We spent some hours chatting with U Aung Htay, a rice field owner in Pakokku, a dry zone located 30 km northwest from Bagan in Myanmar. About 10 years ago, farmers in the region were mandated to plant rice by the government. Unfortunately, the lack of crop knowledge and resources available forced many farmers to leave their fields, and those who stayed are still learning the skills required.
U Aung's nephew, a successful rice farmer in a neighboring region, taught him all he knows about farming a few years ago. One of the most valuable things he learned, and then taught to his neighbors, was how to make irrigation channels which cut irrigation time in half, and reduce the risk of pest and crop disease. Water management is also a huge concern in the dry zone since it's a scarce and valuable resource. We learned that managing water levels in the rice fields is a challenge that starts from the moment farmers are preparing the land.
When we showed Mr. Htay our water table prototype he was very interested in using a device that could save water and irrigate more efficiently. When he saw the PVC tube he also commented “I can do it myself!”, a good reminder of the potential of creating smart add-ons to current tools and possible DIY solutions. Also, he was immediately concerned about the power consumption, although using solar power seemed the obvious alternative to him. A nice surprise was that simple LED feedback on when to irrigate and when to stop would be helpful since farmers in the area tend to irrigate in the evening and at night. It was a great conversation that helped us confirm some hypotheses, created new questions, and sparked some ideas!