Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Improving the lives of Cambodian farmers

The team weeding the time of sowing trial, during the inception meeting field visit.  (Photo: Sochea Mao.)

ACIAR researchers got their hands dirty when they visited trial farm plots as part of the inception meeting for a new project helping poor, marginalised, and female Cambodian farmers to adopt new agricultural technologies and best practices.

Project ASEM/2013/003, which runs from April 2017 to December 2020, aims to increase farmers’ incomes, limit soil degradation and erosion caused by cassava production, and help farms adopt more environmentally sustainable production methods.

The four-year project focuses on Cambodia’s North-west, a region that’s in the middle of a cassava boom and possible bust.

Cassava is cheap and easy to grow, and was once profitable – but both yield and profitability are in decline.  Farming practices degrade soils, increase erosion, and have resulted in monoculture and the spread of diseases and pests such as witches’ broom and mealybug. 

Few farmers have adopted cassava-oriented technologies or best management practices.  This inhibits more sustainable production, which in turn inhibits efforts to aid smallholder farmers in North-west Cambodia, particularly poor, marginalised, and female-headed households.  New agricultural practices are needed.

The project will test an approach to changing farmers’ behaviour that could alter partnerships between these farmers with the researchers, non-government organisation workers, donors, and government representatives who try to improve their lives.

Planting cassava.  (Photo: Phan Sophanara.)
We held our project inception meeting on 4th and 5th August 2017 in the western province of Pailin. The workshop participants included Dr. Jayne Curnow and Dulce Simmanivong from ACIAR, Iean Russell from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, representatives from the NGO Partners for Rural Development, and researchers from the University of Melbourne and the Prek Leap National School of Agriculture.

As part of the meeting, the participants visited one of our demonstration sites in Kampong Touk village, Samlout district, Battambang province. We thought all participants should experience the type of work that we conduct as part of our field research programme, so we made sure everyone got their hands dirty.

We spent the morning in the field where Phan Sophanara, the local research agronomist on this project and Chief of Agronomy for the Pailin Provincial Department of Agriculture, walked us through four experiments trialling cassava time of sowing, planting method, plant population, and intercropping with legume.  These four trials are being conducted at each of the demonstration sites: the Kampong Touk site, and Soun Ampouv Kert village, Pailin district, Pailin province.

Planting cassava on a conventional hill horizontal.  (Photo: Phan Sophanara.)

Everyone was interested in seeing the research trials. Mr. Yem Yorn, Kampong Touk Commune Chief and the site’s landowner, warmly welcomed everyone working in agricultural development to work in his commune. He is keen for new technologies to help farmers improve their crop production and livelihoods.

Dr. Jayne Curnow, ACIAR’s Research Program Manager for Agricultural Systems Management, helped the team to weed our trial plot. This trial aims to determine if it is more feasible and less risky to grow crops at other times than in February to April, when farmers in North-west Cambodia normally plant their crops.

ACIAR's Dr. Jayne Curnow.  (Photo: Sochea Mao.)

Dr. Steph Montgomery, the project’s field research leader, showed the participants how to use the minidisk infiltrometer – and Dr. Brian Cook, Project Leader, had a close encounter with our beautiful Samlout soil while using it to record infiltration.

The researchers may have gotten dirty – but this project could hit pay dirt for Cambodia’s poor farmers.

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