Finan pursues social rice field project

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Banteay Srei district governor Khim Finan meets with Preah Dak commune farmers to discuss the project to grow rice for the poor in the district on January 18. BANTEAY SREI DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION

The Banteay Srei district administration is seeking renewed support from rice farmers in Preah Dak commune. The administration wants to rent their farmland for one season to prepare for the second round of the “social rice field” project in order to produce rice to help the poor of the district, especially those affected economically by the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to district governor Khim Finan, the first round of the project, completed last year, rented land from 88 families for seven months with 40ha of rice produced.

He said that in the new year, he was again asking families to contribute. This year he had only secured about half the land the project needed, as some families had decided that they would rather farm the land themselves.

Finan said on January 19 that the project would still go ahead, though he could not say how many hectares would be farmed.

“Some find it useful to rent their land to the administration. They can use the time to work another job for pay, and in this way earn a double income. Others say they do not have other work to go to, and because their time is their own, they would rather farm their own land,” he said.

Finan added that the fields rented for the project must be located near to each other. The land cannot be isolated, or too elevated or sunken. He said the project was only interested in fields that would return a good yield of rice.

“If the land is too high, the water will run off and the paddies will be too dry to cultivate good rice. Not just any land will do,” he said.

“We need to be careful when choosing locations, and select only fields that we believe will provide a high yield. We do not want to take money for the project and then find that we do not have enough rice to justify the funding.”

He said the goal of taking money from donors to set up the project was to increase its productivity. If the aid is $10,000, it is to be used for farming, and it must be at least twice as good what could be achieved just by hard work.

“For the first round of the project, we asked for $10,000. We invested it in the farming and harvested as much as $20,000 or $30,000 worth of rice,” he said.

“We think of this as going from zero to $30,000. Because the project went so well, I think we should continue it. Asking for cash donations to help the destitute is difficult, but this form of social farming is easy to find support for.”

Finan added that last year, the project helped people who fit the government’s class I and II poor categories – the elderly and the disabled. Nearly 2,000 families had received between 20kg and 30kg of rice per household. For the second round, he was not yet sure how many people the project would assist, but he said the effects of the pandemic were not as severe this year.

“If we need to aid only people in class I, this number may be lower. We are considering this, because in some areas, the people in class II do not seem to have been as impacted,” he said.

“Previously, we provided about 30kg of rice per household. So if we minimise the number of those we distribute to and our yields remain the same, we can increase amount of rice each household receives. If we expand the number we distribute to, the amount reduces.”

He added that the project was a good way for people to share the hardships of the pandemic with each other. Farmers, donors, volunteer young people and local authorities all joined resources and found common means of solving problems together. All expenses were covered by donors, while the remaining output was used for humanitarian benefit.

He recalled that in 2020, the spirit of participation in the project was strong and more than 80 tonnes of rice were produced and distributed to the poor throughout the district. He hoped that all donors and volunteers will continue to support the project again, so it could re-emerge this year.

“We already have a working group to implement the project, and volunteers are not difficult to find. Ordinary donors are ready to provide machinery and seeds. For the most part, we should be able to do it,” he said.

Roeun Sarath, manager of Kampuchea Kolbot Charitable Organisation, supported such social assistance projects, saying he also wanted to see more participation in social work in other places. This was a good project that helped farmers and the poor.

“This means that we can help both – the people with vacant farmland cannot farm it without labour. If the district administration is prepared to do so, the yield feeds the owner of the field and the excess production gets distributed to the poor,” he told The Post on January 20.