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Cambodia's organic farming bears fruits

More Cambodian farmers are turning back the clock and using natural fertilisers as a drive to reintroduce organic farming bears fruit.

by: Lach Chantha | 04 Sep 2007

Khim Siphay is producing a lot more rice and vegetables on his farm these days and he pays very little for the fertilisers or pesticides he relies on.

"Using pesticide or fertilisers kills important insects and causes the soil to become polluted," the 46-year-old farmer said. "I use compost and it helps keep the soil good from one year to another. All of my family members help make the compost."

Three-quarters of Cambodia's 13 million population depends on agriculture in a country where the average daily income is less than $2 making cost-efficient, and healthier, organic farming attractive.

The shift is part of a project started by a non governmental organization, Center d'Etude et de Developpement Agricole Cambogien (CEDAC) to wean farmers off harmful and expensive chemicals.

When the project was launched in 2000, there were only 28 farmers willing to go back to the old-fashioned way. Now, there are around 60 000 throughout the country and the farming method is endorsed by Cambodia's Ministry of Agriculture.

Rice yields per hectare for farmers who have gone organic have almost doubled and seed requirements have fallen by 70 to 80%, according to CEDAC. This means an income rise per hectare to $172 from $58, as organic rice is sold at a premium.

"The important point of organic farming is that farmers don't need to spend money on fertilisers and pesticide so they spend less money on farming," said CEDAC official Yang Saing Koma. "They can sell the produce for a higher price. Also they can avoid being infected by pesticides and they will be healthier. It is also good for the environment," he said.

Organic farming is not just restricted to rice paddies. The farmers are encouraged to channel rain water for irrigation, creating more ponds and canals which can be used to breed fish. Rice and other produce can be used to feed chickens to produce organic poultry and eggs.

"I started doing organic farming outside my rice paddy, but then I noticed production was double, so in the next season, I decided to grow organically on all of my land," said farmer Ros Meo. "I spend less money now and I can grow more and I am not sick as I was before, my health is now good."

As Cambodia slowly leaves its war-scarred past behind and people, especially in the cities, have more cash to spare, interest is growing in healthier living, giving a further boost to organic farming. The government is also hoping the country will eventually secure a footing in the health-conscious international market for organic food.

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