Movie helps farmers learn new "language" to grow more rice

By Katie Taft

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Sitting side by side, taking notes by the flicker of the television, two Cambodian farmers are learning a new type of language. It's one that will help them to grow more rice to feed their families.

"I am 54 and I thought that I was too old to learn anything new," says San Van, a grandmother and farmer in a nearby village. "But I came here and see this movie and it is easy. I will try this new way and save seeds and grow more rice. It is exciting."

Pov Cham shakes her head in agreement. "I am very excited because with the old method of farming I could not have such a surplus like I can with this," Cham says. "I like how easy this was to learn and it was from people like me."

What has excited these women to change the way they will farm?

An instructional movie released today by Oxfam America and the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, or CEDAC.

The new movie, titled "Do You Speak SRI?" was developed to assist Cambodian farmers to easily and effectively grow more rice to support their families and to teach them new ways to farm. It takes a different approach of the traditional educational movie by using real farmers rather than actors to tell their own story and successes in using the new practices. The movie follows the journey of a young farmer as he learns each of the 12 practices from more experienced farmers.

In a recent viewing in Kampong Chhang, audience members were excited to see real farmers in the movie—most of whom were unscripted. The farmers showed off their natural enthusiasm for the practices.

"I like that I could see someone like me," says Van. "They are so happy and have grown so much rice using less seeds."

The movie is an addition to the other training tools CEDAC uses to assist farmers in implementing the practices.

"We hope that farmers will learn how to implement their choice of 12 practices into their own farming practices and realize that this can improve their yield and thus their quality of life," says Dr. Yang Saing Koma, President of CEDAC.

System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which was first introduced to Cambodia in 2000, has helped more than 80,000 Cambodian families grow more rice by using a selection of up to 12 simple practices. By adopting these steps, Cambodian farmers can increase rice yields from 50 to 150 percent, compared to yields harvested from traditional methods. Many farmers use this surplus of rice to feed their families, generate extra income and make improvements for other agricultural ventures.

"Boosting the farming community's skills so that they can grow more rice is about more than feeding Cambodian families,"" says Brian Lund, Regional Director of Oxfam America's East Asia Office in Phnom Penh. "It also is about boosting the farmer's confidence so that they take control over their life now and in the future."

To better empower farmers and sustain their self-reliance, Oxfam America and CEDAC recently combined the SRI training with a savings-led microfinance program called Saving for Change, which enables farmers and community members to better retain and manage the improved wealth they are achieving from their crops.

CEDAC plans to teach the SRI method to farmers in the 13,000 villages in Cambodia over the next five years.

As for Cham and Van, both said the movie convinced them to try SRI practices on a small part of their rice field to test it and see how it works for them.

"I am going to try it out," says Cham laughing. "Then I will let you know if I will be ready to be in the next movie to show my surplus of rice."