FAO in Cambodia

Farmers’ Journey from FFS to a Cooperative

Kampong Cham province, Cambodia – “I never dreamed that I would become an officer of a Cooperative or that I would produce chili for export”, says Mrs. Kheang Sipho. “My parents were farmers and knew how hard it was to be a farmer. When I was small, they encouraged me to study hard so that I could become a professional, a government officer. But history changed all that. After the Pol Pot regime, we were very poor and I could not go to school.”  But with a diploma from a Farmer Field School, Mrs. Sipho was every inch a professional as she took out the accounting books she maintains as the Treasurer of the Kampong Cham Organic Farming Cooperative (KCHOFC).

Koh Roka Khnong village, Koh Roka commune, Kampong Siem district, Kampong Cham province is located about 150 km. northeast of Phnom Penh. Houses in the village are built on stilts to protect them from being flooded. Each year, the water from the river rises to about 1-2 meters above normal river levels, submerging fields and making crop production impossible.

During these months, the families along the river engage in other livelihood activities (e.g., fishing) to support their food consumption needs. But the annual flooding also  facilitated the one-year transition of Koh Roka Khnong and three other villages (Prek Chik,  Roka Koy and Roka Thom) from conventional to organic chili cultivation.

Over the period 2009-2011, the Swedish-FAO Trust Fund Project GCP/RAS/229/SWE supported National IPM Programme in partnership with the IFAD-supported FAO project on Enhancing Agricultural Competitiveness of Rural Households in the Greater Mekong Sub-region worked with chili farmers in the four villages.

The project aimed to improve livelihoods, income and agricultural competitiveness of rural households in the context of a regionally integrated Greater Mekong Sub-region. For the chili farmers in Kampong Cham, this meant intially participating in  Farmer Field Schools on organic chili implemented by the Provincial Department of Agriculture. The chili was produced for the Thai Organic Food Company ('Rai Pluk-Rak' in Thai), certified by Organic Agriculture Certification Thailand (ACT), accredited by IFOAM. The Thai Organic Food Company (TOF) supplies five major supermarkets in Bangkok and exports produce and products to Europe. The organic chili was used as an ingredient for organic chili sauce for export to Europe.

 Aligned with the concept of South-South cooperation, technical support - including on the Internal Control System - was provided by a Thai Consultant through FAO.   TOF (private sector) entered into contracts with farmers; invested in tools/materials (e.g., organic seeds and biological control agents like Bacillus thuringiensis) to be paid back by farmers upon harvest; and hired a local staff to collect the produce. Seedling production was contracted out to an experienced local seed grower.

The 3rd party certification body Organic Agriculture Certification Thailand (ACT) carried out periodic inspection to ensure compliance with organic standards and issued the certification. The government through the General Directorate of Agriculture’s National IPM Programme and the Provincial Department of Agriculture facilitated training of farmers in FFS on organic chili. The curriculum on organic chili FFS included preparation of compost; crop development; cultivation practices - including management of fertilizer, irrigation, weeds, insect pests and diseases; agroecosystem analysis for decision making; harvesting and post-harvest techniques; records keeping; economic analysis. After the initial FFS, follow up activities in post-FFS were facilitated along areas where farmers identified additional training  needs, e.g., technical aspects of production as well as group organizational and management aspects.

Encouraged by their experience in playing a key role in the value chain and seeing the advantage of working together for stronger collective bargaining, the four farmers groups decided to form the Kampong Cham Organic Farming Cooperative (KCHOFC). The Cooperative was officially recognized in August 2012 by the Provincial Department of Agriculture as mandated under the Cooperative Law. The Cooperative has a membership of 52 farmers (31 women). The Cooperative is managed by a Management Team elected by its members. The Management Team is comprised of the Team Leader, Deputy Team Leader, Secretary, Treasurer, and Member Representative. The KCHOFC aims to: (1) increase organic production and link up with markets to assist members in generating household income, improving the livelihood of members and contributing to the community’s socio-economic development; and (2) create savings and credit services and provide income through dividends to members geared towards supporting farmers secure capitalization for agricultural businesses and occupations.

When KCHOFC was established in August 2012, they had a bank account of about US$410 primarily from membership registration fees (US$2.50 per person) and initial monthly deposits to the savings account (US$5.00 per member). Since then, members paid monthly contributions, allowing them to take loans from their common savings fund to improve their agriculture production (e.g., inputs for vegetable or rice production or raising chicken, ducks or pigs) at a 2% interest rate. It was clear that the benefits from the savings group was enough to keep the members actively engaged. By December 2015, the Cooperative had a bank account deposit of about US$4,800. “We continue to produce good compost, liquid fertilizer, and green manure to improve the soil quality and get high yields. We apply these practices in producing other crops.”  In 2014, the Cooperative sold about 25tons of fresh (US$0.825/kg) and 800kg of dried chili (UD$3.75/kg) bringing an income of about US$23,625.  After TOF stopped buying organic chili, three other potential buyers (Nestle Malaysia, PDI Trading Company Limited and Chita Organic Food Co. Ltd from Thailand) have approached the Cooperative but deals still have to be made. “The domestic market is not a problem but we still need help in accessing international markets. We can produce organic products as long as there is a demand.” 

“We had no idea that our group could become an enterprise… that we could export organic chili. Now we do not only talk about growing organic chili. We can grow other organic crops. We talk about how to improve our production; how to make farming profitable….a business….”  Mrs. Kheang Sipho, as a organic farmer and business professional, has come a long way.