The initiative taken by Cambodian rice farmers to aid in the conservation of vulnerable sarus cranes has seen a significant increase this year. From 41 to 119 families, more farmers are engaging in wildlife-friendly rice farming, contributing to the expansion of the birds’ safe habitat, according to national conservation organisation, NatureLife Cambodia.

NatureLife’s unique ‘Crane Rice’ project, now in its third year, champions eco-friendly farming practices that favour the sarus crane and other waterfowl. Increasing involvement has seen the sanctuary area around the Anlung Pring Protected Landscape in Kampot province expand from 37.5 to 125.61 hectares. Consequently, these ‘Crane Rice’ fields provide an extensive buffer zone and supplemental feeding grounds for the sarus crane population

“The majority of rice fields bordering the protected landscape are now registered as ‘Crane Rice’ fields,” NatureLife Cambodia stated on their social media platform on June 19, adding that the expanded initiative delivers food security for the vulnerable bird species.

NatureLife’s executive director, Bou Vorsak, disclosed on June 20 that the project primarily operates within Boeung Sala Kang Tbong and Prek Kroes in Kampot province’s Kampong Trach district, a habitat for the endangered cranes. Farmers’ enthusiasm for the project has grown due to the reciprocal benefits the ‘Crane Rice’ initiative offers.

Vorsak explains that the programme incentivises farmers to plant crane-friendly rice varieties by providing native and preferred seeds during the first two years. Participating farmers also receive organic fertilisers for three years. Furthermore, the project buys the harvested rice at a premium if the farmers adhere to the project’s 12 specific criteria.

“Through the project, farmers are rewarded if they abide by the project’s 12-point conditions. Besides receiving the seeds, fertilisers, and a higher price, farmers also acquire training in innovative techniques,” Vorsak added.

Initiated by the Ministry of Environment, NatureLife Cambodia, and BirdLife International Cambodia, with support from IUCN-Netherlands, the project aims to both improve local community livelihoods and conserve Cambodia’s sarus cranes. These majestic birds are the tallest flying species in Southeast Asia and are currently listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

To further boost the crane conservation effort, NatureLife Cambodia is on a mission to find new markets, expand rice quantity, and secure farmers’ rice prices. This proactive step will ensure the sustainable growth of the ‘Crane Rice’ project, thereby fortifying the efforts to protect the rare bird species.