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Le Ngoc Thach (right) checks a rice field with a farmer from his cooperative in Dai Nghia, Vietnam.
Le Ngoc Thach (right) checks a rice field with a farmer from his cooperative in Dai Nghia, Vietnam. Photo by Chau Doan/Oxfam America.

Last month I visited rice farming areas in Cambodia and Vietnam and looked at how growers are using the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to cut their costs and increase their yields. In addition to learning about SRI myself and hearing directly from farmers, I also had the pleasure of meeting some of the very strong and visionary leaders who are working every day to help people in their communities improve their lives.

One of them is Le Ngoc Thach, and you can read about him in my colleague Soleak Seang’s article here. When Thach became the leader of the growers’ cooperative in his village in Vietnam, he looked for innovative ways to fight poverty. He was certain SRI would help, but how do you convince farmers who have always grown rice the same way to suddenly change? It’s risky.

But strong leaders find ways to succeed. Tran Minh Tien, one of the coop members, says Thach’s leadership style made the difference: “He takes action, and he takes responsibility in his own hands,” Tien told us. When I asked him what he meant, Tien explained that Thach “was willing to absorb any losses of the farmers applying SRI practices. He said he would compensate us if we failed.”

Thankfully for Thach, SRI has proven rather successful in his community, called Dai Nghia. According to a report called “More rice for people with more water for the planet,” average net profits increased there by $125 for each hectare (about 2.5 acres), a significant amount in rural Vietnam–and they did this using less seed, less fertilizer, less pesticide, and less water.

Le Ngoc Thach. Photo by Chau Doan/Oxfam America
Le Ngoc Thach. Photo by Chau Doan/Oxfam America

Everyone I spoke with about SRI was quite enthusiastic about it. And even the comedian Jim Carrey is interested in SRI. But you don’t have to believe me, or Jim Carrey, for that matter, you can hear directly from Le Ngoc Thach himself. Thach is coming to the US to speak at several events this month, along with other farmers from Haiti, Mali, and India, to recognize World Food Day on October 16. Oxfam, Africare, and the World Wildlife Fund are organizing this tour to promote policies that will encourage more and better investment in agriculture that will help small-scale farmers, improve global food security, protect the environment, and fight poverty.  Here are some of the events:

October 12

Global Farmers Leading the Way: Increasing Productivity, Reducing Ecological Impact, Improving Lives

Free and open to the public

Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

7-8pm

October 13

“Sustainable Production in a Resource Constrained World: The SRI model”

Council Bluffs Room, Marriott Hotel, free and open to the public

Des Moines, Iowa

7:30 -9 pm

October 14

“More Food, Better Food”

World Food Prize Symposium, registration required

Marriott Hotel

Des Moines, Iowa

9:20 – 10:30am

October 16

World Food Day meal and discussion

Free and open to the public

High Hopes Gardens

Melbourne, Iowa

1:00 to 3:30 pm

October 20

“Farming Practices to Improve Family, Community and Environmental Well-Being”

Free and open to the public (RSVP to fjohnson@oxfamamerica.org)

Ronald Reagan Building, Rotunda Room

Washington, DC

12:00 – 2:00 pm

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