AN Australian aid programme designed to improve economic circumstances and prospects for subsistence farmers in Kampong Cham province has been so successful that other farmers throughout Cambodia are beginning to implement its key element: growing fodder crops to feed their cattle.
The three-year A$625,000 (US$560,518) Forage for Beef programme, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, began in 2008 with the aim of enlisting 500 farmers to grow forage crops to feed and fatten cattle for sale, rather than the traditional Cambodian practice of keeping the stock as assets.
Already, with more than a year of the programme remaining, the target number of participants has been exceeded.
Coordinator Darryl Savage predicts that a large number of farmers throughout Cambodia will eventually grow forage as a means of generating income from their cattle.
“There is considerable evidence that growing and feeding the forage crops (mainly mulatto, murando and stylo)is now spreading organically to other provinces as farmers observe the benefits,” says Savage, a researcher the University of New England at Armidale in northern New South Wales.
Cambodians attached to the Royal University of Agriculture in Phnom Penh and the Department of Animal Health and Production in Kampong Cham are providing on-the-ground support.
Savage says that as well as generating cash from the cattle they sell, a major side-benefit for farmers is freeing up the time they – and their children – otherwise spend tending and watching cattle.
One family in the Preychtor district of Kampong Cham province that has been active in buying, fattening and selling cattle has used some of the money to pay for English lessons for their son, Sen Souvanny, 18, who wants eventually to study medicine in Phnom Penh.
Sen’s mother and father, Im Somrithy and Po Keng, say the programme has substantially improved their economic circumstances and the way they operate their 3-hectare farm.
Savage says that in economic terms, the value of cattle fed daily with the forage crops typically doubles from US$200 to $300 a head to $500 to $600 after just three months of feeding. Buyers of the cattle are usually Vietnamese, acting on behalf of meat processors who sell the beef in Ho Chi Minh City.
“Our main focus is getting people to sell the cattle they have fattened,” Savage says. “They can then use the money to buy other unfattened cattle and enable the cycle to be repeated.”
The programme concludes in August 2011, but Savage is hopeful that it will have a much longer lasting impact.