The Wildlife Conservation Society of Cambodia’s (WCS) Ibis Rice Scheme project has expanded to the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri province.

The sanctuary is home to 78 farmer families and the expansion follows on the success of similar projects in Preah Vihear and Stung Treng provinces.

WCS country director Ken Serey Rotha said on Monday WCS’ Ibis Rice Scheme project was originally extended to the area last year as a 29-family pilot project.

He said there are now 78 families in three villages – Pou Char, Pou Kong and O’Chral.

Serey Rotha said the Mondulkiri project follows successful initiatives in the Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary in Preah Vihear province and the Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary in Stung Treng province’s Siem Pang district.

Project members reported receiving a higher market price of between 1,200 riel and 1,700 riel ($0.29 and $0.41) per kilogramme for their rice, depending on the type of rice grown.

“We require member farmers to follow key principles associated with respecting the environment and protecting natural resources to grow rice with organic principles without chemical fertilisers and pesticides. We monitor their farming activities regularly,” Serey Rotha said.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra could not be reached for comment on Monday. But he said during his visit of the Ibis Rice Scheme project in Mondulkiri on October 7 that the ministry supports the principles and conditions the project has set for farmers to implement and obey. By following the principles, buyers are willing to pay a higher market price.

He said that is the main motivation for farmers who participate in the project.

“Farmers can earn more just by following the WCS principles of protecting the environment, natural resources and wildlife and using land that is not cleared forest land.

“Farmers must adhere to the principles of technical cultivation, with training from WCS officials and development partners to ensure the quality of all cultivated rice and show compliance with the correct technical standards,” he said.

Pheaktra requested WCS expand the Ibis Rice Scheme project to other protected areas, where the organisation has signed an agreement with the ministry to expand organic rice production, improve the livelihoods of local people and protect the environment.

Clot Ke, a 51-year-old resident of Pochar village, in Mondulkiri’s Sre Preah commune, said on Monday his family joined the Ibis Rice Scheme project last year.

He said after becoming a member, he harvested more rice and sold it at a higher price.

“This project has made my family earn more money from selling rice. I have learned a lot of techniques with WCS on how to grow rice. It makes our lives much easier,” Ke said.