Since we began our Rural Assistance Program in 1999, the constant scourge of our farmers has been debt; the inevitable consequence of illness in the family or the crop failures which so often occur during years with inadequate or delayed rainfall early in the rice growing season. For most of our farmers, the only significant asset they own is their land so debts taken on during very tough times too often result in the loss of their land, leaving them doomed to a state of perpetual poverty. We therefore saw that the logical next step for our program to improve the lives and livelihoods of our farmers would be to help them not only to feed their families but to garner cash income from their hard work so that they might build up some savings; a cushion against the hard times which inevitably afflict farmers throughout the world. We also see cash crops as the best way to discourage the widespread practice of leaving their farms during the annual dry season to seek work as laborers in Phnom Penh. While the wells which we have drilled for our farmers are not generally suitable for irrigating rice fields, they do allow the farmers to grow fruits, vegetables and small fields of moringa and thus afford them the opportunity to remain at work on their farms even during the long annual dry season.
Our successful effort to promote chemical free farming, crop diversification, organic vegetable and fruit cultivation and aquaculture to more than five hundred wells which we have drilled to ensure our farmers a reliable supply of clean and safe water has largely eliminated the widespread hunger which formerly afflicted our target area. We are now seeking ways to help those farmers to go beyond mere subsistence agriculture and to help them to earn a reliable cash income from their farms. Our new effort to promote cultivation of moringa as a cash crop will, we hope, address the scourge of indebtedness as well as discouraging the practice of migration to the city during the annual dry season. We hope the cash income from growing moringa might help them to remain productively employed on their land throughout the year.
In late 2016 our team laid the groundwork for this new effort to promote widespread moringa cultivation when they selected fifty farmers to form a pilot group for this project. Each farmer has been encouraged to dedicate a small amount of land either in the area immediately surrounding his house – what we call the “homestead” - or else in a portion of his rice field and to plant and raise organic moringa in that dedicated area. We have contracted with a small moringa processor in Phnom Penh to purchase the moringa leaves at a fixed price so our farmers are now guaranteed a demand and a fixed price for their moringa leaves. Most of our farmers have rice land averaging between 0.5 and 3.0 hectares (about 1 – 7 acres). Based on the price at which our team has contracted to sell the leaves and our expected annual from each moringa plant, we anticipate that a moringa field of only 0.1 hectare (about ¼ acre) could produce cash income of as much as $2,000 per year. This would represent a very significant improvement in the family income and life style for most of our farmers and, if managed carefully, should provide the necessary cash cushion against adversity commonly brought on by illness or crop failures.
Of the fifty farmers we have selected for the pilot moringa project, forty already have a water well on their farms. For the remaining ten farmers we will need to raise the required funds to sponsor new wells, without which they cannot participate in the moringa program.
At Kasumisou Foundation we are very excited at the prospects that this new moringa cultivation effort, in combination with the many sound farming practices which our program has promoted over the past eighteen years, will take our farmers and their families another step closer to financial security.