About 20 years ago most of the water buffalos in Thailand and other parts Asia were retired in favor of power tillers adapted for rice paddies that were originally manufactured in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and now China. Shifting to power tillers represents a major enhancement of the operational resources available to smallholder rice producers to manage their lands, which addresses a key issue of Drudgery Relief discussed on this website. It should have a major impact on rice cultivation, which may need to be quantified as a guide for other programs interested in making mechanization available to smallholders and understanding the impact of mechanization on individual fields, farms, and across smallholder communities.
One of the key issues is the impact the shift to power tillers has on paddy establishment time for an entire farm. For rain-fed areas, the time may be halved from four months to two months, as mentioned by a rice farmer in NE Thailand. It could then impact farm size, including both directly owned land and rented land. Additional impact would be the shift from transplanted to direct seeded rice and with that, the use of herbicides for weed control. It might also impact the diversification and intensification of farm enterprises, such as converting a portion of the land to aquaculture with additional poultry or piggery production on top of the fish ponds as the farmer in NE Thailand mentioned above did and shown in the photo below. Also, the shift to power tillers appears to have lead to contract combining with small combines originating in Japan that can operate in the one rai (1/6 th hectare) fields and has this lead to an overall increase in rice intensity from two crops per year to five crops every two years.
Finally, what impact has it had on the material well-being of the farmers in terms of motorcycles, pick-up trucks, TV’s, VCRs, refrigerators, cell phones, etc.? It might also be interesting to see how much of the shift was motivated by the public sector extension effort vs. how much was more spontaneously coming from the private sector.
Power tillers are also moving into the rice schemes of Africa as shown in Madibira. This is again all self financed with no assistance from the donor community. It looks like another missed opportunity. The question is how effective will value chain enterprieses be unless they include some means of drudgery relief?
Another unfortunate issue is to correct the impression often conveyed by the development community that the success of the “green revolution” in Asia was virtually exclusively do to the technology development of IRRI and other research organization. Yes, IRRI high yielding technology did dramatically increase the potential yield of rice, but it did nothing to get the rice planted in a sufficiently timely manner to take full advantage of the improved technology, this was done by the farmers shifting to the power tiller. Since this was 100% done by the farmers the development community tends to overlook the impact of the shift to power tillers. This has resulted in the effort to promote a new “Green Revolution” in Africa to concentrate on technology development and extension without looking at the need to adjust the operational resources with enhanced access to contract mechanization. I would contend this is slowing down the prospects for a “Green Revolution” in Africa.
That should be sufficient to stimulate interest and the topic can easily be expanded. That is, if it is still possible to make the study as it may be a full generation of rice farmers since the shift and thus few farmers can relate back to when the water buffalo was the standard,
Last Revised: 27 March 2015