CEDAC Internal Inspector: A Key Link Between Producers and the Market
While farmers are the key actors in promoting sustainable agriculture methods, there are a number people who play an important role in supporting and facilitating their efforts. These include trainers, local authorities, market vendors and, for our our certified organic rice farmers, internal inspectors such as Ms. Eng Chang Sreypov. Ms. Eng Chang, 25, has been working with CEDAC for 6 years and as an inspector in Kampong Chnang province since 2011. She works with 97 farmers in the province to ensure they are correctly implementing organic farming principles before the external inspectors survey the crops so that it can be exported as certified organic rice.
She first meets with potential organic farmers to clarify organic principals that CEDAC trainers have previously introduced to the community. When they agree, they sign a contract pursuant to what they discussed. After signing, inspections take place from July to September and from September to November (before harvest time).
During these inspections, she asks farmers to sketch a map of their home and rice field, and which they go directly to the field to measure the plot and make sure their estimates of the distance, size and layout are correct.
During inspection of the crops themselves, she checks which variety of rice they are planting and if they follow SRI principals, such as reduce seedlings, green manure, etc. and addresses any concerns they have. For example, farmers sometimes have trouble producing enough compost; she encourages them to make a compost cage to follow the proper standards. During these inspections and more general monitoring visits, she goes with her handbook to mark each farmer’s progress and their use of any chemicals nearby any compost or the field.
Before harvest, she attends trainings with the community on post-harvest management techniques, including separate storage for each crop and labeling for transportation (fully organic, first conversion, 2nd). After harvest, she first collects the all-organic (at least 3 years of conversion) to be certified for export, followed by first and 2nd year conversions for local sale. She also provides technical support and oversees transportation and storage in the CEDAC warehouse in Phnom Penh.
When asked if she was happy with her job, she stated that she was, because “organic rice farming benefits my own home town. I also enjoy working as a service provider to farmers and the community to help them improve their farming naturally.”
“I want the farmers to stop using chemicals!” she continues, “Its good for their health and for the consumers, who need access to safe food.”
She is very happy to help CEDAC to export the rice from her community to international market. She knows once foreign consumers try her farmers’ rice, they will buy more, thereby creating long-term market linkages with different markets.
In her view, most farmers (90%) are having success; “the farmers can consume safe foods themselves and sell at higher prices…1,650 riel ($0.41 USD) per kilo, resulting in an increase to their income. They can also save the money they would have spent on healthcare service, from problems with chemicals.”
The job is not without obstacles, however. One of her biggest challenges is the map drawing activity with the farmers, done to make sure that other farmers and inspectors can identify the farmer’s property. Often, Cambodian farmers are afraid to reveal their true land holding because of tax and property disputes. In her words “the inspectors have to be smart in the way they question the farmers, and clearly explain their objectives.”
Another challenge for her is distance between target farmers and the closest village. She must travel extensively, especially during the rainy season, when road conditions are poor: “My motorbike sometimes can’t be used, and sometimes it doesn’t work! So I have to walk very far.” However, the farmers are happy to work with her and she often stays with their families for a week or so.
In terms of challenges for the farmers, many are disappointed by the yield from the first conversion after using chemicals, which is typically less (i.e. 500 kg to 300), but in the 2nd year, the yield is usually higher than conventional. Irrigation is another problem, as often there is no water, making it difficult to follow SRI principles because it interferes with the transplant schedule and doesn’t provide enough time to produce high yields.
However, being a woman in this profession is not among those challenges. She feels that she is respected both by the farmers and at CEDAC, where her position within the organization has improved over time. She follows the advice of CEDAC founder Dr. Yang Saing Koma, who once explained “To improve your livelihood, you must take risks!”