Scaling up proven mechanization technologies for Regenerative Agriculture – Experiences from Cambodia

Sustainable agriculture
The commercialization pathways developed as a result of experiences gathered over the past five years, through the implementation of the Mekong Inclusive Growth and Innovation Programme (MIGIP) and the Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture (ISA) projects of Swisscontact in Cambodia shows promise in scaling up proven mechanization technologies for regenerative agriculture (more specifically conservation agriculture and sustainable intensification).

Cambodia’s agriculture sector is one of the key engines for economic growth and poverty reduction in the country. In recent decades, however, agricultural intensification has caused the destruction of its natural assets, resulting in soil degradation. Farmers increasingly face low and declining productivity and income. Therefore, there is a need for the Cambodian agriculture sector to reinvent itself by shifting from increased production through land expansion, towards conservation agriculture and sustainable intensification (CA/SI).

The Royal Government of Cambodia’s (RGC) vision to modernize the country’s agriculture recognizes that sustainable intensification “primarily depends on the application of techniques, new technologies, R&D, mechanization, and increased capacity of irrigation to improve productivity.” The commitment of the RGC in sustainable agriculture development has been reflected in its overarching Rectangular Strategy IV and National Strategic Development Plan (2019-2023), as well a number of agriculture policies and plans of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).

Sustainable Intensification and its components

Sustainable Intensification optimizes both resource utilization and management whereby farmers produce greater yields with fewer inputs without increasing land area. Sustainable intensification integrates social, economic, and environmental impacts with a specific focus on easing the burden on women. Some key components of sustainable intensification include:

  • 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 (CA): 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.

Strategies to promote mechanization technology for Sustainable Intensification

While there are multiple angles to address sustainable intensification, research has shown that technologies play a key role in the promotion of the three principles of CA. However, the commercialization of sustainable practices along with the technologies is still in its nascent stage in Cambodia.

Over the last five years, through the learning from the Mekong Inclusive Growth and Innovation Programme (MIGIP) and the Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture (ISA) projects of Swisscontact in Cambodia, different pathways to technology commercialization were encountered and explored. The four commercialization pathways identified include:

  1. Passporting Technology, aims to import technologies from outside the country to be validated, prepare for use, and evaluate the relevancy in the local market.
  2. Working with Local Workshops, aims to commercialize locally invented technologies that have been proven in the localized market but not yet widely promoted beyond the areas of reach of the workshop.
  3. Research to Commercialization, aims to provide market access to technologies that have been tested by research institutions or have resulted from research through promotions.
  4. Working with Technology Importers, aims to coordinate with companies that are already or in the process of being distributors for technologies of exporting companies.
Swisscontact’s Four pathways to commercialization (Source: MIGIP’s Experience in Technology Commercialization Pitch Deck)

Swisscontact worked closely in the Conservation Agriculture Services with a Fee (CASF) project implemented by Center Excellence on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Nutrition (CE SAIN) in close collaboration with Department of Land Resources Management (DALRM), Department of Engineering (DAEng), CIRAD among others to discover some of the pathways.

Ground Initiatives scaling up mechanization technologies

To facilitate the transition from conventional farming practices to conservation agriculture (CA) practices through technology substitutions, three main technologies, namely no-till planter, land leveller, seed broadcaster are currently being deployed and scaled up through the commercialization pathways.

Through the Passporting Technologies pathway, Larano Workshop was able to import three consignments comprising of 17 no-till planters from Brazil. These are the only known commercial consignments of no-till planters in Cambodia. As a result, in 2021, 1,691 hectares of farmland was under no-till planting through Larano and other service providers impacting 472 farmers. Furthermore, Larano sold five no-till planters (two for maize; three for rice) from March to May 2021, eleven land levellers and three roller crimpers in 2021. The work of the Conservation Agriculture Services Center (CASC) under DALRM has been instrumental in this pathway to initially test the technologies and carry out the necessary activities in the field with the farmers for the provision of no-till services. Though the no-till planters have not yet been fully commercialized, the initial tasks of importation of commercial consignments paves the way for further importation and/or manufacturing of the no-till planters in Cambodia.

Through the Research to Commercialization and Working with Local Workshops pathways, Neourn Workshop was able to develop and sell 180 seed broadcasters till date to smallholders and large-scale farmers. In 2021, Neourn workshop also expanded and hired fifteen staff to ramp up their production. The technology was developed during the Appropriate Scale Mechanization Consortium (ASMC) project.

This commercialization and scale up work feeds into the overall work of the MetKasekor model, a sustainable climate smart extension service model of the Department of Extension, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DEAFF), General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA) and the Royal University of Agriculture (RUA) which focuses on opening the market for private sector investments on regenerative agriculture by disseminating and promoting the practices via government agents and the private sector to smallholder farmers in Cambodia. The piloting of MetKasekor is supported by Centre de coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab (SIIL), Kansas State University (KSU), the Center Excellence on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Nutrition (CE SAIN) and Swisscontact.

The Mekong Inclusive Growth and Innovation Programme (MIGIP) and the Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture (ISA) projects are 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.