‘These ideas are brave’: Exchange visit shifts perspectives of agriculture leaders in Cambodia

Participants observing the use of a water tower as a structure for growing vegetables © Kelsea Clingeleffer/UNDP Cambodia

Kampong Chhnang, July 2020 – Participants of the exchange visit were tangibly excited as they gathered around big blue tanks, filming the contents on their phones. Inside the chambers, they watched how hundreds of fish were separated and cared for according to the needs of each life stage to ensure highest quality production. Sustainability and quality were two of the main values discussed on the day’s agenda.

The exchange visit was the final of three such activities under a project aimed at reducing the impacts of droughts in at-risk provinces of Cambodia through Drought Resistant Agricultural Techniques training. The project has been conducted by DanChurchAid in partnership under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-supported ‘Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems in Cambodia’ project,  funded by the GEF-Least Developed Countries Fund.

The Drought Resistant Agricultural Techniques Training was launched across three phases, implemented in Kampot, Takeo, Pursat, Battambang, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom, Kampong Cham and Kampong Chhnang.

One of the primary focuses was the training of agricultural cooperative leaders, local authorities and community-based organizations on the best way to reduce drought impacts on the agriculture industry, particularly for chicken raising and vegetable production. The exchange visit was designed to provide these leaders with an opportunity to follow up their training with a chance to see large-scale, sustainable use of some of these techniques.

The day was split into two segments. The first was conducted at the Smiling Gecko Farmhouse in Kampong Chhnang province, a sustainable farm developed to train and provide employment for local villagers in the areas of cooking, hospitality, carpentry and crop and livestock production. After listening to short summary about the purposes and history of the farm, participants were able to visit the fish hatchery and production area, the chicken and pig houses, vegetable crop and greenhouse areas, and the carpentry workshop.

Participants learning about fish production from a Smiling Gecko Farmhouse employee © Kelsea Clingeleffer/UNDP Cambodia

Following a lunch break, participants moved to Akphiwat Peam Meanchey Agricultural Cooperative, also in Kampong Chhnang. Here, the agricultural cooperative members were trained under a previous phase of the DCA/UNDP partnership, and participants revelled in the opportunity to discuss their own challenges and success with like-minded peers. Contract farming was of particular interest, as was managing microcredit – something the Akphiwat Peam Meanchey Agricultural Cooperative has been known to excel at.

At the end of the day, the participants reflected on how to apply their learnings within their own communities. Ms. Thai Soda, a leader from the Kaksekam Sowathepheap Thoamcheact Agricultural Cooperative in Siem Reap, expressed admiration towards the vegetable production techniques she had seen. “I’m interested in germination in the greenhouse – this is a new thing that we learned and I think it can help our crop rotation. Most of the greenhouses we have seen today are made of wood, which is something we have available in our own communities – most of the greenhouses in our community are made from iron, so this has changed my perception.” Ms. Soda also found the zero-waste policy of Smiling Gecko Farmhouse, where the staff use filtered kitchen water in the farm ponds as well as using food waste to make compost, to be fascinating.

Participants learned about how cucumber plants were a valuable source of income via contract farming for the Akphiwat Peam Meanchey Agricultural Cooperative © Kelsea Clingeleffer/UNDP Cambodia

Ms. Yi Seung from Toni Samaki Meanchey Reaskmey Angkor Agricultural Cooperative in Siem Reap, described how she had could see the day’s activities applied within her own context. “I’m interested in the vegetable production, especially the techniques around measuring the PH in soil and limestone in the water. These are the same sorts of issues that we have in my area, which means that our crops don’t produce good yield.” Finally, one of the notable outcomes for the day was an interest in fish production – something that is not covered under the training provided by DanChurchAid. Mr. Seang Sovuth, from Kaksekam Aphiwat Srokyeung Agricultural Cooperative in Kampong Cham, described how in his community they have both potential and experience in this area. “We have a community pond, and I’ve been looking for information about how to do fish production. We have experience in this – we have been growing different varieties of fish for about 2 years now. This is a great job to have in my community.” Several participants identified fish production as a potential yet valuable new source of income.

Written by Kelsea Clingeleffer, Results Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Consultant

For more information, please contact Muhibuddin Usamah (Project Manager) at muhibuddin.usamah@undp.org

See the ‘Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems in Cambodia’ Twitter timeline here. For updates on this project and UNDP Cambodia’s broader work, follow @UNDPCambodia on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

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