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Art meets agriculture at Bale & Paddy Festival

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A straw crocodile on display before the opening of the Bale and Paddy Festival. Photo supplied

Art meets agriculture at Bale & Paddy Festival

Now in its third year, the festival has moved from Banteay Meanchey to just outside Siem Reap. Designed to promote agro-tourism and good farming techniques, it’s as quirky as ever.

A wonderfully weird festival kicks off in Siem Reap Province this weekend. Set with the backdrop of the Cambodian countryside, the Bale & Paddy Art Festival is a peculiar, large-scale exhibition of straw creations and a celebration of agriculture.

The aim of the festival is to promote agro-tourism in areas of Cambodia that are off the beaten path for the average tourist.

Now in its third year, the festival is part of the “Rice, Life & Culture” project under the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) and aims to spread the word about methods to prevent flooding, adapt to climate change and promote tourism opportunities in rural areas.

After being held in rural Banteay Meanchey province for the past two years, the festival has moved closer to central Siem Reap.

“By moving to Siem Reap, we wanted the festival to be more international and sustainable,” Chiho Lee, a KOTRA representative, said.

Cambodia’s farming industry suffers from environmental fluctuations and conditions where it is often either too wet to grow vegetables or too dry to grow rice. The festival aims to educate the public about more sustainable farming techniques, such as the use of straw bales. Minnesota native Joel Karsten, who provided training alongside KOTRA to farmers in May in preparation for the festival, is one champion of the technique.

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The grounds of the festival before this weekend’s event. Photo supplied

“Straw-bale farming is definitely an option for something to do with all the rice straw they have here. Every year in Cambodia, farmers just burn their straw bale, but we can use it to grow,” he told The Post in May last year.

One participating organisation at the festival is Ockenden Cambodia, which supports rural self-reliance in Cambodia. “We try to show farmers that there are many different uses for straw bales to grow all kind of vegetables,” said Nhov Nharn, the organisation’s managing director. “Even floating gardens can be made with straw bales.”

At the festival, Ockenden will be demonstrating the process of rice production to visitors, and will be displaying new techniques that involve using much less rice seed than traditional cultivation.

Among the straw art concoctions will be a large reproduction of a character from the popular Angry Birds video game/movie and gigantic logo lettering created with the help of farmers, local agricultural NGOs and student volunteers.

Famous Korean artist Choi Ok-Yeung has also built wooden sculptures, while bale gardening and other horticultural designs will be on display as well.

The festival runs from Friday to Sunday. A free shuttle bus has been arranged from Siem Reap town, running from the old market to the festival.

Contact KOTRA for more details at [email protected] or 011 852 017 / 023 999 099

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