Situated in Preah Vihear province, the Northern Plains of Cambodia is the largest remaining intact block of a unique landscape that once covered much of Indochina and one of the most spectacular and important areas of south-east Asia for biodiversity. This amazing area is of global importance for forest and wildlife protection. Local communities within the area are amongst the poorest in Cambodia, and are dependent upon on forest and land resources for their livelihoods. Farmers primarily rely on subsistence rice farming, creating direct competition with wildlife for the use of the surrounding habitat.
Since 2009 the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Sansom Mlup Prey (SMP), in partnership with Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment and the Forestry Administration, has been implementing an innovative Payment for Environmental Services (PES) scheme, Wildlife Friendly ‘Ibis Rice’, to engage local people in conservation whilst meeting their aspirations for development. The project was designed to offer financial incentives to local communities in exchange for their participation in conservation agreements to protect important wildlife habitat for some of the world’s most threatened water bird species, including the Critically Endangered giant and white-shouldered ibises. These agreements were part of a WCS conservation strategy to protect key habitats for Critically Endangered waterbirds and over 50 other Globally Threatened species, while improving local livelihoods and preventing commercial land grabbing in the Northern Plains of Cambodia.
Ibis Rice’s Village Marketing Network members have rapidly increased to more than 1,000 farmers, while the project has expanded overall rice purchases and sales, expanded the business, and engaged the private sector to improve process efficiency and at the same time land tenure for local people has been secured and livelihoods improved for many local communities in our project area. In February 2016, the Wildlife-Friendly™ Ibis Rice received organic certification to U.S. and E.U. standards. A proportion of Ibis Rice farmers are required to kept records that meet international standards, prohibiting use of chemicals and ensuring effective management of rice paddy according to organic management plan guidelines. This recognition will allow Ibis Rice to be officially labeled as ‘Organic’ in the international market. This means there could be many new opportunities internationally for Ibis Rice in the future.
“This recognition is a very important and good news for Cambodian organic farmers as their efforts and commitments are recognized by international community. It will provide local communities with more incentive and gives long term, high-value linkage to international market,” said Nicholas Spencer, Conservation Livelihoods Advisor with Sansom Mlup Prey organization.
“It also has worth to improve our monitoring on chemical compliance for conservation area, and in long term it secures a business model that means our rice commands a high value as a commodity in the international market. Ibis Rice has to always look opportunities to improve, and look for opportunity to export it to international market when we are ready,” Nicholas added.