though the farmers noticed that their soil had a salinity problem that leads to lower soil fertility and reduced productivity of their crop, they lack knowledge on how to combat the problem and what appropriate measures can be taken to reduce the soil problem in their farms.” 

To solve the salinity problem, the study suggests seven policy recommendations.  Among these are: feasibility studies to be done before irrigation systems are constructed; soil and water management action plans be included in soil and water salinity monitoring in all levels; urgent and effective action on highly affected alkalinity and salinity areas; and establishment of water user groups and farmer organizations.

The study also urged the government to address low crop productivity in salinity affected by area by instituting programs such as the introduction of salt-tolerant varieties and promotion of appropriate agronomic farming practices.

In addition, the study recommends that other irrigation-induced land degradation problems like waterlogging and acidity should be addressed. 

“The existing capacity of government extension services need to be strengthened because they play a critical role in diffusing new technology and practices to farmers,” the study urges.

All these should be heeded before it’s too late.  “If problem is not solved, the salinity condition will worsen when associated with climate change,” Dr. San points out.  “The present study found that there is considerable crop loss and benefit loss for the farmers and agricultural sector which contributes to 34% of country’s gross domestic product.”

Dr. San further says: “In local level, from the experience during this study, farmers find the other option such as going abroad, or moving to urban areas for making new livelihood.”

Morocco’s Vision 2020: Towards a model of sustainable tourism

By 2020, Morocco aims to position herself amongst the top twenty tourist destinations in the world through a strategic model of sustainable tourism. By Tan Hui Zhen.

Morocco, 3rd September 2015- Vision 2020 is the strategic roadmap for Morocco’s tourism sector over the next five years. Prepared by the Department of Tourism, the document outlines investments for the development of sustainable tourism in the country. The goal is to differentiate itself by offering a wide range of cultural and nature tourism products to the international market.

As part of the “Thousand Gardens of Africa” project started by Slow Food- an international grassroots organization that promotes access to quality, clean and fair food; local communities in Morocco are encouraged to adopt sustainable farming practices and take a direct involvement in cultivating their own food gardens.

The government has also launched several new eco-resorts as part of its long-term sustainable development plan- one of which is Taghzaout Bay.

The government has also launched several new eco-resorts as part of its long-term sustainable development plan- one of which is Taghzaout Bay.

Designed as a one-stop destination in the Atlantic Ocean for sports, culture, sea, nature and eco-tourism, the seaside resort extends over 615 hectares and includes high-end hotels, holiday residences and various sporting and leisure facilities.

More significantly, the project stands out for their sustainable development initiatives. Amongst other commitments, the developer has established a cooperative to provide a sustainable income for the local Argan women.

Meanwhile, revitalization projects are outlined for the Mogador archipelago and the UNESCO town of Essaouiria. Both historical sites currently suffer from severe architectural and environmental degradation, and uncontrolled urban development. The vision is to create alternative livelihoods for inhabitants so that growing pressures on the environment can be curbed for the long-term preservation of the country’s natural and built heritage.

Tourism is a major economic driver for Morocco. It contributes to 7.5% of the GDP and accounts for “an annual sale of 5.3 billion Euros, more than half a million jobs, 10.3 million foreign arrivals and a total 20 million presences”, says Jazia Santissi, Director of the National Tourist Board.

The sector is poised to grow further under Vision 2020.

In 2014, rural and nature tourism alone received 1.6 billion Euros worth of investments. This year, a series of projects are in the works to bring international arrivals up to 12 million. They include an app and endeavours like “Marrakachef Express” and “Donnavventura” that offer novel ways to exploring different landscapes of Morocco.

Meat Production : Modern methods negatively impact third world

Livestock is different the world over. Applying first world principles to meat production in developing countries is not always the best approach. By Jimmy Smith.

Jimmy Smith heads the Kenya-based International Livestock Research Institute

Jimmy Smith heads the Kenya-based International Livestock Research Institute

Kenya, 23 February 2015 - Talk of livestock these days is tinged with foreboding. We hear that livestock are bad for the environment, that they are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, that red meat is a factor in the global obesity epidemic, leading to public health crises. These concerns are legitimate. But they should not—must not—obscure the central importance of livestock to the livelihoods, health and well-being of some three billion people, many of whom are among the poorest on the planet. 

Nor must they detract from opportunities within the livestock sector – one of the fastest growing of all agricultural sectors – to address environmental, health, nutrition and food security challenges on a global scale. In fact, these problems are unlikely to be solved if livestock are excluded.

Decent diet

Consider the ongoing debate over the proper role of meat in our diets. Rarely in this discussion is a clear distinction drawn between the relatively rich people who make poor food choices (including over-consuming red meat and other rich foods) and the many poor people who basically have no food choices at all. And certainly not a choice of meat, which often is unaffordable, even though it could make a tremendous difference to their nutritional wellbeing.

It can feel almost heretical to remind people in rich countries that in most of the developing world both livestock production and consumption remain central to the lives and livelihoods of more than one billion people living on less than US$2 a day, which is more than the populations of the United States and European Union combined. But for this large swath of humanity, animal agriculture provides a reliable and nourishing source of food for their communities and a means of generating regular household income.

Traditional local-market based production makes more sense in many areas

Traditional local-market based production makes more sense in many areas

One Cow or Two?

Livestock owners of the South typically have only one or two cows or a small herd of goats or sheep. It would be absurd to encourage them to abandon their livestock and livestock-based livelihoods. Instead, the focus should be on improving the health and productivity of their animals and expanding access to market opportunities. Livestock can be a critical foundation for improving rural livelihoods, transforming rural economies, and feeding the third world's rapidly growing and advancing urban populations, hungry for a tastier diet as well as the essential protein and nutrients contained in milk, meat and eggs.

Researchers have shown that small but important changes in livestock breeding can provide cattle that would help poor dairy producers in East Africa increase their production per animal up to a massive 300%. Similar opportunities abound in the informal ‘backyard’ poultry production operations that already are a major source of food and income for poor people in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. And it can be done with an eye toward health and safety and without resorting to the industrial approach common in developed countries.

Animals are much less efficient at producing basic food sources than grains

Animals are much less efficient at producing basic food sources than grains

Livestock greenhouse gases are a legitimate concern, as they comprise about 14.5% of such human-induced emissions. Herein also lies a huge opportunity: livestock’s contribution to climate change can be significantly reduced by improving the diets of cattle and other ruminant farm animals in developing countries, which subsist today largely on grass and crop ‘residues’—the stalks and leaves of crops that remain after their grain has been harvested. Providing affordable, more digestible feeds—and not grains that people consume—would address a key reason livestock in the developing world produce more gas per unit of product than their cousins in wealthy countries: poor diets.

Greedy Westerners

We also can confront the widely diverging levels of consumption of livestock products. The recommended amount is about 90 grams (three ounces) of meat per day. On a per capita basis, US consumers typically eat three times that amount while consumers in Botswana eat less than half. By 2050, the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change sees a potential to save up to 15 gigatons of CO2 –twice the annual greenhouse gas emissions generated by today’s total global livestock sector—if everyone in the world adopted the daily diet recommended by the World Health Organization. Doing this, of course, would require some of us to cut back on our daily intake of animal-source foods and others to improve their nutrition by consuming more.

So what does all this mean? It means farm animals are very different the world over—valued most in rich countries for the food they produce and in poor countries most for the livelihoods and incomes they provide. Embracing such diverse perspectives will help us help solve the problems livestock present today while enhancing the many—and many unacknowledged—benefits they provide.

Jimmy Smith is director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Email: j.smith

How to Stop the Soil Degradation: Global Soil Partnership

Urgent action is required to improve the health of the world's limited soil resources and stop land degradation, so as to ensure that future generations have enough supplies of food, water, energy and raw materials, government representatives and experts meeting at FAO warned.

Forest Policies Needed With Social & Economic Focus

National policies and programmes should have a stronger focus on the potential of forests to reduce poverty and spur rural development. FAO's flagship publication The State of the World's Forests(SOFO), presented today at the opening of the 22nd Session of the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO), shows that a significant proportion of the world population relies on forest products to meet basic needs for energy, shelter and some aspects of primary healthcare - often to a very high degree.

Climate-smart Agriculture - FAO Success Stories

Rome, 6 June 2014 - FAO publication highlights success stories in "climate-smart agriculture" and stresses need to transition to new approach to food production. Shifting world agriculture to a "climate-smart" approach will not only help prevent future food security crises but holds the promise of sparking economic and agricultural renewal in rural areas where hunger and poverty are most prevalent.

The Haze, Hazier Deals and the Fiery Blame Game

The smog caused mostly by Indonesian forest and plantation fires in June 2013 has triggered a blame game, which does not help solve any problem let alone cast the spotlight on who is really responsible for the environmental havoc. Mallika Naguran offers some clues based on a RETRAC model to help readers navigate through these hazy issues.

Land Grab and Conservation Conference

London, 21 March 2013. Researchers will meet at London Zoo on 26-27 March to join the dots between large land deals, conservation, land rights and efforts to tackle poverty in poor communities worldwide.

Speakers will present research on both impacts of land grabs on conservation and its reverse – the role of conservation as a driver of land grabs. They will also share studies that show how stronger land rights can improve conservation outcomes.

The issues are burning because worldwide large land deals are on the increase, and they often take place in areas that are home to both large numbers of poor people and important biodiversity. People and wildlife can lose out when investors acquire land for large scale agriculture.

At the same time, there are growing threats from ‘green grabs’ that displace communities in order to conserve wildlife or gain value from eco-tourism, biofuels or the carbon that forests store in their wood.

The meeting in London—organised bythe International Institute for Environment and Developmentthe International Land Coalition, the Zoological Society of London andMaliasili Initiatives — is the international symposium of the Poverty and Conservation Learning Group.

Speakers will present case studies from Cameroon, Uganda, Chile, Kenya, Mongolia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Liberia and Cambodia.

“The global rush for land threatens to squeeze out both poor communities with weak land rights, and wild species and habitats that we should be conserving,” says Dilys Roe, a senior researcher at IIED, which convenes the Poverty and Conservation Learning Group. “It is in the interests of both the conservation and land rights communities to tackle the land rush. One solution is for them to work more strategically together to secure or strengthen local land rights in ways that bring both conservation and development benefits.”

“Secure land tenure is a foundation of community-driven conservation efforts around the world,” says Fred Nelson, Executive Director of Maliasili Initiatives, which supports sustainable natural resource management efforts in Africa. “The current land crisis provides an opportunity for conservation, development, and human rights groups to work together to address historically-rooted weaknesses in the recognition of local communities’ land rights, and to enable communities to better secure their territories and the natural resources on which their livelihoods depend.”

Download the conference agenda