Video: IFAD-funded support for cassava farmers in Cambodia
Supported by the European Commission through the International Fund for Agricultural Development, smallholder farmers like Huong Sokhang in Cambodia have been trained in improved cassava management, to boost yields and income while building farm resilience and reducing environmental costs.
Diverse markets for cassava in Southeast Asia offer many opportunities for smallholder farmers to reduce rural poverty though higher income generation. And since the crop is relatively climate-hardy, improved management enables farmers to better adapt to the impact of climate shocks.
A group leader of 30 farmers since 2013, knows the value of cassava for her family. She is one of 40 million smallholder farmers across Southeast Asia who depend on the annual production of about 75 million tons of cassava grown as a cash crop on four million hectares.
Dramatic impacts if not properly managed
Since 2009, IFAD funded Training of Trainer courses – complete demonstration and field activity courses on sustainable cassava production – have been provided by CIAT staff, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and other partners, across Cambodia.
More than 100 extension staff linked to the IFAD-funded Rural Livelihoods Improvement Project (RULIP) alone, in Ratanakiri, Preah Vihear and Kratie provinces, received training through demonstrations and on-farm trials.
Topics on the training curriculum include management of high-yielding, improved cassava varieties; land preparation and weeding techniques; appropriate use of fertilizers; soil erosion control; planting other crops with cassava for diverse incomes and soil fertility and pest and disease management options.
This year, Huong Sokhang planted cassava vertically, so the stake can take in more moisture from the soil if it’s dry. She learnt about this technique through a training day near her village, and since then, has made significant improvements in her farming, to adapt to a changing climate.
She also now saves US$200 in fertilizer each harvest, boosting her yield by five tons per hectare, through more prudent use of fertilizer. She plans to use that money to invest in new planting material, pay school fees and medical bills for her children, as well as buying more regular food for the family.
A pest and disease crisis
But despite cassava’s income-earning potential, it is increasingly vulnerable to phytosanitary threats which endanger the gains of these initiatives. These threats to cassava production include a swathe of emerging pests and diseases devastating harvests; declining soil fertility and volatile market prices.
For example, the cassava witches’ broom disease – a systemic disease resulting in 10–15% yield loss and 20–30% starch content loss – continues to threaten farmers’ yields and income. In key cassava cropping areas of Cambodia, virtually all cassava fields are infected, and farmers with little choice are planting infected stakes, risking their income.
Investigations by CIAT and national research partners in Southeast Asia continue to assess the cause and transmission of emerging threats, in order to recommend control options. Until then, farmers can only take minimal precautions to prevent disease spread and safeguard their livelihoods.
This work is made possible through partnerships with the Cambodia Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), the Rural Livelihoods Project (RULIP) supported by IFAD, the International Potato Center (CIP) and Netherlands Development Organization (SNV).