How did Cambodian rice farmers react to a 6’4″, 280 pound American guy trying to convince them to grow vegetables in Straw Bales?
- Published on Friday, 10 March 2017 19:10
- Joel Karsten
- 0 Comments
Here are a few pictures from my trip to Cambodia this year, showing the Cambodian adaptation of the STRAW BALE GARDENS® method. It is key to first understand a few important things about Cambodia and the issues they face in providing food for their population. Cambodia is a very big producer of rice, it is grown in rice paddies all over the countryside. The rice harvest is usually done in July/August and most farmers own and farm about 2.5 acres of land. Approximately 75% of the population still works in agricultural production. The biggest agricultural production difficulty comes each fall when the floods come. Arriving in September and staying for about three months or until later in November, during this time most of the country is ten feet under water, and thus growing anything during this time is traditionally impossible. Once the flood water recedes, then the drought comes and there is no rain for the next three months. This means essentially no water to water crops which see 100+ Farenheit temperatures every day during this time. There are few wells available, and most are not capable of irrigating a large area.
The Korean Trade Partners (KOTRA) and several Non-Governmental Organizations who have a significant presence in Cambodia and provide much assistance to the agriculture industry in Cambodia, has created a plan to help individual farmers become more self-sufficient and their farms more sustainable. The first step is to use a large backhoe to dig a large hole, deep, long and wide somewhere on the farmers 2.5 acre plot. The excavated soil gets piled up to create an artificial plateau. The soil excavated is not conducive to production of plants, it is heavy clay, and once packed down cannot easily be turned. This plateau area provides a great location, above the flood water level, where the farmer can set up a straw bale garden. Straw is plentiful, because the plentiful summer rice fields produce a large amount of chaff after harvest. Currently most farmers simply burn the empty fields after the straw dried out, and this causes a great deal of pollution in the air and CO2 release into the atmosphere. This is a problem, and a big one which the STRAW BALE GARDENS® method. Farmers could generate an additional income source if they had a market to sell or utilize this straw in a better way. Another problem hindering this is they do not have mechanical balers, so they must make the bales by hand using a homemade baler. Many of the poor farmers cannot read or write so in order to teach them the STRAW BALE GARDENS® method, it must be done in person, by example, so that is what we are doing. The people from local Non-Governmental Organizations, as well as regional agriculture specialists from Cambodia were at the classroom presentations, and will go back and teach their local farmers the techniques. The straw bale garden will allow the farmer to grow crops even during the flood period, especially since the straw bales are great at draining away excess moisture, so daily rainfall isn’t a problem. Crops thrive, including dietary necessities that until now they have relied upon outside government and other charitable organizations to provide. Starches such as potatoes, squash, cucumbers, and other legumes like green beans and peas, and many other crops are now able to grow year around in the tropical climate of Cambodia. When the dry season comes, those deep holes left by the backhoe are then filled with flood water and ground water that seeps in. It is non-potable water, but can be used to irrigate crops, and this allows the straw bales to be watered even during the dry season and continue to produce.
For those who cannot dig a deep hole, there is another great option and that is to build a garden that will float. We have endeavored to build a large platform of bamboo or other material that is buoyant and will support the weight of a bale of straw which is also going to be soaked in water. When the floods arrive the garden floats up with the flood water, then down again when the rains leave. It is a simple way to use the plentiful supply of bamboo that surrounds them everywhere, to make these floating gardens.
FEEDING THE HUNGRY:
We have all heard it asked a million times “why can’t we solve the problem of world hunger?” and the best answer most people arrive at is to send grain or food from one part of the planet to another. Then those people with guns and power take the charitable gifts meant for the people, and divide them up to the hungry populations as they see fit, making those with guns even more powerful, and keeping the population under their thumbs. This solution, our solution, using a hole in the ground and the STRAW BALE GARDENS™ method, does the job so much better. Allows individuals to feed themselves and keeps them from being at the mercy of others for food.