Within the tranquil heart of Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary in Stung Treng province, nearly 100 households have embarked on an adventure into rice farming.

Remarkably, about 90 per cent of these households have transitioned into organic farming through an innovative arm of organic rice growers IBIS Rice.

For this year, social enterprise Rising Phoenix – a partner of the USAID Morodok Baitong – is zeroing in on those farmers still on the fence, persuading them to hop on the organic bandwagon, reveals Mak Sopheap, head of the community development unit at Rising Phoenix.

“We are relentlessly working to enlighten people about the programme’s advantages, and we’re filled with anticipation to see more sanctuary farmers joining us,” he said.

Sopheap emphasised the prevailing notion among locals – a mistaken belief in their land’s inadequacy, leading to unnecessary deforestation.

To join the eco-friendly IBIS Rice project, it is imperative for farmers to comprehend their land use in its entirety. They are expected to ink a conservation agreement, promising not to violate the sanctity of the land, refrain from hunting, and avoid deforestation or using chemicals on their rice fields.

“In the span of seven fruitful years, we’ve demarcated 1,400 farmlands, both within and surrounding the Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary. Our committed team persistently oversees conservation compliance, studying and documenting the farmers' land use to curb any further encroachment into the sanctuary,” Sopheap elaborated.

He shed light on how human activities could seamlessly blend with nature, educating farmers on peacefully cohabiting with wild fauna.

However, coexistence is not without challenges. Farmers often dwell near their fields during the six-month cultivation period, relying on their dogs for protection and hunting.

Further, endangered avifauna such as white-shouldered ibises find these fields attractive, often nesting nearby.

The quandary is that while these fields act as a lure for birds with a plentiful diet, they simultaneously expose these birds to potential human and canine threats.

“We are tirelessly striving to make the government realise the considerable efforts and grit needed to manage these protected areas where people have not only cultivated rice but also tapped into the natural resources for their sustenance,” Sopheap conveyed.