Attempts, mainly by NGOs, to help farmers improve their yields and become more
self sufficient in food have had mixed results in Cambodia. Often the information
has been good but it just never got through because of the way it was explained.
But as Bou Saroeun discovered, one group of NGOs has found the ideal teachers
- the farmers themselves.
IT was easy to spot that Mey Som was a farmer as he sat cross legged on a chair,
his hands and arms lean and sinewy, his skin dark from long days in the sun. What
was not so clear was that he was also a teacher sharing his knowledge with anyone
interested. What has made him a better farmer and an effective teacher is the combination
of his own experience combined with relevant and appropriate additional training.
This has lead the 56-year-old from Trapang Rang village to find ways to radically
improve his yield from rice and vegetables - knowledge he is now keen to share with
Som's training has come from the Farmers Participatory Extension. The program was
set up by several NGOs who realized that the farmers sharing their own techniques
and successes were far better teachers than a foreign agricultural expert standing
up and lecturing groups for hours on end.
Som grows more food than he and his family need but it has not always been that way.
Som shared knowledge and a small amount of technical assistance has moved him from
a barely subsistence life to security.
He said his vegetables and rice crops are so good that his neighbors come to him
"I have to follow Ta to get more crops," he said the villagers say to each
other about him.
He is proud of what he has achieved and he said if villagers come to ask him for
a herb such as lemon grass, chili, basil or mint he gives them not only the plant
but also a seed so they can then grow if for themselves.
He said that only a few years ago he could not grow enough rice to support the family,
and now he has a surplus even though his children are grown up and eat more.
Herman Brouwer from Scale Southeast Asian Outreach (SAO), one of the NGO's involved
in the program said that many farmers didn't trust outside experts because they have
no real involvement in the community - they arrive, they speak, they go. He
said the farmers had far more faith in their neighbors who shared and understood
their own problems.
He said they therefore decided to use those attitudes to educate farmers.
The project works by encouraging small groups of farmers to exchange ideas and experiences
at the same time working in new ideas and techniques for the farmers to take back
to their own communities.
Tuy Samrang the senior project officer for Catholic Relief Services said that in
the past farmer education was conducted as a dissemination from the top to the bottom
but now they were aiming to remove the hierarchical aspect and make it an exchange.
He said that the Cambodian people have had the bad habit of waiting for other people
to take the initiative and then following and when everyone is in the same business
like farming they tend to stagnate.
One problem program organizers said is prevalent in farmer education is a legacy
of the communist times.
They said that if the farmers were called to attend a meeting they tended to it quietly
and listened to the speakers, collect a gift if one was offered and then leave. The
idea of participation was completely alien.
The organizers said they have managed to eliminate those problems by keeping groups
small or by farm visits.
Som is an example of how techniques succeed. He now attends program meetings as a
representative from his village. He is enthusiastic about what he has learnt and
taught, and would like to see more people participate.
It is not just land farming that is taught - Ngan Ben, 50, attends a program
to exchange information on small scale aquaculture.
He said that he decided to farm fish because there appeared to be a declining number
of fish in the lakes and rivers.
He said he was happy to share his experiences with the other participants and at
the same time learn more himself.
He said that the idea of a farmer participatory extension is very good because the
farmers are close to each other and knowledge can be exchanged easily.
Meas Pot, 59, the farmer representative from the Romeas Hek district said that his
skills were in fish culture and fish seed production.
But he also grows crops and has developed his own motto: "there is water - there
is fish, there is land - there is vegetables and in the fields we have the rice."
The program has drawn heavily on overseas experience. Last week's meeting - the
biggest so far - was attended by Scott Killough from the International Institute
of Rural Reconstruction in the Philippines.
He said it was important to look at the program as a process not just a "one-way
transfer of information."
He said it was essential that the farmers not only learned and shared techniques
and information but that they were the center of the process. He said they needed
to be involved in technology development, research as well as training.
He added that it was important that the program provided answers in the search for
alternative farming practices and methodologies in an effort to make up for previous
short comings in farmer education.
Dr. Young Sang Koma, another NGO worker said that in the past farmer training had
been limited because of the relative lack of funding as well as qualified and motivated
He said that there were a lot of agriculture development projects which had been
implemented by mainly international NGOs and IOs, but the farmer extension project
seemed to be the most successful so far.
He said that there were strong indications that the information was now starting