The agricultural sector is one of the most important drivers of economic growth and poverty alleviation in Cambodia. Extensive land use over the past decades has resulted in soil deterioration, which is reflected in lower farmer productivity and incomes. In addition, it is assumed that climate change will lower crop yields over the long term. More efficient and sustainable use of natural resources is crucial to securing food production and to protect the environment. In order to achieve this, innovative and climate-resilient agricultural production techniques are needed that protect natural ecosystems while enabling increases in crop yields.
The Government of Cambodia (GoC) is committed to fighting climate change and transitioning to a sustainable, low-carbon development model. Since 1996, the country has been an active participant in the UN’s climate protection efforts and ratified the Paris Agreement, which contains ambitious climate goals. Moreover, Cambodia is striving to become carbon-neutral by 2050 and is implementing a long-term strategy to reach this target. To this end, the agricultural sector plays an important role: it urgently needs to transition from a traditional model to more environmentally-friendly methods.
Agroecological farming can revitalise degraded land by restoring biodiversity in the soil, ensuring food security by avoiding monoculture and increasing farmer incomes. By planting multiple plant varieties and cover crops that protect the soil between the growing season, this approach also helps farmers to adapt to climate change: plants not only benefit from healthier soil, but they can also trap carbon in the soil and thus help to mitigate climate change.
However, smallholder farmers are faced with insecurity when introducing these practices. Swisscontact is helping Cambodian farmers to switch from excessive use of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers over to more sustainable practices.
The “Dei Meas” pilot programme, which in the Khmer language means “golden soil,” is incentivizing smallholder farmers to apply sustainable and environmentally-friendly farming methods. The initiative is part of the larger “Agroecology and Secure Food System Transitions in Southeast Asia” project, which is supported by various organisations, including Swisscontact. The programme objective is to have 500 hectares of farmland transition into more agroecological practices. Additionally, it offers financial incentives to farmers to help them make the transition.
As part of this initiative, three scenarios were presented for farmers in Battambang province:
Naev Sombo is a 61-year-old farmer from a village in eastern Battambang. Since 1979, she has always applied conventional farming methods, such as intensive ploughing several times during the year and higher use of pesticides. She grew increasingly concerned with the effects of these methods on soil health and the rising costs of farming inputs. She was one of the first farmers in the region to devote all her four hectares of farmland to regenerative agriculture. She improved her soil quality by planting cover crops and cycling between various cultures. Through these sustainable planting methods, nutrients were added to the soil, and the rejuvenated soil produced higher yields. Meanwhile, Naev Sombo has become an advocate of agroecological practices and has incentivised other farmers in her community to adopt these farming methods.
This project is financed by the Happel Foundation, the Symphasis Foundation, the Leopold Bachmann Foundation, among other donors. It is part of the Swisscontact Development Programme, which is co-financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA.