Bolstering Leaders, Changing Lives in Rural Cambodia - Khemara's Story

I am grateful to SMP and the GRAISEA 2 project for helping improve our quality of life and for the knowledge that I could share to the farmers. I hope that the programme continues to grow and help more farmers around Cambodia.”

Kampong Thom is a sprawling province in the heart of Cambodia, bordering six other provinces. Vibrant to some, but quiet to others. To many, life there is stuck in its ways. But not for Bang Khemara, a former primary school teacher turned a full-time farmer, and a firm advocate for sustainable and contract rice farming.

Along with other local leaders, Khemara gained life-changing training through Oxfam’s Gender Transformative and Responsible Agribusiness Investments in South East Asia 2 (GRAISEA 2) project, coordinated by partner organisation Sansom Mlop Prey (SMP).

Droughts were always a looming threat in Khemara’s home village of Peu commune in Kampong Thom’s Stoung district – an isolated community whose livelihoods relied almost exclusively on agriculture. Rainfall was the only source of irrigation for crops. The community was fragmented, with farmers growing rice independently and with little to no understanding of rice refining, application of fertilisers, or caring for crops. They milled their grains and sold their produce with practically no assistance, underbidding one another on the open market.

Initially, Khemara was reluctant to join GRAISEA 2, having seen little benefit from other projects implemented in her area. However, after joining a training session in 2018 organised by SMP, she had a change of heart, decided to re-focus her energies on building up her leadership skills, and quickly progressed to become a key farmer for the Sustainable Rice Producers (SRP) group.

Khemara gained practical knowledge in agricultural practices through project trainings, particularly in rice cultivation, women empowerment, and marketing, which she passed on to fellow farmers. Khemara also began to promote the SRP group and encouraged others to participate by emphasising the importance of contracts and income security.

SMP staff provide training on Women leadership and negotiation skill to member of Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) for Sustainable Rice Platform project, August 2020, Botum South Pagoda, Stoung District, Kampong Thom Province. All photos: SMP

Khemara recalled that she started farming using the knowledge learnt from the project, and her rice yield increased significantly. “Farmers began to ask me how I did it, and I introduced them to GRAISEA 2,” she added.

Khemara persuaded the farmers that they could irrigate their crops more regularly if they allocated small parts of their land for ponds. She also taught them how to grow more sustainably, not deviate to other crops, and helped them adopt a cooperative strategy.

“Because our rice is of high quality, the traders want to buy more,” said Khemara. “By following what SMP organisation taught us, the market price has risen from 750 riels ($0.18) to 1,250 riels per kilogramme. Moreover, gross sales have increased from 10 million riels ($2,450) to 22 million riels.” Since then, a small office was built and furnished in the commune funded by the proceeds of the rice sales. The farmers have also entered a formal trading relationship with a mill in Battambang province.

Khemara said that the GRAISEA 2 project helped improve livelihoods and promoted gender equality. “Local men are increasingly taking on roles traditionally held by women and are more open to ideas relating to business or family issues presented by women. Domestic violence has also dropped sharply,” she said.

For Khemara, the decision to give up a reliable monthly salary in teaching cannot be understated. Her dedication towards helping farmers is a testament to the programme’s impact.

Click HERE or more information about Gender Transformative And Responsible Agribusiness Investment In South East Asia (GRAISEA) Project