According to NatureLife Cambodia, following the end of the “Srov Met Kriel” rice harvest project for 2022, a total of 49 households opted to sell 75 tonnes of rice, while 49 others decided to keep it for consumption.

The biodiversity conservation NGO – established with support from BirdLife International and financial support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund – explained that the project, roughly translated as “friends of the sarus crane”, helps improve the livelihoods of local communities while providing safe foraging opportunities for the unique birds.

The sarus crane (Grus antigone) is a large non-migratory crane which can stand up to 1.8m tall, and is listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

“Last December, our team worked closely with 100 families who farm land around the Anlong Pring landscape protected area in Boeung Sala Khang Tbong and Prek Kres communes in Kampot province’s Kampong Trach district,” it said in a January 22 announcement.

Wetlands in this protected area are important sites that support cranes during the non-breeding season from December to May. The paddy rice left in the farmers’ fields provides the majority of the birds’ diet.

“Farmers participating in the initiative are provided with seeds and organic fertilisers at no charge. All that we ask is that they comply with certain conditions, including the cultivation of local rice varieties and a reduction of the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers by at least 30 per cent. This reduces the impact on human health, ecosystems and biodiversity, especially sarus cranes,” it said.

“If farmers comply with these conditions, NatureLife Cambodia will buy paddy rice at 5 per cent higher than the market price. After the end of the 2022 harvest, 49 families sold about 75 tonnes of their paddy rice, while 51 families decided to keep all the produced paddy rice for consumption,” it added.

In addition, the organisation will pay financial compensation to farmers who leave about five per cent of their paddy rice in the fields.

The “Srov Met Kriel” project is initiated by the Ministry of Environment in collaboration with NatureLife Cambodia and BirdLife International, with the support of IUCN-Netherlands

Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the type of paddy rice grown is a local variety and one preferred by the cranes. In order to be eligible for the scheme, farmers must not hunt, trap or lay poison, and cannot expand their farms into protected areas.

“The protection and conservation of sarus cranes can only be successful if the livelihoods of local communities are taken into account and all stakeholders are involved,” he added.