The wildlife-friendly rice project implemented by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS Cambodia), which was started in 2008 in Preah Vihear province, has expanded to three more provinces as of this month – Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri.
The IBIS Rice project currently has around 1,500 smallholder farmers growing rice using wildlife-friendly methods.
The Ministry of Environment has given its full-throated support to this project, which uses a sustainable supply chain to support conservation, protection of wildlife and a reduction in poverty for the communities involved.
Phann Sithan, community technical adviser at WCS Cambodia, said while accompanying ministry secretary of state Neth Pheaktra to inspect the project’s rice cultivation in Preah Vihear province's Krala Peas village on June 10 that the programme was first implemented in 2008 in Tmatboey village.
Sithan noted that when the project first started, only about 150 families participated and now there are around 600 involved in the province.
“We are currently implementing the rice project in 14 villages in Preah Vihear after adding three more villages this year. We have now expanded to Stung Treng, Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri provinces,” he said.
According to Sithan, the project’s products sold well in 2020 and early this year, when the organisation bought more than 900 tonnes of rice from the 11 villages.
Farmers are trained by the WCS Cambodia team in rice cultivation techniques and provided with specific contracts to ensure that their rice would be bought from them after planting at an above market value.
However, those who agree to implement this project must also comply with the conditions set out in the contract before the organisation buys their rice.
“People are not allowed to clear forest land, cut down trees, use any kind of chemical pesticides, hunt or trap wild animals. If they do not follow the contract properly, the organisation will not accept the rice produced,” he said.
During the visit, Pheaktra said the ministry had prepared policies and concrete plans for the economic development of the protected area community to help bring prosperity to the region.
“The environment ministry highly values WCS’ IBIS Rice project. It uses sustainable supply chains to support the conservation and protection of wildlife and it contributes to poverty reduction,” he said.
According to Pheaktra, the project has been of great benefit to conservation work, especially the conservation of the endangered giant ibis and the white-shouldered ibis. In addition, the IBIS Rice project has contributed to the protection of natural resources generally and the conservation of biodiversity in Cambodia.
“The rice that the farmers cultivate is of good quality and is sold at a price 50 per cent above the market price. This is because the people respect the principles of natural resource conservation,” he said.
He said that currently, wildlife-friendly and organic products are sold by the Ibis Rice Conservation Company (IRCC), with the Wildlife Conservation Association responsible for purchasing and selling the rice products to local and international markets.
Preah Vihear provincial deputy governor Sou Serey said the provincial administration supported the project because it contributed to improving the lives of people in the community. It’s one step towards helping increase the income of farmers in addition to traditional farming.
“The market for the rice is easy to find. Producing this kind of rice is fast with high yields and it sells at a price that helps improve their livelihoods. This type of rice takes three months to grow and then it can be sold,” he said.
According to Serey, rice cultivation still depends heavily upon the amount of rainfall. If there is not enough rain, people’s rice yields will decline.
He said the provincial administration is looking for ways to solve these problems by having enough irrigation water for farming.
Lam Chhean, 65, a farmer participating in the Ibis Rice Project in Krala Peas village, said that after hearing about it from WCS Cambodia, the villagers decided to implement the project according to the organisation's instructions.
“As long as we can grow this rice and follow the organisation's guidelines, after harvesting they will come to buy from us at a price higher than normal rice. Last year, I sold this rice to them for 1,700 riel per kilogramme,” he said.