More than 99 per cent of Cambodian farmers have modernised their farming techniques through the use of tractors in place of cattle. Many farmers are now becoming creative and integrating new crops into their operations. This is often done in response to the changing demands of the market, and serves to increase their income.
“Rice farming alone is not enough to support my family; we need to turn our farmland into fields that can grow diverse crops as well as rice paddies,” said Ros Mao, a 56-year-old farmer in Ta Phem commune’s Chorm Pol village of western Takeo province’s Tram Kak district.
Mao, who owns more than 3ha of farmland, told The Post that over the last two years he had raised the level of a 1ha plot so he could grow vegetables. He accomplished this by digging up soil from another part of his land. He now uses the resulting hole as an irrigation pond,
“Before, I used all 3ha to farm rice, but I was not generating enough income to pay for my children’s school fees. Over the last two years, I have been cultivating cabbage, radish and cucumbers on 1ha of my farm, while the 2ha remain paddy field. My family’s income is increasing each year,” he said.
Mao no longer uses cattle to plough and cultivate his farmland, although he is raising six head. He uses tractors and, during the rice harvest, employs a combine harvester. The six head of cattle will be sold as needed to support the demands of his family.
Mao is not the only farmer who has changed the way he goes about farming. More than half of the nation’s farmers have embraced modern farming methods, according to agricultural experts.
Kong Kea, general-director of rice crops under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, told The Post that more than 99 per cent of Cambodian farmers have changed from subsistence farming to mechanised farming, such as using tractors to plough their farmlands, to reduce labour and save time.
He added that in some areas, farmers were becoming more creative by developing part of their land to grow vegetables such as cabbage, cucumber, eggplant, pumpkin, watermelon or sweet melon.
“The rapid changing trends of our farmers’ methods have become an important driving force in supporting and promoting the government’s policy on the competitiveness of rice, as well as other agricultural products that will likely become successful export products in the near future,” he said.
Back in 2010, Prime Minister Hun Sen unveiled a strategic policy to boost rice exports to one million tonnes per year to foreign markets from 2015 onwards, but the plan did not materialise as farmers at that time still had little knowledge of technology and modern methods of rice cultivation.
However, through additional training from agricultural experts over the last three to four years, Cambodian farmers have made remarkable changes in the way they cultivate their rice, according to Lor Bunna, director of the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI).
“In the past, our farmers used to plant rice by hand, but now they have switched to sowing and use modern agricultural machinery such as tractors, planting machines and combine harvesters instead of cattle,” he said.
According to Bunna, the storage and use of seeds has also changed significantly, because the seeds used for rice cultivation are an important fact that needs to be carefully considered.
“In the past, during the rice harvest, most of our farmers kept some for consumption, some for selling, and some for seeds. Now, many farmers are becoming aware of the importance of quality seeds. They are buying premium, high quality seeds. Fragrant varieties are especially popular,” he said.
Song Saran, president of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), noted that Cambodian farmers now have a clear understanding that farming is a highly competitive business.
“Before, when they farmed, it was only the quantity that they measured, but the cheapest varieties of rice command such low prices that it is often not worth growing. Now, they are planting popular fragrant varieties and are even receiving cash deposits for rice that has not yet ripened,” he said.
He said CRF had thought the same way in the past, and sought to produce the largest yields of rice it could, regardless of quality or market demand.
“We used to buy 60,000 to 70,000 tonnes of rice from our farmers for export, and collected around $450 million, because of the low quality. Now, we are exporting a similar tonnage, but of high quality fragrant rice, so we earn between $650 and $750 million a year. Our vision is to encourage more farmers to produce high-quality products that meet market demand,” he added.
Rice exports are a significant part of Cambodia’s foreign exchange earnings, and the government takes a keen interest in the industry. Prime Minister Hun Sen noted that China remains the largest market for milled Cambodian rice, with France ranked second.