Amid a shift towards modern farming techniques, where machinery gradually replaces domesticated water buffaloes, Hok Hang, a farmer hailing from Kampong Cham province, stands out. He persists in the practice of raising buffaloes for both their labour value and as a business endeavour.

Hang, a proactive agrarian, embarked on a venture in 2019, establishing a farm covering approximately 50ha in the province’s Batheay district. He sourced about 20 buffaloes from local providers, carefully ensuring they thrived in a natural habitat.

“As a child from a rural village, I had a close bond with these animals. I personally witnessed them as a vital, active workforce on farms, actively participating in agricultural tasks. This is why I chose to raise water buffaloes, even when many farmers opt for machinery. I hold firm to the enduring worth of these animals and their role in promoting sustainable farming,” he says.

He says each female is capable of birthing one calf annually, and as the number of female in the herd increases, so does the overall offspring count.

“When it comes to breeding, I opt for purchasing only the finest local female buffaloes. I invest over 20 million riel [$5,000] for a pair of female buffaloes, given their exceptional quality. By ensuring both males and females exhibit substantial size and stature, we enhance the likelihood of their offspring inheriting these desirable traits,” he says.

“Throughout my years of buffalo husbandry, our total count including males, females and calves has grown to nearly 200. To accommodate this sizable herd, we require extensive pastureland, covering approximately 50ha, where they can graze naturally. I’ve also leased a portion of land for cultivating grass to feed the buffaloes,” he adds.

Despite his efforts in breeding and raising water buffaloes for sale, Hang has been unable to sell even a single one from his herd.

“I am willing to sell my buffaloes to interested buyers. The prices can vary, with an average ranging from 3 to 4 million riel [$750 to $1,000] each. The majority of my buffaloes are of superior quality, suitable for diverse purposes, be it for raising or selling for meat. These versatile animals mainly graze on natural grass and do not require mixed feed,” he says.

Hang adds that managing his herd proves efficient with just two workers, as the water buffaloes graze freely and naturally move together in a group. This minimises the need for an extensive workforce. His buffaloes thrive on a diet of grass alone, eliminating the requirement for commercially purchased feed. Additionally, their robust growth can be attributed to selective breeding. To ensure their wellbeing, it becomes necessary to implement pest control measures, including injections, to safeguard against parasites like lice.

Farming machinery shift

Sim Thavireak, head of the Kampong Cham’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, tells The Post that the province is home to around 20,000 domesticated water buffaloes, primarily concentrated near the lake area. He says a significant number of farmers have embraced machinery for agricultural tasks. This shift is primarily motivated by the efficiency and time-saving advantages offered by machinery, particularly in furrowing and harvesting.

“The use of machinery for ploughing is now the choice of the majority of farmers, with fewer than 10 per cent adhering to traditional methods. However, when it comes to buffalo farming, the common practice involves either raising them for meat or for breeding,” he says.

Nhem Rom, the proprietor of a water buffalo farm in Sambor commune’s O’Por village of Takeo province’s Traing district, says his farm currently tends to 70 buffaloes. The majority of these find buyers from Vietnam, commanding prices of nearly 4 million riel each.

“In Vietnam, buffalo meat enjoys greater popularity than in Cambodia. Prices here are comparable, but when it comes to cows, their prices tend to range either below or above 1 million riel,” he says.

Chav Pengnam, director of the NGO Cambodia Natural Agriculture Development, says the decreasing involvement of families in raising either cows or buffaloes has led to a shift away from traditional tilling practices towards the prevailing trend of using machinery. The transition from traditional ploughing to machinery is primarily motivated by the substantial time-saving and enhanced efficiency it provides. However, some farmers also continue to heavily depend on hired labour for tasks like turning the soil, fertilising and machine-assisted harvesting.

“Some farmers contend that farming lacks profitability when they depend on hired labour. In truth, some farmers seldom tend to their own farms, resulting in a substantial decline in animal husbandry,” he says.

Khim Finan, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, tells The Post that farming practices in Cambodia, especially among farmers, have increasingly adopted modern methods. This transition towards modern agriculture has diminished the dependence on domesticated bovines for labour.

“This change aims to enhance competition in production. We have observed that persisting with traditional methods can place farmers at a disadvantage. This is due to the substantial time investment and elevated costs associated with such practices,” he says.

Finan adds that the ministry is committed to promoting a shift from small-scale family agriculture to industrial agriculture. Additionally, the ministry actively encourages the adoption of technologies designed to lower production costs and enable individuals to elevate their output and productivity.