The Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC) is a non-profit organization, which supports several FairTSA Fair Trade certified Cambodian cooperatives that farm rice in the provinces of Takeo, Kampong Chhnang, and Kampong Speu. Rice farmers make up about 60 percent of Cambodia’s population. Many rice farmers are living in poverty due to their small land holdings and low production efficiency, relying on costly external inputs such as improved rice varieties, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. CEDAC has been fostering the education and organization of rural farmers in sustainable agriculture for over 15 years, emphasizing viable practices and the utilization of resources which they either already have access to or can create themselves.
Through the Community Development projects integral to the FairTSA Fair Trade certification, CEDAC has been providing informational workshops with the local Cambodian farmers to further their agricultural knowledge, which in turn strengthens their income and standard of living. These workshops empower locals and promote community through education and organization in villages.
One of the core points of the development workshops is promoting self-sustainable organic agriculture through the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI is a rice production method which helps minimize water input and unnecessary resources favored by chemical industrial processes. The objective of SRI is to create ideal conditions for growth of the rice plant’s roots, which ultimately increases production of rice grains. SRI has enabled low income farmers to double their yields using up to 90% less seed and 50% less water- with no agrochemicals. As a side effect, methane gas from rice production is also considerably lower due to less anaerobic soil condition – an important effect, as methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.
The positive effects of the SRI method are far reaching, and from the testimonies of locals the health benefits of SRI farming are easily apparent. SRI methods have been successfully integrated to several hundred thousand Cambodian households which adds up to over 1 million people.
Prices for non-organic non Fair Trade rice are also considerable lower, with local merchants paying 1,200 riel (approximately 30 cents USD) per kilo for conventional rice. CEDAC buys organic paddy rice at 1,600 riel (40 cents USD) per kilo, an increase of more than 30%. They can do this as FairTSA has helped mediate a minimum price for CEDAC rice that is considerably higher than world market prices. Often producers use the extra income from greater yields and organic and Fair Trade pricing to invest in further business ventures, improve the quality of life at home, and send their children to school.
Beyond shifting the mindset and practices of local farms, CEDAC and the new income brought in by SRI and the FairTSA Social Premium have enabled community development which help solidify and further the province’s aims of becoming more communal, efficient, and self-reliant. In 2015 projects to build community meeting spaces, office space, and restrooms have been completed. There is an additional long-term project in place to complete a community owned rice mill. This rice mill initiative is a large step in self-efficiency as it will cut the expensive costs of paying commercial rice mills. In addition, this central mill will also enable the farmers to save valuable organic husks from the milling process, which can be used to feed animals and produce further compost to benefit the organic plants being grown.
There are plans currently underway to dig a communal pond in order to collect clean water. This will provide a water source for the entire community. Another project planned for this year is to set up a cooperative store in Kampong Speu city, which will provide a forum to sell local organic products such as rice, vegetables, eggs, and meat. All of the products sold will be produced by community members. Construction for a learning center to be built close to the central rice mill is also in process. This space will house meetings and general assemblies of organic farmers while also serving as a workshop. The pond and co-op store support independence and health, aptly resembling the growing and Fair Trade practices put into effect by CEDAC.
Education centers and meeting spaces are subverting standards of chemical and industrial dependence, bringing knowledge and bounty to the farmers as they embrace intentional methodologies in their communities and take steps to self-empowerment and better health. This shift away from dependence is producing capital and self-confidence through existing resources, and this change has the promise to resonate through future generations to come.