Khek Koeu must have been having trouble sleeping at night. Underneath her house were stacks of rice in 50-kilogram bags. She and her daughter grew about a third of it, and they bought the rest after the last harvest. They will sell it later, hopefully at a profit. All in all, it’s worth about $18,000—leaving enough money for Koeu to invest in building a metal fence around her house and yard, with a gate she can lock.
Despite her worry about thieves, having enough rice to lock up is a nice problem for Koeu, a 55-year-old widow in Cambodia’s Pursat province. She says she is now making more money, and growing more rice, since she learned to apply what’s known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in 2010. In the past six years, she says, she has finished paying for college for all three of her children, and she bought them all motorbikes. “It’s hard to afford all this,” Koeu says. “In the years before we started SRI we had a lot of difficulties.”
The system works
SRI is a simple list of practices for growing rice. Farmers can use it with nearly any variety of rice; they just need to make sure they plant high-quality seed, transplant only healthy seedlings, and arrange the plants in rows far enough apart to encourage strong roots that can withstand diseases, pests, high winds, and heavy rains. The method saves farmers money because they plant fewer seeds, but the plants grow more grains because they are bigger and stronger than those grown by the traditional practice of transplanting several seedlings together, crowding the paddy field.
Koeu says before she started using SRI practices she grew about one metric ton of rice on a hectare of land (about 2.5 acres). But since adopting SRI she can grow as much as four tons in a good rainy season, and between two and three tons if there’s less rain.
Oxfam has been working with an organization in Pursat called Srer Khmer (SK) for eight years to train farmers in SRI as a means to help families grow more food. During these years, SK has also helped farmers to specialize in different aspects of SRI production. Some get training in producing organic compost they can use and also sell to other farmers, and others, like Koeu, have become expert seed producers.