The future transformation of agriculture in Cambodia is visualized towards sustainable intensification, conservation agriculture and regenerative agriculture. These systems offer a holistic approach that supports sustainable agricultural production while maintaining robust stewardship of the environment. The Royal Government of Cambodia’s (RGC) vision to modernize Cambodia’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.” This is reflected in several key documents that have been developed by the RGC.
Hence, in Cambodia, shifting from conventional practice toward a sustainable intensification practice requires effective agricultural extension service that enhance agricultural productivity, diversification, commercialization, and sustainable natural resources management. Therefore, in order to address this need for an extension model, a new and innovative model, called MetKasekor or ‘farmers friend’ (មិត្តកសិករ) was formally established in December 2021.
“MetKasekor’’ (meaning farmers’ friend in Khmer), an initiative of the Government of Cambodia, is an early adopter led extension service model, which focuses on ’opening the market’ for private sector investments on Sustainable Intensification via government agents and the private sector to smallholder farmers in Cambodia. The model is a government resource for the future with the intention to improve the public agricultural extension service system in Cambodia and to promote 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.
The Model is governed by six steps that start with identifying potential agriculture cooperatives, farmers and service providers who are then invited to demand creation meetings. Following this, field showcase and large-scale demonstrations of CA/SI and regenerative agriculture implements are conducted in order to raise awareness. Lastly, an annual meeting to review the yearly progress and promotional meetings to enlarge the pool of private sector is also conducted.
MetKasekor is led and implemented by the Department of Extension for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DEAFF) and coordinated with the Department of Agricultural Land Resources Management (DALRM) and the Department of Agricultural Engineering (DAEng), and is supported by the Center of Excellence on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Nutrition (CE SAIN), Kansas State University (KSU), Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement) (CIRAD) and Swisscontact through the Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture. The model shows promise in initiating agroecology transition, and has been gaining traction, however it requires wide scale adoption by the majority to be truly effective.
Diffusion of Innovation (DOI) Theory, developed by Everett. M. Rogers in 1962, is one of the oldest social science theories. It originated in communication to explain how, over time, an idea or product gains momentum and diffuses (or spreads) through a specific population or social system. The result of this diffusion is that people, as part of a social system, adopt a new idea, behavior, or product. The main players in the theory are innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.
Adoption of a new idea, product or innovation such as MetKasekor does not happen simultaneously in a social system; rather it is a process whereby some people are more apt to adopt the innovation than others. Therefore, Swisscontact Cambodia, under its ISA Lab initiative is applying the Diffusion of Innovation Theory in order to validate and identify factors that incentivize market actors to try out new innovations such as MetKasekor. One of the major learnings on incentivizing market actors has been, the importance of brand awareness and development of products and innovations.
The MetKasekor pilot aims to introduce 4,760 small holder farmers to the regenerative agriculture (conservation agriculture/sustainable intensification) practices in the pilot phase (until 2024). As of mid-2022, 150 small holder farmers and service providers have been identified as early adopters. The MetKasekor Handbook defines early adopters as ‘potential farmers who agree to receive CA services and service providers who are seriously considering investing in the machinery during the demand creation meetings’.
The assumption used to calculate the percentage of early adopters is that 4,760 small holder farmers who will have access to MetKasekor will eventually start practicing regenerative agriculture, and so are considered as the 100% of market share for the pilot phase. Therefore, we can infer that currently, as of mid-2022, 3.15% (150 small holder farmers) have adopted the MetKasekor model.
Plotting this onto the Diffusion of Innovation curve, we can see that the model is at the very beginning of the early adopter’s phase.
One of the biggest challenges in increasing the uptake of new ideas and innovation is the perception that is created. In simple terms, it is the branding and how the innovation is portrayed and perceived. Another big challenge is the proof of concept, as in the era of industrial revolution 4.0, data on the proof and data driven decisions that accompany is a must.
In the case of MetKasekor, three strategies are currently being implemented in order to develop the brand presence and awareness of MetKasekor while at the same time strengthening the model and enabling it to make go to market and adaptive strategies in the long run, based on data insights. The brand development of MetKasekor includes creating promotional and technical materials of the model including, but not limited to logos, proper branding guidelines and materials for private sector engagement, a step-by step handbook/ guidebook on MetKasekor implementation, cultivating web presence through a dedicated website as well as social media presence. However, the most effective promotional strategy has been through word of mouth through effective on-ground/ field work.
Furthermore, in order to enable MetKasekor to develop go to market and adaptive strategies based on data insights, an app along with an IT platform has also been developed. The MetKasekor IT Platform and App is already in use in Battambang and Preah Vihear province. The App aims to address the challenge of data collection and analysis with regards to the increasing uptake of conservation agriculture practices in Cambodia. The IT platform will be owned by the Provincial Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries. The IT platform will enable collection of data on farmers using CA practices in Cambodia and record the systemic change of practice from conventional to regenerative agriculture all over Cambodia. Since this platform will be owned by PDAFF, all farmers related data will be handled by the public sector. This collaboration modality will also ensure public-private partnership in agroecology transition.
These strategies will support in spreading the brand awareness of MetKasekor and the uptake of regenerative practices through the model. However, MetKasekor eventually must face and cross the Chasm in order to enjoy mass market success. The chasm represents challenges and barriers that needs to be overcome, in order to graduate from early adopters’ stage to the early majority stage. The chasm between the early adopters and the early majority is huge, and it is generally accepted that once you've bridged that chasm, the innovation is accepted and will take off. If you fail to bridge the chasm, the innovation will stop at the early adopters. Therefore, the model also envisages that the data insights from the IT platform can also help in identifying these market challenges when the time comes.
MetKasekor envisions farmers gaining access to CA/SI and regenerative agriculture techniques and technologies through public-private coordination, ultimately leading to farmers increasing their productivity along with social and environmental sustainability. However, a long term dedicated effort is needed for MetKasekor to truly be effective. The public sector owned model along with private-sector coordination mechanism in MetKasekor is the crux for model’s sustainability. Furthermore, it is anticipated that through the acceptance and implementation of the model by the early adopters, the effectiveness of MetKasekor is proven. Therefore, the early adopters are starting to pave the way for agroecology transition in Cambodia by implementing, and eventually introducing and convincing the majority on the effectiveness of the MetKasekor model and regenerative agricultural practices to improve Cambodia’s agricultural landscape.