Collaboration with Swiss universities through the "Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture Lab"

Sustainable agriculture
One of the initiatives born out of the Swisscontact’s four-year Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture (ISA) project is the ISA Lab. The lab aims to contribute to the project’s objective to promote appropriate technologies and extension services for a sustainable intensification by primarily focusing on applied research. Through the Lab’s three workstreams – conduct applied research, support student research studies and facilitate research platform – the Lab will collaborate with research institutions and academia to conduct research and support students’ research on relevant topics.

Collaboration with Swiss Universities

Under Workstream 2 of the ISA Lab, Swisscontact in Cambodia aims to work with Swiss universities on three assignments,

  • Conflict Sensitive Programme Management (CSPM) assessment and recommendations,
  • Guidance on machine modification and spare parts production and
  • Assessment of the commercialization pathways.

In 2021, the project collaborated with two Swiss universities: the NADEL Centre for Development and Cooperation at ETH Zurich and Bern University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL).

Swisscontact in Cambodia started its collaboration with NADEL in 2017 when the two students Peter Leibacher and Esther Waldmeier​ worked for ten months on intervention design and implementation of the Mekong Inclusive Growth and Innovation Programme (MIGIP), the predecessor of the ISA project. In 2021, Swisscontact in Cambodia welcomed NADEL student Julia Heeb who supported the Conflict Sensitive Programme Management (CSPM) assessment and strategy development for the ISA project.

The collaboration with HAFL has the objective to host students who conduct field assignments exposing them to technical, social, and organizational aspects of agriculture in the context of a developing country. In 2021, Swisscontact in Cambodia welcomed HAFL student Céline Keiser who researched farmers’ current practices regarding manure production, storage and utilization in Battambang province.

Important findings and learnings

At the end of their assignments, the two students presented their findings and learnings to the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in Cambodia. The event was attended by Markus Buerli, Director of Cooperation and Hem Sovannarith, National Programme Manager (SDC), Alessandra Giuliani, Researcher and Lecturer at Bern University of Applied Sciences (HAFL), Rajiv Pradhan, Country Director of Swisscontact in Cambodia, Erica Wu, Deputy Project Manager and Srour Sorkunthika, Intervention Area Lead in the ISA project.

The main objective as stated by Céline Keiser during her presentation of her Assessing livestock manure management and use by smallholder farmers in Battambang province, Cambodia research was to generate basic knowledge about the farmers’ practices regarding farmyard manure management and to assess the general fertilizing practices, the reasons behind the farmers’ practices and the possibly on-going manure trade. The methodology for the research consisted of literature review and interviews of 68 households and seven key informants for primary data collection. The findings include the reasons why farmers prefer to use chemical fertilizers instead of livestock manure. According to the interviewed farmers, chemical fertilizers are less time consuming, easier to apply and more effective. Recommendation drawn from the research revolve around improving the storage practices and addressing knowledge gaps on benefits, processing practices and appropriate usage of farmyard manure.  

"I liked a lot to be in the field, where I could see how Cambodian farmers and their families live and work, and with which challenges they have to deal with in their daily life. "
Céline Keiser , Student, Bern University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL)

Julia Heeb presented the Conflict Sensitive Programme Management (CSPM) Assessment and Strategy Development which was developed using the 3-Step Conflict Sensitivity Framework that includes

  • context analysis,
  • understanding the interaction between context and the project​ and
  • developing possible options and alternatives​.

The assessment includes a stakeholder analysis and mapping, an analysis of the project partners and of the interactions between the project interventions and conflict issues, and recommendations. Some of the key conflict issues identified are land disputes, land titles issues, conflicts over over-grazing and water allocation, and indebtedness.​ A preliminary strategy to systematically integrate Conflict Sensitivity into Swisscontact Cambodia’s ISA project was also developed. “My internship with ISA has been very valuable for me, both personally and professionally. The NADEL project assignment not only allowed me to learn a lot, especially about Cambodia and agriculture, it also helped me gain a foothold in the field of international cooperation and I am very happy to take these learnings into my future professional life.”

"The assignment is a great opportunity for Swiss students to not only expand their knowledge academically, but it also allows them to expose themselves to a new culture outside of their classroom and country. The same goes for Cambodia tandem students. "
Markus Buerli, Director of Cooperation, Swiss Cooperation Office and Consular Agency in Cambodia

Highly beneficial for both parties

The partnerships between Swisscontact and Swiss universities is highly beneficial for both parties. Students get the opportunity to gain practical work experience and conduct applied research in a developing country while Swisscontact projects benefit from high quality support. Céline Keiser’s findings will help the National University of Battambang to come up with ideas and solutions how to encourage farmers to use livestock manure instead of only chemical fertilizers while Julia’a Conflict Sensitive Programme Management assessment will allow the ISA project team to better integrate conflict sensitivity into its project management. The ISA project looks forward to continuation of the partnership and hosting more interns from NADEL Center for Development and Cooperation at ETH Zurich and Bern University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL in the future and further strengthen the the ISA Lab initiative and its workstreams. ISA in 2022 is hosting another student, from Bern University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL, Sofia Marcon, who will conduct research on farmer adaption of cover crop for fruit trees for conservation agriculture extension in Cambodia.

"As a coordinator for the compulsory field assignment of HAFL BSc students in international agriculture, I greatly appreciated the fact that Céline was accompanied by a reliable and caring team from Swisscontact. As a co-supervisor of Céline’s BSc thesis, I valued the fact that Céline could apply the knowledge gained during her studies and was able to gain substantial knowledge on crop-livestock systems in Cambodia. "
Nancy Bourgeois Luethi, Lecturer, Bern University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL)
"The collaboration of Céline with two Cambodian students working on the field with her was a win-win opportunity: the students collaborated and learnt from each other. I greatly thank Swisscontact for organizing a combined field visit, so that I could not only be closer to my HAFL student’s work, but also establish a good relationship with the National University of Battambang for a potential future tri-party-collaboration. "
Alessandra Giuliani, Research, Bern University of Applied Sciences, School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL)

The Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture project is financed by the Happel Foundation, the Symphasis Foundation, and the Leopold Bachmann Foundation among other donors. As part of the Swisscontact Development Programme, it is co-financed by SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA).

Sustainable agriculture
Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture 
The project promotes appropriate technologies and extension services for a sustainable intensification of agricultural production leading to reduced negative impacts on the environment including an improved soil health that allows smallholder farmers to increase their productivity and income.