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Southeast Asian Country

Paper Number 6

Soil fertility management and conservation under agriculture
productivity improvement project in Cambodia*

 * This country report has not been formally edited and the designations and terminology used are those of the author.

Ho Puthera
Department of Agronomy and Agricultural Land Improvement, Ministry of Agriculture,
Forestry and Fisheries, Phnom Penh, Cambodia


The Royal Government of Cambodia after years of conflict has started in earnest, the basic programmes and works on the improvement of agricultural and soil productivity. In general, most soils released for use in various agriculture and food production programmes are acidic, low in organic matter and very poor in soil fertility. One of the recent efforts are dedicated to the promotion and adoption of sustainable land management (SLM) in response to the country’s commitment to the United Convention to Combat Desertification, including land degradation and drought. The banner programme is the Agriculture Productivity Improvement Programme (APIP) which provided human and financial resources for the nationwide implementation of the Soil Fertility Management and Conservation (SFMC). Networks of on-farm techno-demos were established in over 14 provinces to showcase different farming systems to improve soil fertility and also to improve farmer’s technology on plant nutrient management and improvement. Massive soil and plant tissue samples for soil fertility analysis and fertilizer use calibration were conducted and this now forms the critical benchmark and data base for future soil fertility programme and formulations for the Royal Government of Cambodia.

1. Introduction

Food and fiber production systems in the Royal Government of Cambodia now and into the future needs to meet three major requirements: (1) to provide adequate supply of safe, nutritious, and sufficient food for the world’s growing population, (2) to significantly reduce rural poverty through augmentation of household income derived from activities, and (3) to curb further degradation of natural resources, particularly land resources. These challenges have to be resolved in anticipation of unpredictable changes in global climate- a key factor in natural and agro-ecosystem productivity. Other major factors that will influence how agriculture meets the challenge of food security include globalization of markets and trade, increasing market orientation for agriculture, emerging technologies and increasing public concern about the impacts of unsustainable natural resource management.

It is imperative, therefore, to share lessons learned and focus on the strategic management and implementation of the Sustainable Land Management (SLM) in pursuance of the objectives of United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

SLM initiatives through the Soil Fertility Management and Conservation (SFMC) in the country are being undertaken through:

2. Activities and achievements

While poor external participation, institutional limitations and national funding uncertainties have acted to impede progress, and that limited human and institutional skills have undermined the value of very good ‘Science’ in the SLM programme. For instance, the Agricultural Productivity Improvement Programme (APIP) for SFMC has achieved its objectives within the design timetable as follows:

From these works, rainfall patterns at each site with recorded annual rainfalls showed the following summarized data trends:

The recently collected soil loss data suggests that contour-based farm treatments can be grouped into four broad categories, viz. (1) Farmers Practice (FP), (2) FP + vetiver, (3) FP + short to medium-term cash crops, and (4) FP + agroforestry hedges. The actual annual soil losses per site vary relative to FP (= 0 percent or no change). Obviously, the on-farm demonstrations using the above 4 categories have one common message that reconfirmed hedgerows planted across the slopes can effectively control soil erosion. Figure 1 describes the following trends in relative annual soil loss:

  1. Vetiver grass strips reduced soil losses to 30-50 percent of FP in the 2 years after planting, and to >90 percent after that;
  2. Short to medium-term cash crop barriers reduced soil losses initially to 50 percent of FP, and to >90 percent after 3 years (very similar trend to vetiver grass); while,
  3. Agroforestry hedges maintained soil losses at around 50 percent of FP during this time.


Figure 1. Trends in relative annual soil loss for treatment groupings on APIP-SFMC sites

The network of SFMC on-farm techno-demos

The network of on-farm techno-demos covered and ensured the implementation of thousands on-farm demonstration and survey activities over 14 provinces. In addition to the technical data on-farm production, due consideration was given to the three impact areas such as environmental impact, social impact and economic impact.

The quantified measurements of local impacts of the techno-demos in various sites resulted in the further development of farming system models for semi-commercial producers which considered soil fertility and erosion control, giving due consideration to the productivity of the hedges/barriers, especially as it affects needs and access of poor and vulnerable to basic production-improving services.

Cooperators showed through their country programmes that they could apply SFMC knowledge learned during training. Coordination and technical backstopping visits supported on-the-job training in areas relating to implementation, day-to-day management and demonstration of techniques and collection, collation, analysis and reporting gathered data. Regular activities associated with field trial management are being institutionalised and activities included as line items in Ministry budgets.

Timely technical assistance, training and capacity building activities and workshops on SFMC provided:

Effective administration, management and information distribution systems allowed:

A total of 3 440 soil samples were collected in the farmers field and field stations and were analysed to provide soil chemical properties and soil fertility relational data base and benchmarks. This massive and systematic soil sampling programme aimed to: (i) determine and/or confirm soil types, (ii) compare the soil and soil properties of the field station with those used by the farmers in the adjoining farms, and (iii) prepare an inventory of soil types, soil chemical properties and fertilizer management practices for these field areas. Inventory activities were undertaken in conjunction with other agronomic and infrastructure databases being developed for each field sites.

Table 1. Soil sampling and analysis by provinces



Number of Collected
Soil Samples


Kampong Cham, Rubber farms


Kratie, SFMC field trial’s sites


Kampong Thom, SFMC field sites


Battambang, SFMC field sites


Svay Rieng, AQIP sites


Prey Veng, AQIP sites


Kandal, AQIP field sites


Takeo, AQIP field sites



3 440

The Soil and Plant Analysis Laboratory’s mission is to provide a quality national soil, fertilizer and plant nutrient analysis service to encourage sustainable land management and improve food security in Cambodia. Its purpose is to serve Government, national research institutions, NGOs, agribusinesses and farmers as a semi-autonomous agency under DAALI. The laboratory, likewise, participated in the regional soil and plant sample exchange programme.

3. Lessons learned

SFMC is an institutional capacity building programme of technical staff and extension workers and other stakeholders learning to work together under the leadership of DAALI under the National Action Programme (NAP). The processes of human and institutional capacity building and the actual knowledge and experiences gained in the hands-on implementation in the various stations and farmer’s field provided important lessons learned and unlearned:

4. Problems and constraints

  1. SFMC staff limited skills and knowledge on management, planning, monitoring and reporting;
  2. Not enough resources for TA to supervise and provide on the job training;
  3. Some specific natural and administrative constraints are recognized: (i) interruption of field activities by yearly flood occurrences (ii) Slow release of funds, (iii) Delays in arrival and subsequent release of procured items, (iv) A lack of clear procedural guidance.

5. SWOT analysis

From field observations and analysis of data collected in the soil fertility and land management area, the following strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) were recognized:

  1.  Expert knowledge in soil fertility management in order to become a storehouse of related knowledge on land management and an adviser to government, NGOs, other agencies, agribusinesses and farmers.
  2. Simple, transparent administrative and financial management systems and practices to further streamline information flows in collaborative activities.

Institutional and legislative processes to develop national land management policies that link sustainable production and food security to appropriate land use strategies and practices.

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