Impact oriented approach towards business
Solutions for Smallholder Farmers
Vana Malaysia SDN BHD officially started on the 13th of July 2016, with the launch of the Vana workshop in Kuala Lumpur. The workshop was attended by over 60 delegates including farmers, scientists, agriculturists and market specialist. The workshop which lasted for 3 days, introduced the concept of Vana to the participants. It focused on the changes proposed to each section of the agriculture value chain and what each of the participants are bringing to the table.
Vana Malaysia started operations by introducing the concept of Vana to 40 farmers in Ipoh, The capital of the state of Perak. Of the questions raised, the most persistent ones were about the farmer training, scientific assistance and market access. The land was fragmented and disbursed between Ipoh and Chemor in Perak. The sample size contained a good mix of part-time and full-time and experienced and first -time farmers.
Of the 11 farmers, 10 farmers were situated around Ipoh and only one farmer was based out of Selangor. In accordance to Vana’s philosophy of accessible innovative farming technologies, the farmers were given 6000 poly bags per acre. A total of 375,000 polybags were disbursed among the 11 farmers. To decrease the risk of spurious seeds not germinating, Vana grew seedlings in the nursery in VRIC in Jenderam Hulu and transported them to the farms. By doing this, Vana also added another cropping season in a year for the farmers by taking 15 days off the current cropping season.
Malaysia’s equatorial climate is suitable for cultivation of most of the horticulture crops throughout the year. By reducing the length of the cropping cycle and decreasing the loss due to spurious inputs, Vana is effectively increasing the chances of a better yield. The farmers were also supplied with drip irrigation kits which save around 70% of the water used in sprinkler of flood irrigation. This not only reduces the water usage but also saves on the electricity that is otherwise used to pump water into the fields.
In addition to the irrigation kits, the seedlings and the polybags, Vana also supplied the farmers with coco peat and vermicompost to be mixed with the soil and filled into the polybags. To ensure that the farmers did not use chemical-based fertilizers, Vana collaborated with Terravana Biofertilizers SDN BHD to supply a customized solution of biofertilizers. This solution comes in a liquid as well as a solid form and only needs to dilute in water before use. The solution yielded very good results and was recommended by the pilot farmers to their colleagues who requested Vana for the same.
A Vana personnel was always present on the field to help the farmers through the process of land preparation and sowing of the seeds. After the initial planting is done, Vana also supplied the farmers with an instruction manual to guide through the day to day activities of the farm. The instruction manual was a collaboration between VRIC and the scientist of Terravana Laboratories. Vana also provided the farmers with farm implements like garden carts, battery operated fertilizer sprayers and seedling trans planter. These tools decrease the amount of time the farmer spends laboring in the fields and gives him/her more time to monitor the field.
Over the next three months, leafy vegetables, bitter gourd, cucumber, chili, red chili, long beans, okra and brinjal were cultivated in the pilot farms. The seedlings for all of the above were first grown in the nurseries at VRIC and then transplanted into the fields. After harvest, the vegetables were sold to Freshplz Malaysia SDN BHD, a company that supplies vegetables wholesale to supermarkets like Village Grocers and Tesco. Due to the higher grade of the vegetables Freshplz Malaysia gave a higher price that the market rate.
Crop Harvest Frequency
Crop harvest frequency is the number of times a crop is harvested on a particular piece of land in one year. It can be calculated across regions as a ratio of annually harvested cropland to the total standing cropland in that region. According to latest FAO data the estimated cropland harvest frequency across the globe is around 0.9. which means, globally only one crop is harvested annually in a unit piece of land. This is a low number in the context of current and future global food availability. The two most widely studied ways to increase food production is, one, expanding the area under cultivation, and two, increasing productivity. While the first wat is difficult to achieve with the increasing population and changes in land usage pattern, the second are needs much improvement, especially in the less mechanized regions. Another way to increase the food production is to use the existing are under agriculture more frequently each year and through multi-cropping.
One of the ways to increase the harvesting frequency is by reducing the crop cycle time that a farmer typically spends to get a single harvest. By reducing time for each harvest the number of times of harvesting per year would increase. a slightly innovative agronomic process was formulated by the Vana team in Malaysia which yielded good results. Vana farmers in Malaysia were growing vegetable crops like okra, eggplant and chillies. The farmers were provided with inputs like polybags, growth medium to be filled inside them and irrigation kits. While the farmers were setting up their fields with the given inputs Vana began seeding the required crops in their facility in Kuala Selangor, one of the two facilities managed by Vana in Malaysia.
A nursery was setup in a greenhouse which can provide optimum conditions for the seeds to germinate. Seed trays were used to guarantee a controlled environment and growth medium used was nutrient rich mixture of coco peat, compost, cow dung, and biofertilizers. The seedlings would be ready for transplanting in two weeks’ time by when the farmers would have their fields ready with the polybags and irrigation setup done. At the end of second week from the time of seeding the seed trays were transported to the fields and supplied to the farmers. Without much effort from them, the farmers have a healthy seedling readily available for transplanting. Transplanting has proven advantage’s over direct seeding, both economical and environmental.
Only healthy seedlings are provided to the farmer factoring in problems coming with germination of seeds. Optimum controlled conditions enable the plant to develop strong shoots and better root systems. Transplanting also improves uniformity in terms of water, nutrients and sunlight required by the plants. High quality, ultraviolent-resistant polybags were provided to the farmers which are durable and can last for one year along with the irrigation system. As a result, the farmer undertakes field preparation only once in a year. The time taken for field preparation is at least two weeks, for every crop cycle can be utilized.
Once the field is prepared the time taken for seeding and development of seedling is saved at the farmers end. The farmer gets healthy seeds for transplantation without any amount of labor and time spent. The farm practices for the rest of the crop cycle would be the same until harvesting. The farmers used to do constant checks on the polybags and irrigation setup looking for any damages and any issues would be fixed immediately. This left farmers with not much work in terms of filed preparation at the end of the crop cycle. The polybags and drip irrigation setup also provided convenience to the farmers during the harvesting period. Overall, there was optimal utilization of time, space and resources.
A typical vegetable crop would take around four months for a single crop cycle when the usual cropping method is practiced adding to three total harvests. When the farmers were supplied with the polybags and seedlings supplied at the beginning of each crop cycle, effectively 30 days are saved per crop cycle. During one year for three harvests the farmer would be saving 90 days. This gave enough time for the farmers to undertake an additional cropping. Now there are four crop harvest annually compared to three. The farmers are now earning additional income which is equal to one full harvest. Adding the expenses saved on labor, field preparation and unwanted inputs, it brought a huge boost to farmer’s income.