All day Tuesday, 130 farmers from eight provinces gathered in Phnom Penh for a “national assembly” on organic rice sponsored by local agriculture NGO CEDAC.
According to CEDAC communications officer Him Khortieth, the CEDAC organic rice network trains farmers to grow rice using compost for fertilizer, buys rice from those farmers at higher than market prices, helps the farmers learn to market organic rice themselves, and stores the farmers’ surplus rice after harvest, exporting some of it to Germany.
“We develop through doing business,” he said.
In addition, he said, CEDAC has contributed $30,000 this year to the farmers’ communities for local development projects.
Just more than 8,000 rice farming families are members of CEDAC’s organic rice network, and their rice yields have increased by leaps and bounds since the network began in 2005, Him Khortieth said.
“In 2005, we collected only 10 tons of organic rice,” he said. “This year, we collected 1,200 tons.”
CEDAC also trains farmers to increase their rice yields using the 12-step System of Rice Intensification. Using SRI, he said, one farmer in Kampot province has yielded 9 tons of organic rice per hectare, compared with a conventional farmer’s average yield of 2.5 tons per hectare.
Despite the gains, conversion from chemical fertilizers to organic methods is still a rarity in Cambodia.
CEDAC President Yang Saing Kona said that less than one percent of Cambodian rice farmers had made the switch. Ten to 15 percent of local rice farmers practice traditional organic agriculture because they never adopted chemical fertilizers in the first place, he added, noting that most of those farmers live in fertile pockets of remote provinces.
“I want people to accept this method because it can help long-term soil quality and human health,” he said. “It also helps increase tourism. Tourists need safe food, and if they know Cambodia grows organic rice, they will come.”
CEDAC member Ket Sat, a rice farmer from Kompong Cham province’s Batheay district, said that his group of farmers sold 38 tons of organic rice to CEDAC in 2008, adding that this amount represented about half of his total yield.
CEDAC could not afford to buy the remainder, he said, so they sold it to Vietnamese middlemen.