Battambang’s Farmer Eyes Investment in Conservation Agriculture Technology – a Story from an Early Adopter

Sustainable agriculture
From a Conservation Agriculture (CA) sceptic to a firm supporter of such modernised practice, Chhunhour Leang, a 58-year-old maize farmer, has set the goal to become one of the first adopters of agricultural machineries for Conservation Agriculture in his community.
Chhunhour Leang, sitting front right, attends a gathering to share his experience in Conservation 
"I was sceptical at first, but through years of the CA experiments on my land, I have witnessed and become certain that this practice will cater to my benefits."
Chhunhour Leang, a 58-year-old farmer from Battambang

Owning 17 hectares of crop land in Rattanak Mondul district, Battambang, Chhunhour sees Conservation Agriculture not only to be more profitable than conventional practice, but also more sustainable due to the good return of investment, labour efficiency, and agroecological preservation of his farmland which resulted in the increase in yield.

Even though Conservation Agriculture practices rely on specific agricultural mechanisation, Chhunhour has not owned any tractor and additional tractor implements such as roller crimper or no-till planter yet. He expresses his complete readiness and enthusiasm to invest in these technologies once he becomes financially capable. The reason for this is that he could hire the machineries services from government-led services.

“I was sceptical at first, but through years of the CA experiments on my land, I have witnessed and become certain that this practice will cater to my benefits. I will seek for more funds to purchase the [CA] machineries as I have saved up about 60-70% of the total cost now. Considering its crucial role in increasing my yields, I don’t need to wait until I have enough money,” he emphasises.

An overview of sunn hemp crop field along the National Road 57
A maize no-till planter attached to a tractor

Since 2014, Conservation Agriculture Service Centre (CASC), a unit under the Department of Agricultural Land Resources Management (DALRM), has been providing no-till services for rice, maize, and cassava in Battambang. The farmers were paying full costs of the services.

"I learn a lot from the centre. We no longer need to plough the land like we previously did. The old practice involved many extravagant processes of money waste. We simply sow the sunn hemp, a cover crop, before maize, crimp it down on the ground while we simultaneously plant maize seeds as our main crop. The crimped sunn hemp would then become fresh crop residue which retains more water from rainfalls; it prevents the erosion of soil fertility, enables my maize to grow perfectly,” Chhunhour recalled his maize cropping cycle through CA management.

As he converted more and more of his fields from conventional practice to CA, he also got to learn in detail about the technicality of the machinery he wants to invest in.

"The machine gives precise depth of seed sowing regardless of changes in top soil topography. It cuts through the ground and penetrate to an equal depth of 4 centimetre, enabling the crops to grow simultaneously and healthily. With the quality ensured, I am confident that the crops can be harvested in a timely manner, which translate into constant incomes," he claims.

Another factor that has triggered his interest also stems from the value-added service the machine delivers. With the new machine that he intends to buy, he plans to not only use it for his crops but also to offer services to other farmers who also have a need for the machinery services in the process of shifting to improved CA practices.

"We have a big network of farmers who now express their interests for Conservation Agriculture, and I plan to rent my future machine once I get it. It would cut down production costs for everyone reducing costs spent on fertilizers," he adds.

Chhunhour also ambitiously anticipates his plan beyond buying the machine. He plans to rent more land for the practice and buy more machineries if he is to make more money from his first one.

Mekong Inclusive Growth and Innovation Programme (MIGIP) from 2017-2020, worked closely with CASC from the Department of Agricultural Land Resources Management/GDA, CIRAD, CE SAIN of the Royal University of Agriculture and Kansas State University, and supported a Cambodian agriculture machinery company to import two consignments of no-till planters for maize and rice into the Cambodian market. A third consignment is being planned for 2021. These are the first steps taken towards the commercialization of no-till planters in Cambodia.

Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture (ISA) is a four-year programme (2021-2024), a follow-on project to MIGIP (2017-2020), which focuses on the areas of sustainable agriculture.