Crop diversification builds stronger communities to tackle climate change


Cambodian farmer Ms. Kuy Samoeun waters her home-grown plants near her house in Preah Vihear province. (Photo: UNDP Cambodia)

Preah Vihear– The sun has just emerged in the horizon but Cambodian farmer Tum Heng was already working in full swing in his vegetable garden. After watering the vegetables, he made his rounds fetching cow manure to spread on newly paved rows where yard-long bean and cucumber were going to be on.

These will be the new additions to eggplant, cabbage, pumpkin and chili – just to name a few – that have already filled the sprawling garden within the compound of hi house in Teuk Kraham commune, Preah Vihear province in northern Cambodia. These days the 61-year-old man and his wife, Kuy Sameun, keep busy daily routines toiling hard to ensure food sufficiency for their family of six.

Highlights

  • Some 9,400 poor families in 16 communes across Kratie and Preah Vihear provinces benefit from the project

“We go to the market only because we need to buy fish and meat, not vegetables,” Mr. Tum Heng said.

He and his wife are among some 9,400 poor families in 16 communes across Kratie and Preah Vihear provinces where a UNDP-supported project is helping improve their ability to cope with the changing climate. The project, which has received financial support from Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) through Global Environment Facility, covers a wide range of activities including techniques in crop diversification and better management of water resource. It is also the first of its kind designed to respond to priorities identified in the country’s priorities to respond to climate change.The ultimate aim is to enable villagers to improve food security, thereby reducing their vulnerability to adverse impacts of climate change.

Like most Cambodians living in the countryside, Mr. Tum Heng and his wife used to depend on subsistence rice farming. But where they live drought is a frequent visitor. Because of that they decided three years ago to do home gardening as an alternative source of livelihood instead.

Using the knowledge they received from training provided by the project, the couple has turned the one-hectare space around their 5 by 6-meter wooden house into a little plantation of sort. Sugar cane is taking up the largest chunk of land. Banana trees occupy a portion of the front yard and many of them are bearing fruits in the quantity that is surely more than the family of six can eat.

The husband and wife may not be the model farmers, however. In other parts of Cambodia there are farmers who have already embarked on multiple cropping to boost food stock and revenue. Yet, the couple’s hard work is the latest example of rural residents making necessary farming adaptation for their own survival, especially at the time when rainfall is becoming more erratic but intense and drought is prolonged.

“Now we only grow fruit trees and vegetables for a living. They are easier than rice to tend to and take shorter time to harvest. You can do two or three crops per year only if you have enough water. Vegetables do need water but not as much as rice does,” Ms. Kuy Sameun said.

The couple owns 15 cows that they previously used to let loose in the field to graze. But these days they keep them fed on grass and hays most of the time inside the pen to ensure a steady supply of manure to produce methane gas for cooking and lighting the lantern at night.

For they are not even connected to the power grid like most rural homes, the gas stove in their kitchen represents a small surprise indeed.

The state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly stove is part of a bio-digester unit that the project has provided to Ms. Kuy Sameun and 11 other families in Teuk Kraham commune. To extract the gas, cow manure is mixed with water in a well in the ground from where methane is emitted and fed through a plastic hose to the stove and the lantern. Their cooking has become less of a chore ever since they began using the gas stove.

“In the past sometimes we were unable to cook because the fire wood got soaked up by the rain. But we do not have to worry about that anymore,” Ms. Kuy Sameun said, adding that she can now save around US$75 in annual spending she normally made on purchasing charcoal.

Meanwhile, the residue left from gas extraction goes to keep their vegetable garden flourishing.

“It is quite tiresome for us since we are not young any more, but we enjoy our work. After all it is pointless to leave the land empty, isn’t it?” Ms. Kuy Sameun said with a grin.

Their hard work has paid off. Over the past two years they managed to accumulate US$2,100 in saving from the sales of their produces. They spent half of the money on a brand new motorcycle for their son to drive to school. They are not rich but clearly better off now.