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Friday, August 31, 2012

2012 Ramon Magsaysay Awards: Agronomist empowers farmers in Cambodia

MANILA, Philippines - Cambodian Yang Saing Koma was a young boy when his family was forced by the communist Khmer Rouge to flee their home province for Phnom Penh.

Yang Saing Koma
Like the rest of Cambodians, Koma witnessed the brutality and oppression under the four-year Khmer Rouge regime, during which 1.7 million people were killed or died as a result of torture, disease outbreak and starvation.

Koma fortunately survived the regime and used his experience to work on a lifetime goal to lift his people from the ruins of a brutal regime.

Although he saw his people as broken and hopeless, Koma was optimistic that his country would rise again as a nation and he would, in his own little way, contribute to Cambodia’s recovery.

He knew his country had natural resources – vast tracts of land – and from there he could help his people improve their lives through innovations in farming.

After all, 66 percent of Cambodians are reliant on rice farming and 80 percent of the population are in the rural areas.

Koma thought improvements should take place in the rice farming sector.

In 1995, Koma went to Germany on a scholarship where he specialized in agriculture and earned a doctorate at the University of Leipzig.

Koma returned to Cambodia to share what he learned. He worked for foreign development organizations but his heart was intent on establishing an organization that will help and make farmers sustainable.

Koma then established and founded the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), making sustainable agriculture his centerpiece in 1997.

Together with a lean team and French non-government organization, Koma worked hard to make CEDAC an independent and self-sustaining organization.

Fifteen years after CEDAC was established, it is now one of the largest agricultural and rural development NGOs in Cambodia, helping thousands of farmers improve their lives.

CEDAC’s success lies with the introduction of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), an ecologically sustainable approach to rice production.

“SRI is based on a simple system of plant, water and soil management, and is suitable to Cambodia’s dominant pattern of smallholder farms.”

Koma introduced SRI in year 2000 to 28 reluctant farmers. Today, Koma has been promoting SRI to more than 100,000 rice farmers, registering a 61 percent increase in rice yields, even as it decreased the amount of seeds and chemical fertilizers used while increasing the use of organic fertilizers by 85 percent.

In 2005, the Cambodian government officially endorsed SRI as a rice production strategy.

Today, 15 years after it was established, CEDAC is now able to support 140,000 farmer families in 21 provinces. Between 2002 and 2010, Cambodia’s rice production rose from 3.82 million tons to 6. 97 million tons, and CEDAC’s work has been largely credited as the driving force behind this increase.

Koma also established the Farmer and Nature Net (FNN), an independent network of 1,402 farmer associations with around 40,000 members who share farming knowledge among themselves.

Today, the associations under the FNN have been able to mobilize savings of more than $8 million, with an average monthly increase of five percent.

In founding CEDAC, Koma’s goal was to allow farmers to discover for themselves a better way of doing things.

“Cambodians need to take responsibility for their own destiny. The challenge lies in building people. We have to believe in ourselves, we have to believe in our ideas. Everything is interrelated. A simple thing can have a lot of influence in the system. If more people grow, society will grow,” Koma said.

In electing Yang Saing Koma to receive the 2012 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes his “creative fusion of practical science and collective will that has inspired and enabled vast members of farmers in Cambodia to become more empowered and productive contributors to their country’s economic growth.”

Source: The Philippine Star

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