FAO in Cambodia

Beyond Farmer Field Schools

Ouk Nha Em village, Chey Kampork commune, Prah Sdach district, Prey Veng province. “We request the members of our IPM Farmers’ Club not only to save money but to also save cow dung for compost. The local government must take action and issue sanctions to prevent those collecting cow dung and selling them for their own benefit. We need to act as a community.” Mrs. Chorn Nhor was referring to the tons and tons of cow dung being exported daily to Vietnam through the Prey Veng-Tay Ninh border. She was voicing out the thinking of other members of her IPM Farmers’ Club. Their own agricultural production could benefit from the incorporation of cow dung to improve soil structure and nutrient content. Her awareness about soil health and how this results in better and more sustainable yields resulted from learning in the Farmer Field School (FFS).

In Snor village, Angkor Reach commune, Prash Sdach district, the members of the IPM Farmers’ Club proudly reported ontheir toilets. Snor village was the first one in the province to have a toilet in 2007 under a Department of Rural Development-initiated programme. But the model was still unhygienic and escaping gas caused problems with air quality. Loans and earning from dividends from their IPM Farmers’ Club savings funds made it possible for them to avail of and construct improved toilets with slabs, lid covers, chamber boxes and leach pits. The Snor village IPM Farmers’ Club was formed in 2009. By 2014, almost all houses in the village had their own toilet offering convenience and dignity and more importantly safety and privacy especially for women and girls. “We have uplifted the quality of life by improving health and sanitation in the community. It would not have been possible before we joined the IPM Farmers’ Club. Before, if we had some money, we kept it at home where it was very easy to access. We would end up using it and had no savings.”

For farmers in Ouk Nha Em village, 12 calendar-based applications of cocktails of at least four pesticides per season was the norm before they attended the IPM/Pesticide Risk Reduction Farmer Field School (FFS). The FFS aimed at reducing the dependence of farmers on the use of chemicals (especially pesticides in agricultural production) and to reduce the risk of chemicals to human health and the environment in the community. The FFS process enhanced the capacity of farmers supported by agricultural technical officials through training and field experiments to be able to identify the problems that occur in agricultural production, and seek appropriate measures to solve problems on their own. At the end of the season, motivated by the results of their FFS and the desire to continue learning together, the farmers continued in post-FFS follow up activities about priority technical aspects of production and worked on group organizational and management aspects that would enable them to address other community concerns. Moving into IPM Farmers’ Club was a logical step.

“We joined the IPM Farmers’ Club because we want to help each other. As a Club, we continue to carry out farmer field research to try out new effective methods  to improve production. We meet every 20th of the month to share our experiences in crop production and to discuss about our savings funds. When we participate in the savings funds, we are able to help members by providing resources for loans. Otherwise members will need to borrow from other sources that charge high interest rates. When we pay interest on loans, this increases the savings of the Club and we help ourselves. ”

There are currently 67 active IPM Farmers’ Clubs that took off under the Swedish-funded and FAO supported IPM/Pesticide Risk Reduction Programme. Fifty-five percent (55%) of the 1,098 members are women. By … 2016, the Clubs have a total combined savings of about $163,000. Of this amount the project contribution was seed money of US$100 per Club, a total of $6,700. This has grown by more than 24 times over six years from farmers investments, i.e., their own hard-earned money. “We do not put money in the bank because the banks are too far away from the village and it is difficult to withdraw money. In the savings group, it is easy. We are confident about putting our money in the savings fund. We are not afraid it will be lost because the Leader is responsible. The Club is recognized by the province and at national level. Initially, how much to invest is discussed between husband and wife. But when our husbands see the profits, they just leave it to the wives to make the decision about how much to put in and how to use the earnings (i.e., from dividends).” Indeed, there were more women than men in the meeting. The men were engaged working in the service sector as construction workers.

Aside from the toilets they built, loans and earnings from dividends have given farmers - especially the women - possibilities to invest in raising fish, chickens or piglets for selling; buy and sell grocery items; buy detergent for own use; and provide books, clothes, bags, pencils for their children who go to school. Mrs. Nhuong Saret, as Treasurer keeps the books for her Club of 42 members (32 women). “I am very afraid to lose money. I work hard from the heart. I do it to help our members and community.”

Unknown to these IPM farmers, the Government of Cambodia at national level has been programming an annual allocation to support FFS IPM training. In 2015, the allocation was $17,000 bringing the total estimate funding for IPM field activities for the period 2000-2017 to US$20,988,862 from NGOs and other international development organizations. The Swedish contribution to FAO-GCP/RAS/229/SWE supported training activities on IPM/Pesticide Risk Reduction Programme in Cambodia for the period 2007-2018 is about US$500,000.

“I did not think that these things were possible. I was able to buy a motorbike from my savings after two years.” Mr. Phok Phon, the Team Leader of Snor village IPM Farmers’ Club said. He was talking with us about the possibility of the Club moving into a Cooperative. After seeing what was possible to achieve individually and together, the IPM farmers were ready to take another step forward towards establishment of a cooperative for sustained collective action in support of better livelihoods for its members.