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'Rice Intensification' Takes Off, Group Says

Rice farmers who began an experimental system of planting as early as 2000 are starting to reap tall, bountiful benefits, the aid agency Oxfam and Cambodian farmers said recently.

Rice planted "against all…experience and instincts" of Cambodia's farmers, are producing more rice, with no chemicals.

A new program asked that farmers to abandon chemical fertilizers, plant fewer seeds and not flood paddies, Oxfam said in a statement earlier this month.

"The same seeds used to produce plants that came up to my knees," farmer Mey Som said in a statement. "Now they reach above my head."

The transformation of the rice plants comes from following a plan called the System of Rice Intensification, which was developed in Madagascar, an island off the east coast of Africa, in the 1980s. The system was introduced to Cambodia by the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, or Cedac, in 1999.

At the heart of the system is the promotion of the growth of a rice shoot's roots, by transplanting full-grain seeds, using nursery beds, wider spacing between each plant, shallow transplanting and other methods.

The result is higher rice stalks and more rice grains.

Cedac Director Yang Saing Koma told VOA Khmer the first step was to convince the farmers to use an organic growing method, so that they could sell in organic markets.

Only 200 families at first participated, he said, but year after year, more farmers began to trust the system.

"First, the sale of the products brings good value," Yang Saing Koma said.

The cost is low, too, he said, because farmers don't have to purchase expensive chemical fertilizers.

"Furthermore, it is good for their health and environmental friendly. All of these reasons catch their attention," he said.

Now, 4,000 families use the system, he said, and "it might go up."