Former farm hand becomes role model for climate adaptation

Model farmer Roun March in Cambodia
Model farmer March Roun was one of five winners in an Integrated Farming System competition in Cambodia. Photo: UNDP Cambodia

March Roun used to get by working odd jobs on farms owned by other people. Now she’s being held up as a role model for other farmers in how to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

“I used to earn a living by labouring in the rice field for other people. It is an unstable job where you become jobless as soon as the harvest is over,” says the single mother of two children.

March is one of five winners in an Integrated Farming System competition conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) in Cambodia.

Highlights

  • 13,581 villagers benefit from the construction of 48 solar pumping systems, 86 pump wells, five irrigation systems and five community ponds and rainwater harvesting storage.
  • Apart from addressing water shortages, the project trains villagers on techniques to diversify farming to increase their food security, incomes and resilience to climate change.
  • During a four-day knowledge-sharing seminar, model integrated farmers from Cambodia shared their experiences to help Laotian farmers who face similar challenges.

A total of 210 farmers took part in the 6th Farmers’ Assembly competition. They were tested on their technical knowledge and implementation skills in areas such as crop diversification, rice field irrigation, livestock and fish raising, and community forest management to reduce the impact of climate change.

“This was my first time to make a presentation in front of hundreds of participants,” said March, who comes from Thomachiet village, Preah Vihear province in northern Cambodia. “I was nervous but I tried my best, and I’m happy with what I have received.”

During a special ceremony she was awarded a prize package that included a pumping generator, US $150 and a certificate.

March’s progress from casual farm labourer to model farmer is the result of a lot of hard work. She had help from a UNDP-supported project to address chronic water shortages in her village. The project, Promoting Climate-Resilient Water Management and Agricultural Practices in Rural Cambodia, is implemented by the Project Support Unit of MAFF. The project is funded by the Global Environment Facility’s Least Developed Countries Fund, with additional funding provided by Canada.

March is one of 13,581 villagers benefiting from project interventions, such as the construction of 48 solar pumping systems, 86 pump wells, five irrigation systems and five community ponds and rainwater harvesting storage. Apart from addressing water shortages, the project trains villagers on techniques to diversify farming to increase their food security, incomes and resilience to climate change.

With water now available, March started growing vegetables around her house to sell to a local market. She earns an average of about US$5 a day, more than most garment workers.

“When I’m back home, I’ll continue sharing my experience in particular the improvement of soil quality through growing various types of vegetable to other villagers,” she said after receiving her prize.

Sharing knowledge is an important aspect of UNDP programming in the area. Participants recently welcomed a delegation from neighbouring Lao PDR eager to learn more about adaptation practice. The visitors were UNDP staff and government representatives working on the Improving the Resilience of the Agriculture Sector to Climate Change Impacts (IRAS) project in Lao.

Model integrated farmers from Cambodia revealed all their tricks for organic farming during the four-day study visit. Topics included solar pumps, group mobilisation, and a climate change resilience technical package, particularly a seed purification system that enables farmers to select resilient crops themselves.

“We try to establish a culture of sharing throughout the visit and other channels to increase the awareness and replication of the project’s best practices in other areas to promote the livelihood of the poor in the changing climate,” said Pinreak Suos, National Project Advisor for UNDP.

Farmers in Cambodia and Lao PDR face similar challenges, primarily a high frequency of extreme weather events such as flooding and drought. Participants in the knowledge-sharing seminar believe innovations that proved successful in Cambodia can be adapted to local contexts in Lao.

“I’m happy receiving the knowledge and some best practices from the farmers and the Cambodian project team,” said Vilayphone Vorraphim, the Deputy-Director General of the Permanent Secretary's Office and a member of the delegation from Lao. She added that it is important that the farmers work together with the project and other relevant stakeholders to strengthen the agriculture sector.

The Wildlife Conservation Society invited another beneficiary of the project in Cambodia, farmer Sameun Kuy, to train their farmers on integrated farming system. It was not her first time, since she previously trained farmers from Caritas, World Vision and other international and local organizations.

All farmers understand that pollination is a prerequisite for fertilisation, with the transfer of pollen from one flower to another. Cross-pollination of ideas has a similar effect. By sharing lessons learned in project sites, Cambodian and Laotian farmers are creating a more fertile ground for growth.

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