Cambodian Organic Fragrant Rice Produced with System of Rice Intensification (CEDAC, May 2014)

Cambodian farmers grow more than 1,000 rice varieties, among them, several fragrant varieties. One of the most popular fragrant rice varieties produced for the market by Cambodian organic rice farmers supported by CEDAC is called Phka Malis. In Khmer language, this means beautiful garland of flowers, because of its delicate floral aroma. Besides Phka Malis, organic SRI farmers supported by CEDAC also grow Red Phka Malis, black sticky rice, and other selected premium rice varieties.

Organic Phka Malis is grown by small farmers, mainly from Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Speu and Takeo provinces. On average, a rice farmer in that area has around 1 hectare of rice field.  Around 50 percent of the field is used to grow organic jasmine for the market and for export. The rest of the field is cultivated for family consumption. Farmers can harvest between 2.5 to 3.5 tons/ha of certified organic fragrant rice, while very good SRI farmers can get more than 5 tons per ha. Generally, the yield of fragrant rice is around 25 percent lower than non-fragrant rice varieties. The higher prices for fragrant rice varieties are an important incentive for farmers.

These farmers use a set of growing methods called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which enables them to harvest more rice from their traditional varieties while using less water, less seed, less land, and their own organic fertilizers instead of purchased inorganic fertilizer. Farmers use straw, plant biomass, and animal dung to make compost to fertilize their soils. Also, green manure crops are planted before the wet season to enhance the health of the soil in a natural way. Farmers also use botanical pesticides to prevent and control pests. During harvest time, farmers select rice seeds from their best rice plants and choose the best panicles with well-developed grains. This practice helps to maintain the purity of seed and improve paddy productivity.

Some of the key SRI practices in rice cultivation of farmers supported by CEDAC can be summarized as follows:

  1. Selecting good and healthy seeds for sowing in the nursery by hand.
  2. Land preparation and leveling by using cattle and buffalo.
  3. Making an upland (unflooded) nursery, well supplied with compost.
  4. Using compost and green manure crops to improve the soil’s fertility.
  5. Transplanting young and healthy seedlings, one by one by hand, with careful treatment of the seedlings. The age of seedlings varies between 10 days to 20 days, depending on the availability of water and of labor.
  6. The seedlings are planted in a square grid pattern, with inter-plant spacing between 20 to 30 cm, depending on the field conditions and the age of the seedlings.
  7. Weeding (by hand), preferably with a simple mechanical weeder that aerates the soil.
  8. Farmers maintain minimum water on the fields, just enough to ensure the effective growth of rice plants, maintaining alternating wet and dry field conditions. Continuously standing water will suffocate the roots and cause them to degenerate.

With support from CEDAC, farmers have organized themselves in community-based producer associations.  All local associations are linked into a national confederation.
CEDAC also supports the associations to develop their own Internal Control Systems (ICS). They have internal inspectors to control and ensure their organic production quality. They have to document every farm activity. The documentation and the farms are controlled by Internal Inspectors during the production, and later the data are crosschecked and verified by the ICS Supervisor.

BCS Öko-Garantie-GmbH from Germany is doing annual inspections and the organic certification. As a third party, it provides the organic certification adhering to European and US organic standards. Fair TSA is responsible for the Fair Trade certification. Currently, there are more than 2,500 organic certified farmers supported by CEDAC, and they have the capacity to produce more than 4,000 tons of organic Phkar Malis for the market. The number of organic and fair-trade certified farmers is increasing from year to year.
The small-scale farmers are paid an organic premium for their rice of between 10 to 20 percent, which reflects its higher quality as well as the greater market demand. Additionally, a Social Development Fund (SDF) is being built up with 4.5 percent of the farm-gate price received for each kilo of paddy sold under the Fair Trade label being paid into the SDF. The farmers decide jointly within each community how to apply these funds to improve their living conditions. They can reinvest in the rice cooperative or invest in communal halls, schools, roads, public sanitation, or environmental conservation activities.