A project aimed at reducing poverty in north-western Cambodia by enhancing the production and marketing of maize and soybean is to receive $1.17 million of funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) between 2008 and 2011.
Professor Bob Martin, Director of the Primary Industries Innovation Centre (PIIC) based at the University of New England, is the leader of the project.
The Australia-based collaborators in the project are the PIIC (a joint venture between UNE and the NSW Department of Primary Industries), The University of Canberra and CSIRO. Collaborators in Cambodia are the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute, the Maddox Jolie Pitt foundation, CARE International, and the Provincial Departments of Agriculture in Battambang and Pailin.
“The aim of the project is to improve the functioning of the production-marketing system for maize and soybean in north-western Cambodia as a key to increasing cash income, sustainable growth, and poverty reduction for smallholder farmers,” Professor Martin said. “The project will facilitate the sharing of knowledge and information at all stages of the value chain â€“ from farmer to end-user. This will deliver practical benefits for poor rural farmers, including improved food security, increased income, and reduced vulnerability to disruptions.”
He explained that the production of upland crops such as maize and soybean had rapidly expanded in north-western Cambodia since re-integration of the former Khmer Rouge began in 1996. “However, crop yields are declining and soils are being degraded by excessive cultivation and burning,” he said. “The development has been largely driven by market demand in Thailand. Local farmers are disadvantaged by lack of market information, inadequate post-harvest technology, and poor transport infrastructure.”
The project team expects its work to have a significant impact in Cambodia within five years. This will include an increase in crop yields and profits through improved technologies. “For example, rhizobium inoculation of soybean can give a 600 per cent return on investment,” Professor Martin said. “Marketing costs could be reduced by 10 per cent, which is worth an estimated US$3.3 million per annum in the Cambodian districts of Battambang and Pailin.
Other benefits will include enhanced networks and learning between farmers and others in the value chain from production through to the market, and the adoption of no-tillage conservation farming practices and fertiliser application that will reduce soil erosion and slow down the decline in soil fertility.
The Australian collaborators in the Cambodia project are also involved in a related project, with ACIAR funding of $250,000 between 2008 and 2011, aimed at boosting the adoption of conservation farming practices in north-western NSW.
A PHOTOGRAPH of Professor Bob Martin working with members of the project team in Cambodia can be seen by clicking on the image of Cambodian farmers displayed here. Professor Martin’s colleagues are Pheng Kea (centre) from the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute, and Department of Agriculture agronomist Nou Nakry.