Our Mekong Flower Brown Rice is chiefly grown on small family plots by households belonging to the Damrei Romeal Organic Rice Cooperatives in Takeo, Cambodia, a province dominated by rice fields and sugar palm trees. Cooperative members are using a set of growing methods, called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which enable smallholder farmers to harvest more rice from their traditional varieties using less water, seed, land and no chemicals.
At its height a thousand years ago, the Khmer Kingdom sprawled across what are today Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Vietnam and the Malay Peninsula, ruled from the imperial city of Angkor Wat. Then, as today, people depended on the annual monsoon to flood the Mekong River and its tributaries and water their rice crops. Today, some 60 million people living in the lower Mekong basin -- referred to as the "Rice Basket of the Universe" -- still rely on this annual natural event for their lives and livelihoods. In Cambodia, where 8 million people out of a population of 14 million make their living from rice farming and most people spend as much as 70% their income on food, rice IS life.
The Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, or CEDAC, introduced SRI to Cambodia in 2000, to see if it could improve farmers' yields and reduce their use of agricultural chemicals. Only 28 farmers could be convinced to apply the strange new practices. If they used only 10% of the seeds they normally did, surely their harvest would also be only 10% ! For food deficit families this was taking a big risk. Today, about 100,0000 farmers are using some or all SRI practices and averaging 5 tons per hectare of rice as compared with the national average of 2 tons/ha.
One of the first farmers to be trained was Mey Som from Tro Paing Raing village. "When I did conventional farming," he told Oxfam US journalist Andrea Perera, "we didn't have enough rice all year. We didn't have vegetables to eat. We didn't have enough water to bathe. Now we have a surplus." Som was so encouraged by the results that he began traveling around the country with CEDAC, talking to other farmers about his experiences, explaining how a technique that requires less water and fewer seeds could actually produce more rice.
In 2004, a CEDAC evaluation of 120 farmers who had used SRI for three years showed net incomes in the third year were 61% higher than pre-SRI. Fertilizer use had declined from 116 to 67 kg/ha, and agrochemical use from 35 to 7 kg/ha.
Cambodia has some 3,000 different varieties of rice, many of which are superior floral varieties. One of the most popular fragrant rices, and the one most often compared with Thai jasmine rice, is Phka Malis. We are thrilled to be the first US company to import this rice, which we aptly named Mekong Flower, and to be part of CEDAC's ongoing success story to improve rural life and livelihoods in Cambodia.
You can read Andrea's full story and learn more about Oxfam's support for SRI in Cambodia at their website.