In the peaceful locality of Prey Veng village, situated in the Srayong commune of Kulen district in Preah Vihear province, a revolution in sustainable farming is underway.

Chhorn Chhim, a local farmer of over 20 years, has been a steadfast member of the community. Recognising the nutrient potential of organic materials like animal manure, ash, hay and plant leaves, he built a spacious composting shed that can hold more than seven tonnes of the natural fertiliser.

Erected with the support of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), the location serves as a communal hub where villagers bring the natural ingredients to produce the product.

Speaking to The Post from his zinc-roofed shed, Chhim said the operation had overseen a large-scale harvest of compost involving two villages at the beginning of the month.

“Initially, I started making it on a small scale within my family. Over time, and after attending various technical training courses, I began producing on a larger scale. The participation of other villages has been crucial in achieving higher yields,” he added.

Prey Veng, Dong Phlet and Tmat Paeuy were all involved in large-scale production for the first time this year, yielding over 20 tonnes to date.

“This year we have created nearly 10 tonnes of compost at this facility. We weigh and record the raw materials brought by each villager to avoid any conflicts of interest. When the time comes to harvest the resulting product, it is distributed proportionally among the villagers,” he said.

Sam Sak, the village chief for over a decade, said the communal effort was made possible due to training and equipment donated by Sansom Mlup Prey (SMP), a local NGO that supports agricultural livelihoods and provides an alternative to logging and poaching.

“As the village chief, I’m very happy to see the people involved in this undertaking. We can’t use chemical fertilisers, and I consistently warn against their use. This nutrient rich mix is our natural alternative, and it’s heartwarming to see the residents working together to produce it. This will undoubtedly contribute to our long-term success and health,” he said.

This isn’t the village’s first foray into sustainable agriculture. According to Chhim, over 50 households began cultivating organic rice through the Organic Wildlife-Friendly Rice, or Ibis Rice, programme in 2008. This initiative was particularly relevant for the village, as it supports endangered bird species like the giant Ibis, white-winged wild duck and crane.

Sak hopes that the achievements of this endeavour will inspire more villagers to join the Ibis project. While the number of families involved has fluctuated over the years, he is optimistic that this joint venture will bolster the village’s commitment to organic farming.

As of 2023, the programme has garnered a national membership of 2,371 farmers. Among them, Chhim isn’t just an advocate but also a beneficiary. Farming over 8ha, he not only gets a better price for his sustainably grown rice but also receives technical support to improve his yield and adapt to changing weather conditions.

Suos Vuthy, an agronomy coordinator for SMP, told The Post that the organisation provided technique training, plant cutting and compost mixing machines as well as temperature, humidity and pH measuring equipment for the effort. He said the goal is to produce 30 tonnes next year.

The USAID Greening Prey Lang Project confirmed the positive impact of soil enrichment on crop yield. According to their statistics, rice fields that used natural mulch, cover crops and soil aeration techniques witnessed a 58 per cent increase in yield compared to conventional fields.

Chhim’s initiative is a model of community-led, sustainable agriculture that promises not just healthier crops but also a brighter future for the villagers of Prey Veng and beyond.