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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Combating highland soil erosion

Combating highland soil erosion

090727_05
A farmer sprays chemical fertiliser on his crops in Kandal province.

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries pushes new method to improve soil quality in erosion-afflicted areas, though high costs could prevent large-scale adoption of the practice.

KAMPONG CHAM PROVINCE

THE Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries recommended last week that farmers in highland areas cultivate their crops using a new method that agricultural experts said would cut down on soil erosion and, consequently, increase crop yields. High costs, though, could prevent the technique from being adopted on a large scale in the near future.

The technique, called Direct Sowing in Mulch-based Cropping Systems (DMC), was presented by ministry officials and agriculture experts to farmers in Kampong Cham province on Wednesday.

Farmers in highland areas often struggle to afford the chemical fertilisers needed when, after years of cultivation, rainfall gradually washes the nutrient-rich topsoil of their highland farms down to lowland areas.

With the use of DMC technology, however, "farmers in highland areas can stop worrying" about soil erosion, Stephane Boulakia, a technical assistant for Project d'Appui au Developpement de l'Agriculture du Cambodge (PADAC), told a group of more than 40 cassava, soybean, corn and rice farmers in Kampong Cham's Chamkar Leu district.

Under the DMC method, farmers plant sweet grass with a sowing plantation machine that injects seeds into the ground.

After three months or so, when the grass reaches a metre in height, farmers roll it and spray it with a chemical called glyphosate, which kills the grass and begins the composting process but does not affect crops, explained Sam Sona, PADAC's chief of service for component extension in Kampong Cham.

"When the grasses die, they become compost and provide nitrogen and biomass to the soil," thereby eliminating the need to plow it at the end of the harvest, he said, adding that PADAC had imported 10 sowing plantation machines from Brazil to help farmers cultivate crops using the DMC method.

This is new technology for us, so we didn't want to take a chance and throw our traditional methods away.

Kou Phally, deputy head of planting and crop protection at the ministry, told the Post Wednesday that DMC technology would improve soil quality in highland areas that face erosion during the rainy season, and could help the soil stay healthy during the dry season.

"The sweet grasses cover the soil to keep in moisture, and also prevent erosion when rain falls," he said, adding that the compost from the sweet grasses nourishes the soil and speeds up growth.

Adopting the technique
Eang Sokhoun, 25, a villager in Lvea village, Lvea Leu commune, said Wednesday that her family had been cautious in adopting the new method.
Though they have about 7 hectares of farmland, they've farmed only 1 hectare of soybeans thus far using DMC.

"This is new technology for us, so we didn't want to take a chance and throw our traditional methods away," she said.

PADAC staff predicted an increase in yield from 1.5 to 2.5 tonnes of soybeans per hectare on her farm, though Eang Sokhoun said she was sceptical of that estimate.

She added: "With the new technology, our expenses were more than $200 for the chemical spray, fertiliser, seeds, labour, and the use of machinery.

"With the traditional method, we paid only for seeds and labour, and spent just $120."

Currently, farmers who choose the DMC method must pay PADAC for labour, seeds, fertiliser and the use of its machinery. A farmer looking to buy a small sowing plantation machine would need to pay around $2,500. Large machines cost around $10,000.

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