Cambodian farmers have long felt the pressure to modernize their techniques as part of a larger national push to expand the agricultural sector.
For many, that hasn’t been easy, but a years-long training program is showing promising results for a growing network of entrepreneurial smallholders. With the support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Agricultural Services Programme for Innovation Resilience and Extension (ASPIRE) has provided essential training to 150,000 smallholder farmers across the country.
Sun Boreth, a program manager of ASPIRE told CamboJA that the main aim of the program is to promote advanced technologies and provide technical assistance to smallholder farmers through training. With this he said, the program also implements essential soft skills so that the farmers can do marketing and build networks with customers on their own.
‘’We want to show them that farming is not just to be self-sufficient, but we can make it into a profitable business,” said Boreth.
Boreth said the program is now working with smallholder farmers across the country, including the 150,000 families who have joined its community outreach. ASPIRE aims to encourage youth and women to participate in modern agriculture, and Boreth said female farmers make up 30 percent of the organization’s network.
According to Boreth, to facilitate smallholder farmers, ASPIRE has established an online platform called the CHAMKA app to help farmers seek out technical assistance and buy resources to support their operations. The app already counts 50,000 families as its users, Boreth said, and ASPIRE is creating a grocery store function where farmers can sell their products online.
‘’With resilience and a profitable farm business, smallholder farmers can increase their income, especially during COVID-19,” said Boreth.
According to a project report from IFAD, the ASPIRE program has a budget of more than $82.2 million, of which the international fund finances about $41.1 million.
The program has made a significant movement so far, the report stated, with project participants recording a 25 percent increase in household assets for this year.
The report also stated that 16 percent of households in the program have increased their incomes while 90 percent have adapted their farming to include climate change mitigation technologies.
The report said all these achievements cannot be made without various physical and online technical training to support the project beneficiaries, who now lead agri-businesses that make use of Facebook marketing and technical help from the extension services of provincial agricultural departments.
Pen Vannarith, director of the provincial agriculture department for Kampong Thom, told CamboJA that his department has helped smallholder farmers through the whole agricultural process, from gaining new tech skills to finding a market for produce. There’s still plenty of work to be done as the industry modernizes, Vannarith said.
‘’In the process of transforming traditional agriculture to an advanced agricultural model, there are also some challenges emerging,” Vannarith said. “Sometimes, farmers cannot acquire all those technical skills, and a lack of human resource is also another crucial problem.”
But some farmers in the ASPIRE program told CamboJA they feel they’re already overcoming barriers.
Lach Mom, 39 years old and a farmer from Kampong Thom province, told CamboJA she joined the ASPIRE program in 2019. At that time, she was looking to learn technical skills in order to upgrade her traditional farming into something more profitable.
“I have been farming for almost ten years, but this job is not so profitable due to the shortage of technical skills and financial assistance,” said Mom.
However, after she had joined the program, Mom has received various training related to modern irrigation systems as well as technical assistance to do farming in a net house. With that assistance, she said she could convert her farming into a modern agricultural model.
‘’By implementing modern farming practices, we can see a big difference in terms of output,” said Mom.
As of now, Mom is growing different types of vegetables in her one-hectare field. And it is not difficult for her to sell produce, as the program helps to find her market.
‘’Throughout this job, I now can earn enough money to support my family and two children who are studying at secondary school. It helps me a lot,” said Mom.
Min Nak, another farmer in Kampong Thom province, says he has also benefited from this program.
Nak said he started raising chickens after training with ASPIRE. He said he first had only 30 chickens that were provided by ASPIRE, but now has more than 200 chickens.
‘’Raising chicken is a big part of our income now,” said Nak.