FAO in Cambodia
Mr Banh Kam proudly shows the cover crop he planted in his paddy field.

Key Facts

Lvea Krang, a rural commune in Siem Reap province, was selected to be a learning site of the GEF funded “Life and Nature” project (LNP). The project aims to improve adaptive capacity of rural communities to impacts of climate change and strengthen ecosystem services to support agriculture and to attain food security. The project is jointly implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Ministry of Environment (MoE), Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), and Ministry of Women Affair (MoWA) in close collaboration with their provincial departments and local authorities.  

With no major industries nearby, the community relies mainly on agricultural production, predominantly cassava and rice, for survival. Farmers in this community have limited access to technologies, agricultural innovations, and knowledge that would enable them to better adapt to climate change impacts amid the other difficulties they already face, such as soil degradation and water scarcity.

To address these problems, the LNP employs both resilience and adaption strengthening methods, using an integrated approach to natural resource management, climate smart agricultural practices and livelihood diversification targeting women’s business groups. Under this framework, the project has made efforts and delivered its activities under three focused areas: the participatory micro-watershed management, the climate smart agriculture, and establishing alternative livelihoods to enhance gender equality.

Through Climate Smart Farmer Field Schools and business development trainings, famers gained technical knowledge to improve their farming practices, aiming to address problems resulted from monocropping culture.

Safeguarding ecosystem services and infrastructure for increased food production and livelihoods   

Unsustainable agricultural activities among farmers have resulted in soil degradation and the huge loss of forest. Through the LNP and government partners, notably the Provincial Department of Environment (PDE), farmers and relevant local authorities jointly crafted and agreed on watershed management plans for agricultural and natural resource management and established a watershed management committee (WSMC). The focused efforts laid down included tree planting and other forest restoration activities, preserving natural streams, establishing water control structures such as cascade check dams, and promoting climate smart agriculture practices.  

Efforts were shown to provide several improvements, including reduction of erosion, improving ground water recharge, and balancing ecosystem function. Though it will take quite some times to realize the benefits, a recognized immediate gain was the improved opportunity for farmers to use water from the established check dams to support their farming, notably in paddy rice.   

In response to the villager’s demand, a total of eight cascade check dams or water retention and diversion structures were built in this commune under the coordination of the WSMC.

Mr Sam Sorn, a member of the Commune Council and the WSMC said, “the creation of small check dams along the streams is a very suitable and useful initiative in the context of this commune.”

He stressed that people in his community are vulnerable due to low water availability and problems with soil fertility. It puts farming households at risk of being unable to meet their food production targets, leaving them at risk of food insecurity. Additionally, loans they take to support their farming activities have become burden on the majority of the population in this area.

“Drought is the greatest enemy to farmers. These cascade check dams will help to store more rain water for using over a longer period, and encourage ground water recharge that contributes to land improvement as well as land and forest cover.”   

For this reason, he confirmed “since 2017 some activities of the watershed management plan such as the construction of water control structures have been integrated into the three-year rolling investment plan of the district and the commune investment plan.” 

Being climate smart

FAO’s climate-smart farmer field schools (FFS) are changing the way communities produce cassava and rice.

With partners such as Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (PDAFF) and Natural Farm Kirirom (NFK), farmers were motivated to try innovative practices and methods that strengthen resilience and livelihoods through FFS. Soil management through growing cover crops, water management with drip irrigation system, and innovative pest management practices were amongst the FFS themes chosen by communities.

Establishing cover crops was strongly emphasized by the LNP and chosen by the community in order to address the degraded soil issues they are facing. The concept is to avoid bare land while restoring soil fertility; 29 species and varieties of cover crops were selected to plant with the aim of demonstrating their characteristics and assessing their appropriateness for the specific agro-ecosystem and socioeconomic conditions of the commune.

Consequently, those smart characteristics of some species were seen, including among others drought tolerance, high adaptation to the poor or degraded soil, service provision (nutrients recycling), and good provision (grain and fodder). For instance, growing a mix of sunhemp, pearl millet, and cowpea as cover crop or green manure is found to be promising for cassava, while a mix of stylo and rattlepods is recommended for rain-fed lowland rice.

Some species such as rice bean, cowpea, sorghum etc., were recommended as secondary cash crops, which can be of potential interest of farmers who wish to diversify their crops and get rid of monocropping of cassava.

“I broadcasted cover crops seedling in around 2 000 square meters of my paddy field, about 20 days before my paddy rice was ready for harvest. It grows quite well despite the prolonged drought this year (2019),” said Mr Banh Kam. He added that, “from what I learnt, the cover crops will improve and keep the soil fertilized for so many years. This is great and I believe yield will also increase next year, because I have these organic fertilizer (cover crops) and the water from the check dam.”

The farmer couple, Mr Banh Kam and Ms. Keo Reum, registered with the project to use their plot as a demonstration site to show sustainable agricultural practices to other farmers in the commune. In 2019 he planted the new introduced rice variety. The paddy rice did significantly increase, and they are thankful for the establishment of the check dam that provided sufficient water for the drought-tolerance rice variety adopted.

Their rice plot is located at an upper catchment side, where water quickly running off steeper slopes means water shortage is always one of their main problems. In response, a water control structure that can reduce the speed of water flow and a short-term and drought-tolerance rice variety were identified as the appropriate interventions.

“Soil improvement and water management may not be enough to deal with the current challenges. I am happy to have known the good rice seed,” said Mr Lon Prok, who is also benefiting from the check dam and the drought-tolerance rice variety.

Mr Lon Prok is another LNP affiliated farmer who used 2 000 square meters of his plot to grow a drought-tolerant rice variety suitable for his lower catchment plot. Mr Prok found that for the same amount of seed he could harvest an additional 240 kg of paddy rice, compared to other farmers using drought-susceptible varieties. While he intended to keep this additional 240 kg paddy rice as seed for his next planting season, a farmer in the commune already asked for a share of 20 kg as seed for her next growing season. 

Women’s empowerment towards gender equality for sustainable agriculture and food security

Rural Women are often among the most vulnerable and marginalized, with limited access to resources and assets, and face formidable barriers in adapting to climate change. Their vulnerability stems from a variety of sources, including basic gender inequality, distribution of rural work effort, and disproportionate access to economic, health and educational opportunities. To improve the situation for rural women, and in particular of women headed households, LNP assisted four women cohorts in the commune to identify and establish successful business models and enhance their decision-making opportunities.

The project established five Women Producer Groups (WPGs) in Siem Reap to create pathways for women to participate in natural resource management decision-making by enhancing women’s farming, business and leadership skills. This market-led approach is a creative way to support women headed households and women farmers to strengthen their production, marketing and negotiation power to produce more sustainable and generate higher income to improve their livelihoods. 

Ms Khon Hing, a women headed household farmer, mentioned that besides the prolonged dry season, the cassava mosaic disease is one of her major concerns. “Through FFS, I gained many good ideas to support my farm, such as land preparation, growing cover crops for soil health, and stem saving strategies to select and keep the best planting materials for the next planting season and how to reach out for quality planting materials  that are free from diseases.”

 “I am happy with the new cassava stem I received in 2019 from the project. I am planning to order more of those quality planting materials for my yields in 2020 too,” said Ms Khon Hing.

Women producer groups were introduced to basic saving activities to support their purchasing power through injections of cash and own savings, as a starting capital for their business ideas and to meet critical household needs without selling off key assets. Women farmers learned about farm-business planning through a series of trainings on marketing, production, financing mechanisms, and risks.

Ms Hing belongs to a woman cohort consisting of eight members in Outey village.  Her group developed a three-year business plan on improving cassava production through improved farming techniques like cover cropping set out a clear purpose, objectives and market strategy. The Business Plans were developed with the technical support of the project staff and partners strengthening market linkages based on the necessary information upon a market assessment conducted.

“Being in a group is very important. It gives us stronger negotiation power and higher outcomes through collective sales. Moreover, it allows us to enlarge our market opportunity. We have a member who is responsible for marketing too,” said Ms Hing with a happy face when asked about the importance of her women cohort and related business plan.

Furthermore, Ms Hing is member of the WPG committee in charge of the saving activities and providing the additional investment necessary to assist business plans of women cohorts of the WPG in her village. The established savings groups play a pivotal role in building human and financial capital and enhancing women’s cash flow capacity for (business) investments, as well as strengthening women´s economic power, leadership and management skills. To date, the WPG in this commune has a total revolving fund of around USD 6 000 to provide loans to their group members.

A holistic approach

Mr Sam Sorn, member of the Commune Council noted that LNP probably has contributed to livelihood improvements for 20 percent of the entire population, which is around four thousand families in his commune.

Lvea Krang commune is now carrying out a sustainable agriculture concept. Many initiatives are being implemented such as soil and water management practices, increased access to water for agriculture activities, forest restoration and protection, hands-on learning through FFS, and staying connected with technical and market actors, while considering gender mainstreaming and empowering women.

However, some of these activities remain at the initial stage and community still require further assistance and technical support with close collaboration from all relevant partners.

As Mr Put Loeum Project Coordinator from PDAFF commented, “we need to continue strengthening knowledge and communities’ adaptive capacity through implementing these ideas and their business plans.”

He added that, since quality seedling is the main problem, PDAFF plan to work closely with the established women’s groups to produce quality seeds to meet demand of the farming households in the commune and other places.”