Farming is a hot topic in Australia and around the Western world right now, with a focus on how farmers are going to deal with the challenges posed by a changing climate.

We hear of many stories of farmers transitioning to traditional methods of agriculture such as organic and biodynamic farming in order to create a more resilient farm, as well as adopting innovations that will help them withstand rising temperatures and water shortages and other extreme weather events that scientists warn will only become more frequent. But what of people in developing nations who don’t have access to the latest farming innovations but whose food security is at a greater risk than we could ever imagine? How can the millions of subsistence farmers around the globe secure their farming futures?

Training and designing their gardens

Our development project in Kampot, Southern Cambodia, is working to help local subsistence farmers implement agricultural practices that will maximise their chances of withstanding future threats to their viability by teaching them sustainable farming techniques. Called Giving Gardens, the project was set up in 2012 by Sustainable Table and Agile Development Group and expanded in 2014 with funding from Organic Dairy Farmers Australia. It is equipping the local community with the knowledge and skills required to cement their long-term food security while protecting their environment.

The project involves training community members in organic and sustainable farming techniques, including;

  • the making of  effective micro-organism spray as a natural fertiliser and insect repellent
  • inter-planting of crops as natural insect repellents
  • the seasonal changes required to the construction of garden beds for water management and moisture loss
  • compost production to increase opportunities and lengthen time families can plant
  • natural techniques for maintaining good health in farm animals, primarily chickens
  • Future-planning with a view to introducing a second crop onto the rice fields during the dry season.

Last year we shared the stories of the four ‘Model Families’ who were receiving training as part of the project. You can catch that post here. The hope was that these four families would model sustainable farming practices and help spread the techniques across their communities. In addition, the goal was to help the families increase the amount of food they are able to grow whilst reducing their reliance on synthetic inputs and increasing their income.

Making compost

Did the project achieve its outcomes?

Testament to how vulnerable farmers can be to climate changes, most of the families involved in the project had their capacity to increase their own fruit and vegetables growing hindered by extreme heat and drought.

However, the families were able to increase their incomes through the use of compost on their major crops such as rice, sugar cane and corn – with yields almost doubling – and then using their new knowledge to run short crops such as watermelon, corn, pumpkin and cucumbers, extending their growing season where they can. The four model families collectively gained almost $1800 over the first growing season. They then used this additional income to purchase vegetables for personal consumption, with some families purchasing chickens for egg production and roosters to produce more chickens for sale.

Ian Jones, Executive Director of Agile Development Group says,

“We are also seeing future planning occurring in families too, with one family converting a portion of their rice paddy into a dam and using the excess soil to raise another rice paddy to grow vegetables for longer periods during the year with the new water supply”.

Making natural fertiliser

Preparing natural insecticide

Use of fertiliser dropped by 700kg

It may seem odd at first, but families in this region have a heavy reliance on synthetic fertiliser. This is because organic farming skills were lost during the rule of Khmer Rouge. As a result of the training provided by the Giving Gardens project, the Model Families have reduced their use of fertiliser significantly (down by 700kg), with one of the families discontinuing its use altogether, instead using home-made compost from local food scraps and chicken manure. New pockets of compost can be seen popping up in the village all the time. The reduction in use of fertiliser and increase in use of compost will see the regeneration of soil over the long term and will render the soil more resilient in the face of the region’s long dry seasons.

For more information on Agile Development Group visit their site here or read about our other Projects here. Consider donating to us and help us continue to support our chosen development projects around the globe.

A huge thank you to Organic Dairy Farmers Australia for funding the second phase of our Giving Gardens Project.