Partnership to Promote Cover Crops in Cambodia 

Sustainable agriculture
There is a need for the Cambodian agriculture sector to reinvent itself by shifting from increased production through land expansion towards sustainable intensification. As Cambodia “finds new pathways to drive future growth,” technology will play a critical role in transforming the sector. The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC)’s vision to modernise the country’s agriculture recognizes that sustainable intensification “primarily depends on the application of techniques, new technologies, research and development, mechanisationzation, and increased capacity of irrigation to improve productivity.” This is reflected in several key documents that have been developed by the RGC.

The future transformation of agriculture in Cambodia should focus on sustainable intensification which improves agricultural production methods as well as profitability with new adaptable  techniques and knowledge transfer via the agricultural extension services. Hence, in Cambodia, shifting from conventional practices towards sustainable intensification requires effective commercializaton of techniques and technologies. For this to happen, an innovative agricultural extension system that enhances agricultural productivity, diversification, commercialization, and sustainable natural resources management is needed.

What is sustainable intensification and Conservation Agriculture (CA/SI)?

Sustainable Intensification optimizes both resource utilization and management whereby farmers produce greater yields with fewer inputs without increasing land area. Among the key components of sustainable intensification is conservation agriculture (CA). Conservation Agriculture (CA) is a farming system that prevents the loss of arable land and helps to restore degraded lands through practices such as no-till, integrating cover crops, and crop diversification. Research on CA/SI in Cambodia has been carried out by Department of Agriculture Land Resources Management under the General Directorate of Agriculture and  CIRAD since 2004.

Components of Sustainable Intensification are:

  • Efficiency: better use of on-farm and imported resources.
  • Substitution: focuses on the replacement of technologies and practices.
  • Redesign: (transformative) to harness ecological processes and connect scales (field to markets)
  • Conservation Agriculture: healthy soil, increased resilience of the production system.
  • Three Pillars of Conservation Agriculture: no or minimum tillage, permanent soil cover, species diversity and spatial arrangement.

Role of Private Sector in CA/SI

In order to transition from research to commercialization, it is important for the private sector to be involved. Private companies play a crucial role in selling appropriate-scale machinery, services for land preparation and harvesting, buying farmers’ commodities, and adding value to their products. Private companies are also an essential player for providing technologies, know-how and information needed for different value-chains. Therefore, the transformation of Cambodian agriculture towards a future vision of sustainable intensification relies on the implementation of new agricultural practices and technology through engagement of extention services and the private sector.

Collaboration with SmartAgro

Supporting the transformation of the agricultural sector, the Mekong Inclusive Growth and Innovation Program (MIGIP), the predecessor of Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture (ISA), collaborated with Natural Farm Kirirom, which was later renamed SmartAgro Sustainable Innovations. The company was registered in January of 2018 to commercialize cover crops for the first time in Cambodia. At the start of the partnership agreement from 2018 to mid-2019, MIGIP supported SmartAgro to scale-up cover crop seed production and to test its products on the market. From 2019 onward, SmartAgro’s production kept on increasing year on year from 5 tons to 20 tons in 2020 to nearly 80 tons this year.

By practicing conventional tillage, the soil will lose its fertility in the near future. However, if we switch to practicing CA and use cover crops, our soil will regenerate and become fertile again. Moreover, some types of cover crops can also be processed as side-dish by fermentation, or the farm can become a stunning view which attracts visitors, and the farm owner can get income from that as well.” - Mr. Kosal, farmer in Rattanak Mundol, Battambang Province

SmartAgro’s mission is to implement agroecological practices in order to add long term value to people, smallholder communities and the ecosystem in the farming industry and reward regenerative practices for a transition towards a nature-positive agriculture.

Through SmartAgro’s collaboration with the MIGIP and ISA project, Swisscontact became one of the contributors to SmartAgro’s growth and its mission. From mid-2019 to 2021, Swisscontact has continued to provide support to SmartAgro in their effort to become a distributor for cover crops in Cambodia. Currently, the support focus lies on accelerating adoption rates of regenerative practices via linkages with the national extension model, MetKasekor, that is piloted in 2 provinces with the help of provincial agricultural cooperatives and associations.  

Current Status of Cover Crop Usage in Cambodia Through ISA

An awareness raising workshop on Conservation Agriculture Practices was co-organised by the Department of Agriculture Engineering and Swisscontact in December 2019 and was attended by 36 cooperatives and agriculture associations. The participants found that the application of cover crops showed great potential for improving agricultural practices towards a sustainable intensification in Cambodia.

One of the farmers in Sangha District, Battambang province, a client of SmartAgro mentioned “Since I started using cover crops on my farmland, there is no need to use as much herbicide because the cover crops prevent weeds from growing.” This anecdote reflects not only the mission of SmartAgro, but also contributes effectively to the RGC’s strategy to move towards Sustainable Intensification.

In 2020-2021, cover crop demonstrations were conducted on 83 plots in 8 provinces. Farmers were also trained in cover crop seed production which contributed to community empowerment, collective decision making and additional revenue streams for the farmers. In 2019-2020, 800 farmers were also trained in providing extension services.


The benefits of Conservation Agriculture have been researched since the 1960s, however, it is only recently that these research findings are being commercialized. In Cambodia 42% of land is facing medium to severe degradation and it is through the implementation of CA principles and using cover crops, we can effectively restore this farmland and regenerate soil fertility in order to make agriculture sustainable in the longer term. Regenerative practices provide multiple co-benefits, they prevent soil erosion, improve soil fertility, and reduce the use of fertilizer, they suppress weeds and reduce the need for herbicides, they improve soil water retention capacity and mitigate the risks of crop failure from droughts, they increase water infiltration rates and mitigate risks from floods, and they can break pest cycles and reduce the use of pesticides.

Conservation Agriculture and Sustainable Intensification (CASI) is about modernization. Through the experiences of the stakeholders, machineries and cover crop that will be used in the CASI have been tested in Cambodia. ISA is honored to work closely with  Department of Land Resources Management (DALRM) of the General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA), Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD), The Center of Excellence on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Nutrition (CE SAIN), Royal University of Agriculture, Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab (SIIL), Kansas State University in the journey pro promoting CA/SI in Cambodia. ISA remains committed to contribute to the efforts of the Royal Governmetn of Cambodia to find new pathways to drive future growth and through the cover crop initiative, the project aims to make a significant contribution towards that vision.

This project, ISA, is financed by Happel Foundation, Symphasis, and Marcuard Family Office, 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).