Off to Colombia to support improving rice cultivation technology

After three years postponed by COVID19, Meros finally kicked off a long-awaited project in Colombia!

Meros is supporting the Japanese agricultural innovator Noshou Navi, together with the backing of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), to transfer knowledge related to Japanese rice planting techniques to farmers in Colombia. We are also exploring the possibility of developing small-lot, high value-added premium rice products and conducting consumer activities to inspire more rice ‘fans’.

Our Meros teammembers Chisa Ogura and Hiroki Seki traveled to Bogota, Cali, Ibague, Espinal, and Saldaña in Colombia over two weeks in February and March.

To the team’s delight, they found that the Saldaña office of Federarroz, the national federation of rice farmers’ associations in Colombia, has already installed a Kubota rice transplanter from Japan and has begun researching mechanical transplanting!

The area we visited is wet paddy fields and many farmers plant by hand, but the number of workers willing to do transplanting by hand is decreasing. Also, wages are rising, so transitioning to transplanting by machine will be important in the near future.

Machine transplanting is also very effective in fighting red rice, an invasive weed. A BASF rice variety called Clearfield, which is herbicide tolerant, has been introduced, but even so, this has not been sufficient to defeat the red rice. Gabriel Garces, the researcher in charge of rice transplanting, told the Meros team that another benefit of machine transplanting, compared to hand-planting, is that machine transplanting reduces the amount of seed required by 30-40%. Machine transplanting also saves water, since the crop can be planted without needing to flood the field.

Rice transplanters made by Kubota, Japan’s largest agricultural machinery manufacturer, are popular for their durability and Colombian company Motomart is the local distributor. However, the challenge is that although normal maintenance can be performed, the supply of replacement parts, such as planting claws are not easily available and so major repair work cannot be done.

In addition to machine transplanting, Federraroz is experimenting with other new rice growing techniques. For example, they are looking into various methods of seedling cultivation, as currently the seedling boxes are not disinfected and dry seed is sown before germination. Adding these additional steps may be able to greatly improve seedling health and yield. We are sure that there are even more techniques and experience we can transfer from Japan!

A big welcome to Meros’ new winter research assistant, Zhou Yunkai!

Zhou Yunkai, who goes by Shu in Japan, is a third-year student at Keio University studying economics. He is on a one-year exchange from his home university of Beijing Foreign Studies University and is taking this semester to work full-time at Meros.  Shu wastes no time and has been accompanying our team to meetings at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), supporting research on seafood exports to China and starting to dig into China’s food security policy.

Shu discussed why he was drawn to Meros. “ I majored in Japanese at my university in China and was very interested in agriculture. I was trying to find an opportunity that would be a crossroads between these interests. So fortunately I found Meros. To be honest, I love Meros as a team with its diversity of different backgrounds, individuality, and global experience. In this way, Meros can solve challenges by providing insights from different perspectives and can be more open and cohesive.”

In the next few months he will be taking a deeper dive into the most recent developments in China’s food security as part of his independent research project. He has already proven himself to be an enthusiastic and quick learner with an incredibly proactive attitude.

“Working as a research assistant, I want to help the team as much as I can. And at the same time, it is a great experience for me to learn Meros’ methodology for solving challenges. I expect the first weeks will probably be hard, especially the process of learning technical terms in foreign languages. But I believe that with the effort and help from team members, I can accommodate myself to Meros quickly, and have a better understanding of the consulting business and agriculture trends.”

Shu has big plans outside of work this season too. “As a big fan of Japanese food, I was so excited to find there are numerous great restaurants near Meros. So apart from work, my first goal is to experience all of these great restaurants, especially ramen! I also plan to travel to Kyoto to enjoy the scenery – and of course experience Kyoto’s famous Ramen Street while I am there.“

Welcome Yoko Iino, Meros’ first ever Fall Research Assistant!

For the first time in Meros history we are welcoming a Fall Research Assistant, Yoko Iino!

Yoko has a degree in Agriculture from Meiji University and spent a year studying at Srinakharinwirot University in Thailand, where she also was an agricultural volunteer working in a Hmong hill tribe village. She is now is close to completing her Master’s degree in Social Entrepreneurship at the International University of Japan in Niigata. She was accepted and trained by the Japanese government as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JICA Volunteer) with plans for a two-year assignment in Rwanda to work on technical assistance in rural agriculture programs. However ultimately the pandemic scuttled her plans to work in Rwanda and she shifted focus to pursuing internship experience in Japan, instead of overseas.

Yoko will be joining the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (MAFF) from January 2023 and to prepare for this new career, she will spend the fall working with Meros to deepen her experience in international agriculture development and learn advanced research skills.

Yoko discussed why she wanted to join Meros. “I was attracted by Meros’ value of “strength in diversity” and at the same time, I wanted to make good use of my educational background and work in agriculture. Initially, I was slightly anxious because everything was new and much of our communication is in English, but thanks to the kind support of Team Meros and intensive training, I had no trouble fitting into the environment.”

“I think Meros is the perfect environment to learn how to work in a professional office,  how to collect and analyze data efficiently, and understanding the skillset required to become consultants. Because Meros fosters communication among teammembers I can feel free to ask anything. I really hope to absorb new things every day and contribute to Team Meros.”

In addition to jumping into Meros projects on topics such as insect for animal feed and agtech adoption in rural Japan, Yoko will be looking into feasibility of increasing organic agriculture in Japan, a goal of the government under the new Green Food System Strategy.

“In Japan’s Green Food System Strategy, which was enacted this year, a bold goal was set to expand organic farming to 25% of arable land (1 million hectares) by 2050. In addition, utilization of organic farming and conversion to organic farming is being actively discussed worldwide due to soaring prices of chemical fertilizers and growing awareness of the environmental impact of various farming methods. In this project, I am hoping to pursue the possibilities and challenges of organic farming in Japan through comparisons with conventional farming and organic farming in other countries, and also to investigate what kind of technologies and strategies could be introduced for the development of organic farming in Japan.”

Outside of the office this fall, Yoko plans to continue her love of cooking Thai, Chinese and Korean dishes – the spicier the better! She is a also a big fan of American TV dramas and movies and plans to spend time this fall immersed in Middle Earth with the new Lord of the Rings series.