Cultivating Leaders in Organic Agriculture
Mr. Keo Roth is 49 years old and married with 3 children in Toul Roka village, Cheangtong commune, TramKak district, Takeo province. He has been working with CEDAC since 2004, growing rice and green manure on his 0.75 hectare farm. He implements SRI on his entire field, part of the Damreiromil community, which has been been certified organic since 2008. He sold his first harvest to CEDAC (and, in turn, Lotus Foods) in 2009.
He decided to adopt SRI and cease using chemical inputs after attending several CEDAC trainings on the harmful effects of chemicals. Prior to this, he used chemical inputs, which had negative effects on his family’s health, especially stomach pain and throat irritation. During that time, he spent an average of 200,000 to 300,000 riel ($50-75 USD) per year on health expenditures, which has since decreased to 40,000 riel ($10 USD).
While he is happy to improve his health and the health of his family, in his view the main benefit to organic farming is the increase in income from selling to CEDAC compared to local markets. Through CEDAC, he makes at least 200-400 riel ($0.05-0.10 USD) more per kilo. Furthermore, he has reduced input expenses to about 250,000 riel annually, down from 500,000 riel ($62.50-125 USD) before adopting SRI. His yields have also risen, to around 1.9 tons from 1.4 (2.5-1.9 tons per hectare) compared to conventional techniques.
He has used this extra income to support his children to attend university, as well to invest in a business plowing fields with a tractor he bought with help from his brother. He estimates that he can earn an additional 2 million riel annually ($500 USD) from this business.
Mr. Roth did have some challenges with SRI when he first started. He struggled with an increase of insect infestation, but found that more extensive weeding by hand helped. He also cannot always attend trainings in other topics he is interested in, such as green manure, business management, partly due to extra time he needs to spend to properly implement SRI.
Due to his success with SRI, he was voted to representative 3 provinces as a board member for the regional Organic Rice producer Group. In this role, he facilities meetings, disseminates key ideas, supports paddy collection and negotiates prices. In his words, he “likes this position because I am always learning and can support community businesses.”
He is happy to see the group’s rice exported abroad, as it enables them to get higher prices than they could achieve domestically. The “4.5%” program is especially popular, where 4.5% of the profits from sales of their fair-trade certified rice abroad is returned to the farmers in the form of a social development fund. He adds that he is “proud to serve safe food to my family and to consumers, both in Cambodia and abroad.”