Helping small farmers in rural Cambodia succeed

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Life in rural Cambodia is hard, especially for small farmers.  Each year, they struggle to get a decent yield to provide for their families.  This is why the Centre for Research on Optimal Agricultural Practices (CROAP), a demonstration farm located a few kilometres from Pursat City, is introducing to farmers in the village of Keov Mony in Pursat a promising new method of rice farming.   The method, which is called System of Rice Intensification or SRI for short, enabled the three farmers in the pilot group to improve their annual yield from 1 to 1.5 tonnes per hectare to between four and seven tonnes per hectare last year.

Sophal of the CROAP team; Bonthin, the Youth Leader, and farmer Vibol (with a cap) show the difference in size and quantity of grain on a stalk of rice grown the SRI way and that grown using the previous method.

The CROAP project is a ministry of the Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang, whose Apostolic Prefect is Msgr Enrique (Kike) Figaredo SJ, and Jesuit Service Cambodia.  

“The results of SRI gave a lot of hope to the farmers,” said Br Noel Oliver SJ, CROAP Project Manager, “Now more farmers are asking to learn how to use SRI to improve their skills in agriculture.”

Farmers in Cambodia face many problems.  A number of farmers take loans from micro-finance organisations to buy seeds, fertilisers and pesticides.  They have to pay monthly interest rates of over three percent but are forced to sell their produce at a low price. 

“In the past, a number of farmers lost their lands as they could not repay their loans.  We want to make things easier for our small farmers in order to protect them and their farms.  For that we have been doing some thinking and some dreaming,“ said Br Oliver.

A meeting was organised on February 24 for the farmers who had had success with the SRI method to share their knowledge and experience with other farmers.  One of the participants was Chim Siem, the daughter of an elderly couple who are one of the three farmers who adopted SRI in 2016. 

Seeing her potential, Chim Siem was asked to be the youth leader of young women and learn to teach literacy to the older women.  She took the job and was being remunerated for it but, sadly, she has decided to go to Thailand with her older sister to look for work.  Many young people see no hope for the future in their villages and go to towns or abroad (mainly Thailand) in search of work. 

“We want these young women to improve their skills and income earning potential locally so that they do not have to leave their families and homes to find work,“ said Br Oliver who shared that a training programme in cooking is already being planned.  One of the initiatives is the Women’s Employment Fund that is meant to help farmers employ women to do transplantation in their fields.  The farmer will repay this amount to the Fund at harvest time. 

CROAP has also set up a fund for the Women’s Group to provide loans for income generating projects. Vanny, the leader of the Women’s Group, is facilitating loans for families to procure Cambodian hens and cockerels.  The families have a year to repay the loan.

Other projects in the pipeline include setting up funds for the Young Men‘s and Young Women‘s Groups that CROAP is forming. The team is also hoping to set up a shop on the main road to sell organic vegetables and rice grown by the farmers.

They know that there will be problems such as water shortage in the dry season and lack of sanitation facilities.  But Brother Noel says the team remains hopeful and grateful to those who have helped CROAP plan and dream for the small farmers in Cambodia.

Main photo: Vanny, one of the first three farmers to adopt the SRI method of rice cultivation, standing next to her field just before the harvest.