SRI and organic agriculture are powerful tools to help farmers increase their production as well as raise their standard of living. But their benefits are not only limited to the field. Farming communities that lack of technical knowledge and suffer from low productivity often also struggle with poor communication and weak relationships within the village. They also lack of the means and opportunities to develop other income generating activities.
The introduction of innovative agricultural methods into the community can be the first step in strengthening mutual cooperation and spurring new businesses. According to a local farmer Mrs. Him Sothy, this was especially the case in Chumteav Chreng village in Samaki Meanchey district of Kampong Chhnang province.
45 years old, Mrs. Sothy is married with 5 children. Her oldest daughter is a teacher, while the rest of her children are still studying. She supports all her children at their homestead.
She grows rice on 2.5 hectares of land. Previously, she produced around 2 tons per hectare with traditional methods without chemical inputs.
Since 2006, she has implemented SRI on 1 hectare. Her yields on her SRI plot have increased to between 3 to 3.5 tons while reducing expenses through using less seeds and making compost herself. The rest of her land is in an area prone to flooding, making SRI more difficult to effectively implement. She is also a member of the organic rice producer group and village women’s group.
In her view, traditional methods are both more labor intensive and less productive: “When I used traditional methods, I had to work more because I didn’t have any knowledge of farming. I didn’t know what I was doing. Now I feel much more confidant.”
She also obtains better prices from her organic rice. Local merchants pay 1,200 riel (approximately 30 cents UDS) per kilo for conventional rice, while CEDAC buys at 1,600 riel (40 cents USD) per kilo for export. She has used her income from greater yields and higher prices to invest in other business ventures and to send her children to school.
Her family owns pigs, cows, chickens and ducks. From pigs alone, they can earn an additional 1.2 million riel (approximately $300 USD) per year. They also extract palm juice to make sugar, even though they don’t have any sugar palms on their property. After paying other landowners for the right to harvest their sugar palms, they can earn an additional 2 million riel per year ($500 USD). They have also invested in a small rice mill to process other farmers’ conventionally grown rice, from which they can earn 1 million riel ($250 USD) per year.
She also believes that SRI has increased solidarity within the community. While CEDAC trainers introduced the methods to the community, support from neighboring villagers was vital to its continued success. Also, village-based organizations such as the women’s group, initially set up to provide a venue for women farmers to discuss agriculture and savings, have proven to be useful forums for social and community issues.
In the future Mrs. Sothy plans to experiment further with SRI on her other land, as well as encourage other farmers in her village to discontinue using chemical inputs. She would like to expand organic rice production in her community by establishing communal activities such as cow dung collection, which would encourage first-time organic farmers. She is glad that CEDAC is active in her community and benefits from regular meetings for both training and village affairs.