Bolstering Leaders, Changing Lives in Rural Cambodia - The Story of Prolay Commune's Sustainable Rice Platform

Pre and post test during Water Harvesting Training conducted by SMP to Sustainable Rice Platform key farmers, Kampong Thom , September 2021, to understand how much farmers are aware of how to manage the water system before and after they attend the training. Photo: Boeng Phally/SMP

We have shared innovative ideas regarding irrigation for farmers and have decided to dig large ponds. Relying on seasonal rainfall is not a viable option due to climate change.
Theang Thara THEANG THARA
SMP Project Coordinator in Stoung district

A visit to Prolay showcases humankind and nature sharing a harmonious relationship. The commune lies in the heart of a vast conservation area in Kampong Thom province’s Stoung district.

Yet until recently, the farmers in Prolay rarely collaborated. They worked independently to cultivate what many considered substandard crops with less than optimal yields. The area was prone to droughts, and farmers ached for reliable access to water.

Few, if any, held optimism that things would change – tradition triumphs in Prolay. Generations of farmers have used the same outdated techniques used by their forefathers, and it showed.

“For two years, my paddy fields produced rice, but I never made any profit. I even used my own money to pay for a rice mill,” said Prolay farmer Phat Oeun, whose lack of financial stability caused him to suffer from hardship in daily life. He often feared that the changing weather patterns would mean that he would have no harvest next season. Worse, his crops were simply not sought after on the open market.

Desperate for a solution, Oeun turned to the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) project implemented by Sansom Mlup Prey (SMP) organisation in 2016. To scale up its reach, Oxfam lent additional support to the initiative in 2018 through its Gender Transformative and Responsible Agribusiness Investments in South East Asia 2 (GRAISEA 2) project, which seeks to achieve transformed opportunities for marginalised men and women in Cambodia’s agricultural sector.

Training sessions coordinated by SMP gave Oeun the knowledge to increase the quality and quantity of his organic rice yields. Other skills taught included farm, nutrition and containment management, pre-planting, harvesting and post-harvest techniques, good health and safety practices, and labour rights.

Oeun began growing sustainable rice that was less capital intensive, which could potentially fetch a premium price at the market. Oeun improved his paddy fields, and he now regularly earns between 200 riels ($0.05) and 300 ($0.07) riels per kilogramme, far more than what he made before joining the programme. He used the extra money to pay for his children’s education, to purchase some more land and cows for farming. His mental health improved too.

Water Harvesting Training demonstrated by partner SMP to Sustainable Rice Platform key farmers, Kampong Thom , September 2021. It is the collection of runoffs for productive purposes. Photo: Boeng Phally/SMP

While the skills obtained by farmers like Oeun are highly valued, they would be of little use without better access to water.

“We have shared innovative ideas regarding irrigation for farmers and have decided to dig large ponds. Relying on seasonal rainfall is not a viable option due to climate change,” said Theang Thara, SMP Project Coordinator in Stoung district.

The farmers have dug five ponds, and work is underway to dig three more. Thara said that the ponds are a “demonstration” that prove to farmers that sacrificing small plots of land for reservoirs will eventually pay dividends.

The community has noticed that paddies near the ponds yield between two and three times the average yield of those not. Many in the village believe that the ponds are critical to transforming the area and hope that SMP, with GRAISEA 2, will continue to provide the community with technical support.

The project is beginning to show in earnest that training and mentoring are critical agents in driving change at the grassroots level. “Relatively speaking, the project is still in its infancy, but it has already brought a lot of value to the community,” said Thara. “Oxfam’s GRAISEA 2, implemented by SMP, evidently can enhance the lives of people, and we believe that countless more can benefit should the project be shared to more locations across Cambodia.”
 

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