Farming practices in Cambodia have always been and continue to be reliant on the mid-year monsoon rains. But now weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable as the wet season is becoming wetter, and the dry season hotter and drier. Cambodian farmers are faced with a wealth of challenges that threaten their food security and income, from irregular water supply to soil degradation and an increase in pests and diseases.
Cambodia is still highly dependent on agriculture sector: the sector accounts for around 37% of GDP and 80% of the population still lives in rural areas, according to FAO. In addition, in many areas, infrastructure is lacking and farmers don’t have access to technology and financing. Combined with a general low level of knowledge of agricultural practices amongst farmers, USAID has categorised Cambodia as one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change.
The CHAIN project is active in four Cambodian provinces. In each province the project has established a “smart farm” that is fully equipped with modern technologies and is designed to overcome climate change related challenges - from the land preparation until the harvesting stage for four vegetable families. Technical staff from the government, private sector and NGOs receive hands-on training on the farms, to enable them to provide consistent and year-round advice to farmers and help them adapt to the changing climate.
"We learn by doing," says Sokhan Chen, from the Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (PDAFF) in Preah Vihear. "The training we get is very useful and very important to build all our capacities. Usually, when there is a problem on the smart farm, we can resolve it immediately and we gain a lot of new experiences." Over three crop cycles extension staff learn a combination of techniques to increase climate change adaptation, such as controlling pests and diseases with non-chemical agents, installing water management technologies such as drip irrigation systems and plastic mulch coverings. The staff are also taught grafting techniques, such taking the upper part a tomato plant and placing it on the root of eggplant, so that the resulting plant is more resilient to pests such as fungi.
“Farmers we work with are very sensitive to climate change.” says Sokhan. “They really understand that with the changing weather, the dry season is hotter and they use water more than before and pests are more common. By applying these techniques they can overcome these problems. That’s great. They’re happy and even share their experiences with other farmers.”
By involving both the private and public sector the project’s reach is increased greatly and is helping more farmers to grow their ability to respond to the challenges they face before climate change creeps to a crisis point. “We want the farmers to change their habits,” says Raeun Un, a provincial market facilitator for SNV in Stung Treng province. “And support them to improve their productivity. It’s really important that we increasingly work. This is the vision that we need to complete.”
“We can educate these famers to adapt.” adds Sokhan, who concedes the immensity of the task ahead for the agricultural sector in Cambodia. A strong support system lies at the centre of the solution according to him. “We need to spread this information to all.”