As a result of food shortages in the late 1970s, many farmers were forced to eat their rice seed and traditional varieties were lost. In the 1980s, IRRI reintroduced 766 traditional Cambodian rice varieties to Cambodia from its seed bank in the Philippines—a vivid demonstration of the foresight that created the bank in the 1960s. In 2016, Cambodia and IRRI mark their 30th year of partnership.
In 1985, Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) requested IRRI to assist in developing Cambodia’s rice research system. An IRRI mission to Cambodia in January 1986 identified potential areas of cooperation and aid. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) for collaboration was signed between the two partners in July of the same year. Progress in research and institutional development was soon established to improve the potential for a rice-based farming system in Cambodia. In 2016, Cambodia and IRRI mark their 30th year of partnership.
But IRRI and Cambodia’s partnership started long before the inking of formal ties in 1986. Six Cambodian scientists were trained at IRRI between 1960 and 1973. One studied plant breeding, the others studied rice production. Only two of the six survived the civil war that occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
IRRI collected different types of rice in Cambodia between December 1972 and January 1973 and conserved duplicates of the country’s rice diversity in the International Rice Genebank located in IRRI headquarters in the Philippines.
As a result of food shortages in the late 1970s, many farmers were forced to eat their rice seed. Traditional varieties were also lost. Between 1981 and 1990, IRRI helped Cambodia regain its lost rice varieties by repatriating 766 traditional varieties, which had been kept safe in the International Rice Genebank.
During the celebration of the International Year of Rice in 2004 in Phnom Penh, representatives from the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN-FAO), and AusAID acknowledged the crucial role that IRRI played in helping the country attain national food security.
A famous Cambodian rice, Phka Rumduol, was chosen as the “World’s Best Rice” at three consecutive The Rice Trader World Rice Conferences— Bali in 2012, Hong Kong in 2013, and Phnom Penh in 2014. Phka Rumduol was developed through support from the Cambodia-IRRI-Australia project. It was released as a variety by CARDI in 1999.
In response to Cambodia’s critical food security situation, the Cambodia-IRRI-Australia Project (CIAP) started in 1987 with the aim of increasing the country’s rice production and productivity of rice-based production systems.
To put the country in the research mainstream, CIAP embarked on breeding programs to develop improved rice varieties for the country’s varied ecosystems. Due in part to the introduction of highyielding varieties and the adoption of CIAP technologies, Cambodia exported rice for the first time in 1995-96.
As of 2015, 14 IRRI-bred lines have been released as varieties in Cambodia, among which Sen Pidao, IR66, and Chul’sa are still being widely grown.
Current research and development with Cambodia
- Climate change adaptation and mitigation. Breeding and development of varieties for climate change adaptation and resilience, dissemination and adoption of seeds and technology using a value chain approach, and policy development to support these efforts.
- Better, climate-resilient varieties. Accelerated development of varieties that not only yield well and have good eating quality but are adapted to flooding and drought and other effects of climate change, and suited to Cambodia's stress-prone areas where many of the country's smallholder farmers grow rice.
- Remote sensing-based information and insurance for crops in emerging economies (RIICE). IRRI and its partners are working to reduce the vulnerability of smallholder rice famers by using remote sensing technologies to map and observe rice growth in the country. Information gathered will help the government make necessary provisions, e.g., to address potential food shortages resulting from damaged crops.
- Improved farmer livelihoods. Integrated approach to helping rice farmers in unfavorable environments reduce risks and improve farm productivity through generation, validation, and dissemination of new technologies.
- Postharvest. Options for scalable rice straw management as a means for farmers to earn added income, as well as adopt practices for low-carbon-footprint and sustainable rice-based production systems, are being documented and studied, with the outlook of dissemination.
Capacity building to reduce postharvest losses
The major focus of IRRI's postharvest projects in Cambodia, which started in 2005 with the Asian Development Bank, has been on capacity building for researchers and farmer intermediaries to address high postharvest losses and lack of postharvest experts in the country.
As of December 2014, IRRI has provided training to 276 Cambodian scholars and training participants.
Developing Green Super Rice
Green Super Rice is a mix of more than 250 different potential rice varieties and hybrids variously adapted to difficult growing conditions such as drought and low inputs. This includes no pesticide and less fertilizer and with rapid establishment rates to out-compete weeds, thus reducing the need for herbicides. A number of Green Super Rice varieties that combine many of these traits are in the pipeline and within 10 years, the project aims to increase rice production by at least 20% in rainfed and irrigated areas of 8 sub-Saharan African countries, 4 Southeast Asian countries, 3 South Asian countries, and 4 provinces of Southwest China. This will be achieved through wide adoption of Green Super Rice hybrid and regular rice varieties, as well as relevant crop management practices.
Helping Cambodia develop better rice
IRRI is supporting the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) to develop rice with high yield, tolerance to stresses like drought, flood, and poor soils, and with good quality, by 2014. The research will also share knowledge and rice with the Australian rice industry.
Supporting irrigated-rice farmers advance
IRRI, through the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC), is developing "innovation platforms" to bring together policy advisers, agricultural practitioners, farmers and farmer groups, and extensionists. Engaging these different stakeholders fosters participatory research and extension, which ensures technologies are better suited to end-users and that rapid adoption of new technologies occurs.
Helping farmers in difficult rice-growing areas overcome poverty
IRRI is involving farmers in its research and linking scientists from different national agricultural and extension institutes with international research centers to generate, validate, and disseminate new technologies to help rice farmers. This includes Cambodian rice farmers, to improve their production and livelihoods – especially those whose land is less suited to rice production. This research is part of the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE), which also closely collaborates with local government units and nongovernment organizations to disseminate technologies to a wider area.
Tested new rice locally
As part of the Cambodia-IRRI-Australia Project, IRRI tested more than 1,500 rice varieties and breeding lines in Cambodia between 1989 and 1996, previously no such testing had ever occurred. Following this, Cambodia approved the release of 21 rice varieties, which had 25% higher yields than local varieties.
Conservation of traditional Cambodian rice
As a result of food shortages in the late 1970s, many Cambodian farmers were forced to eat their rice seed and traditional varieties were lost. In the 1980s, IRRI reintroduced 766 traditional Cambodian rice varieties to Cambodia from IRRI’s International Rice Genebank. As of July 2016, Cambodia had contributed 4,895 types of rice for conservation in the Genebank.
Identified local rice pests
In 1994, IRRI started an Integrated Pest Management program in Cambodia to collect pests and gather data to understand the damage they can do to rice fields. They do this to also develop management practices. A total of 213 arthropod species and 60 weed species were identified in lowland rice. More than 1,000 lowland rice farmers were interviewed nationally to document their pest management practices. By the end of the dry season of 1997, 107 fields had been included in a database to measure the effect of different rice pests on yield.
Improved postharvest management
From 2005 to 2008 IRRI and Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) pilot tested postharvest technologies like air-tight storage systems, quality assessment kits, and methods for improving rice mills and providing rice market information in eight villages in the Cambodian provinces of Battambang and Prey Veng.
In collaboration with Nong Lam University, IRRI also helped to introduce combine harvesters and flat bed dryers to Cambodia.
In 2009 to 2013 ADB funded the pilot testing and out-scaling of these technologies in six provinces. By end of 2013, about 200 flatbed dryers have been installed by the private sector, about 5,000 combine harvesters were in use, and the supply chain for airtight storage systems has been established. Recommendations developed by the ADB-supported project have been included in the Cambodia Rice Strategy.
In 1998, IRRI piloted laser-assisted land leveling in Cambodia under the Cambodia-IRRI-Australia Project (CIAP). By year 2000, around 200 fields had been leveled to demonstrate the technology. The agriculture sector at the time, however, was not ready to adopt the technology.
In 9 September 2012, partners in Cambodia held a laser-leveling field day, involving 30 hectares of farmers' field. Farmers observed a significant 20-30% increase in yield. In the same year, the ADB-funded IRRI postharvest project reintroduced the technology and, to date, eight units are in use around the country.
From 1971 to 2016, more than 250 Cambodian nationals participated in IRRI short courses and training programs and have, in turn, given training to farmers in 46 villages, reaching about 13,000 families.
Nine Cambodian scholars (six doctoral, two masteral, and a baccalaureate) have completed their courses in partnership with IRRI, as have an intern and 27 on-the-job trainees. To help reduce postharvest losses, IRRI's projects in Cambodia, with support from ADB and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), enabled the training of 276 researchers, farmer intermediaries, and manufacturers of agricultural equipment by December 2014.
The Raab and Abdon (2000) study on the impact of CIAP’s human capital development and information efforts (1987-1999) was a good model for assessing the impact of investments in human capital development from the national perspective. This is through the use of the country’s database, their direct experience, and knowledge about the contributions of IRRI-related alumni.
The authors assessed CIAP’s impact on three levels: (1) in terms of the project’s training and information dissemination accomplishments— numbers and categories of beneficiaries of project-sponsored training; (2) institutional impact—the degree to which the training has contributed to improved individual and/or organizational performance; and (3) production impact resulting from collective efforts of CIAP alumni.
On accomplishments, CIAP had directly supported close to 6,000 training opportunities (13% for women) for over 1,600 individuals (12% women) since its inception in 1987. Beneficiaries came from all of the project’s direct organizations and also included substantial numbers of representatives from development agencies and national academic institutions. On average, these individuals were able to attend three training events apiece through a variety of mechanisms, including nondegree training (abroad and in country), degree training, local and international conferences, and study tours.
A major focus of the training was on developing a core of scientific expertise at the national level. The staff of the newly recognized Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) was given particularly intensive attention. CARDI staff received an average of 16 opportunities apiece, including years of OJT and 12 postgraduate training opportunities. They represented 60% of the 42 individuals going on study tours and benefited from 90% of the 31 opportunities provided to attend international conferences.
A rice-based farming system forms the backbone of Cambodia’s agricultural sector. Rice in Cambodia is grown on four different ecosystems: rainfed lowland, rainfed upland, deepwater, and irrigated land.
On average, Cambodia’s rice yield has increased at 5.4% per year since 1994, from 1.6 tons per hectare (ha) between 1994 and 1997 to 2.3 ton/ha between 2003 and 2008. This yield increase has been largely attributed to improvements in access to fertilizers and other inputs. The productivity figures for dry season crops are much higher than those of the wet season crops, mainly due to the use of higher-yield seeds and better water management during the dry season.
In Cambodia, rice is mainly produced during the wet season, which accounts for more than 75% of total paddy output per year. However, dry season paddy cultivation remains an important component of rice cultivation, particularly for consumers with a clear preference for dry season varieties.
c/o General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA)
No. 54B/49F, Street 395-656, Sangkat Toeuk Laak 3,
Khan Tuol Kok, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Office Phone: 855-23 6203838
- Cambodia: Machines of Progress
- River of Rice Redux: Homage to life along the Mekong
- Farmers tell their stories: Laser leveling of rice fields in Southeast Asia
You may also view IRRI's YouTube playlist about Cambodia.
Rice Today features
Media release and news items
- Cambodian farmers adopting climate-smart rice and technologies
- Cambodia and IRRI commemorate 30-year partnership for rice sector growth
- Cambodia and IRRI commit to further boost country’s rice industry
- Cambodian officials to review impact of farmers' adoption of climate-smart rice
- Cambodia assesses new technologies for safe and sustainable rice straw management