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PARTNERSHIPS FOR ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT IN RESEARCH (PEER)
Cycle 7 (2018 Deadline)


Increasing the adoption of nutrient management innovations by Cambodian vegetable farmers

PI: Leangsrun Chea (cleangsrun@rua.edu.kh), Royal University of Agriculture (RUA)
U.S. Partner: Zachary Stewart, Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification, Kansas State University
Dates: February 2019 - January 2021

Project Overview

Vegetable production in Cambodia is largely constrained by access to fertilizer and water. Given that the humid tropical soils of Cambodia are highly weathered, crop nutrient availability tends to be relatively low. Soil amendments such as cattle manure, farmyard compost, and locally available fertilizers are applied in limited amounts to improve soil properties, but mineral fertilizers are usually not affordable by subsistence-oriented farmers, leading to widespread nutrient deficiency in smallholder vegetable crop production. Farmers often attempt to supplement the available nutrients in the soil by applying manure, but household manure availability varies greatly depending on the magnitude of livestock integration in the local production systems. Therefore, manure applications often do not meet plant nutrient demands. This loss in productivity, combined with reduced access to available resources and technology, subsequently exacerbates the food insecurity of rural smallholder farmers. Farmers often feel uncertain about how much manure and/or mineral fertilizers to apply in order to maximize yield and profitability. Inappropriate nutrient management often results in low yield and poor nutritional quality of the vegetables produced and inversely can have negative environmental consequences. Therefore, proper nutrient management practices are essential for Cambodian vegetable farmers to ensure the successful production of quality vegetables. Several fertilizer recommendations for horticultural production currently exist; however, adoption has remained low, and fertilizer under and over supply is common. There is need for the incorporation of bidirectional learning in the research and dissemination pathway that allows farmers to experiment with new fertilizer recommendation innovations and that learns from farmer feedback to adapt the innovation to better match their needs.

Currently, through the financial support provided by USAID through the Feed the Future Horticulture Innovation Lab, the project “Multidimensional Trade-off Analysis of Integrated Animal-Horticulture Farming Systems for Improved Smallholder Farmer Adoption Recommendation” is conducting on-station vegetable nutrient management trials that will improve nutrient management recommendations of both inorganic and manure based fertilizers. The current PEER project addresses a significant need for additional research and extension activities that promote the uptake and adoption of this nutrient management decision support innovation. The project is intended to disseminate the adaptive results of the previously conducted research to farmers and extension agents. Even when appropriate fertilizer recommendations have been developed, there are still many barriers preventing their adoption and use. Bidirectional learning between scientists and extension workers and farmers is a critical process in overcoming these barriers and increasing technology adoption, and the current PEER project is aimed at facilitating those efforts. Through the adoption of optimized and efficient nutrient management for vegetable crops, Cambodian farmers will be able to improve their vegetable production efficiency and, ultimately, their vegetable productivity and profitability. The innovation will help diversify household diets and enhance income generation by supplying vegetables to markets. This innovation also minimizes negative impacts on the environment by reducing nutrient losses through runoff and leaching due to over application.

Summary of Recent Activities

During the second quarter of 2019, a Master’s student and two undergraduates were recruited to join the project for their thesis research. Also during this period, the PI Dr. Leangsrun Chea and his team have developed a baseline household survey questionnaire and tested its feasibility to see if any improvements were needed. Dr. Chea, his co-PI Dr. Lyda Hok, and their technicians have met regularly during the second quarter of 2019 to share feedback on the questionnaire development and activity plan for conducting the survey. The survey aims to understand farmer's perception of vegetable nutrient management and of using living mulch in vegetable production. Accompanied by their U.S. partner Dr. Zachary Stewart, the team also visited field sites of the Horticulture Innovation Lab-funded project “Multidimensional Trade-off Analysis of Integrated Animal-Horticulture Farming Systems for Improved Smallholder Farmer Adoption Recommendation” to see the potential technologies that could be transferred to the farmers in this PEER-funded project. They learned that living mulch is one of the more promising technologies that could be adopted by farmers.

During the second half of the year, the researchers will conduct their field survey and evaluate its results. They will also begin the farmers’ field trials to pair farmers’ existing technology with their introduced living mulch. These field trials will be conducted with a minimum of 50 farmers in groups varying based on the types of vegetable they grow and the soil properties on their farms. An on-station experiment may also be conducted to obtain more results for scientific publication.


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