Farmers tempt endangered cranes back – by growing their favourite food

In Cambodia’s fertile Mekong delta, rice farmers are switching to the varieties loved by the world’s tallest flying bird to help stop its decline.

Several years ago, I counted more than 300 cranes in the wetlands near my rice field,” says farmer Khean Khoay, as he reminisces about the regal-looking eastern sarus crane. Khoay’s village, Koh Chamkar in Kampot province, lies on the outskirts of the Anlung Pring protected landscape in south-west Cambodia, in the fertile and biodiverse Mekong delta.

The region has been enriched by centuries of silt deposited by the Mekong, the longest river in south-east Asia and a lifeline for millions who depend on its resources. But as more and more land is converted for agriculture and aquaculture, and the impacts of the climate crisis, such as erosion and saltwater intrusion, are felt, the area’s wildlife has become increasingly threatened.

Among the birds affected are the cranes that once visited the land near Khoay’s rice field in large numbers. NatureLife Cambodia, BirdLife International’s partner in the country, says only 91 eastern sarus cranes visited Anlung Pring this year. The future of these birds may lie in the hands of 16 farmers from Koh Chamkar village, including Khoay, who lease their land to NatureLife.

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