An agriculture student who finished his internship in Israel is sharing the knowledge he gained with farmers in his community, helping them transform their traditional farming practices and adopt modern techniques that can double their crop yields.

Chheang Sokhour graduated from the Prek Leap National Institute of Agriculture in 2019 and over the course of his studies he went on a one-year internship to Israel.

He is currently working in the farming community of Chamkar Dong village in Kampong Speu province’s Chbar Mon commune and town. He teaches farming techniques to locals who sell their produce wholesale to individual customers and markets.

“We grow a variety of crops depending on what we think the market needs. We supply the community with safe vegetables and we help out the farmers. Farmers always ask when their vegetables have problems such as red leaves or rotten stems or spots on the leaves if we can recommend what they should do.

“They want to know if they need to remove them, because sometimes those vegetables have a disease which could be transmitted to the rest of the crop and they do need to be removed,” he said.

Sokhour said that during his internship in Israel the Israeli farmers trained him and the other Cambodian students there on a variety of cultivation techniques.

For example, digging pits, using gaps between rows of crops that are properly measured so there’s room for irrigation pipes as well as training with the most modern and advanced farming technology, which is in wide-use in the Israeli agricultural industry.

The biggest problem for cultivation right now in the community Sokhour is working with is that during the rainy season – without proper management – their crops will often be afflicted by insects or disease.

Rainfall variations can also decrease the yield, including too much moisture, as it can increase the spread of disease from the soil, leading to red leaves and other problems. In addition to that, a lack of nutrients in the soil for the crops also causes frequent problems.

Sokhour shares his knowledge with the farmers, including the preparation of irrigation systems, allowing some farmers to switch to more effective watering techniques instead of carrying buckets of water to their fields.

“We advise them to use a piped watering system, as electricity can now reach the farms in this area at an affordable price. The biggest change they are making is to their irrigation systems and using an electrically powered system because it helps ease their manpower needs and allows them to spend less time watering their fields – unlike before when they needed to spend almost half the day doing it. Currently, with the new methods, it takes them about 20 minutes or a half-hour typically,” he said.

Once Sokhour teaches the Israeli techniques to a group of farmers, they can then help others in the community by passing that knowledge along themselves. First, however, Sokhour helps farmers get some real hands-on practice with the new methods of ploughing or preparing irrigation systems.

“It’s easier for farmers after they have had real practice doing these things. We told them how to prepare the pipes, ploughing and how to maintain the soil. Now, many more farmers are coming to us to learn these methods, both young and old.

“They see the obvious benefits from it and after they turn a good profit for a few years they can take some of that money and reinvest it in more modern equipment to use to make their jobs even easier and more lucrative,” he said.

He said that after applying these techniques, the farmers he’s been working with have had their vegetable crop yields double or better. Before they might harvest from 10kg to 30kg every one or two days, but now they are getting up to 50kg per day in many cases.

“We’ve worked hard at teaching the farmers here and even the most stubborn ones, after they see that it makes life easier, have begun to change their traditional methods to modern ones,” said Sokhour.

Sokhour also began producing compost and applying it to his own vegetable fields and after his early experiments provided good results he began advising the local farmers on how to produce their own compost using the same techniques.

“I show them how to do it by using my cucumber plants as an example. I use the compost on the soil that I plant cucumbers in and they grow really well. They get very long and very big. I went to one farm in Israel and learned about their cucumber growth techniques and how the vegetables fruit from the roots,” he said.

The skills that students learn during their internship in Israel are in areas like agriculture, animal husbandry and milk processing. Students are eligible to apply and be selected to study there in their second year, third year or fourth year and they return home after one year of study.

According to a report produced by the Prek Leap National Institute of Agriculture and provided to The Post by institute director Thun Vathana, to date they have sent 394 students – including 163 women – for internships to study abroad in Japan, China and Israel as well as shorter study tours in Thailand, China and Indonesia.

Vathana told The Post that interns in Israel gain an understanding of advanced agriculture techniques by working hands-on at some of the best companies in Israel, which are known for using some of the most cutting-edge farming technologies in the world.

At the end of 2021, the institute sent 200 more students for internships in Israel following a request by the Israeli side to increase the scope of the programme due to the great work and study ethic shown by the earlier groups of Cambodian students who travelled there.

The institute is currently preparing to recruit the next class of interns for the one-year study abroad programme in Israel for the academic year 2022-2023.