Simphone, a role model of sustainable agriculture in his village.
Simphone is from lao loum ethnic group. He lives in Ban Hay Nieng, in Kham district, Xiengkhouang province, with his six children and his wife. To feed his family and address their own needs, he grows rice paddy, vegetables and farms poultry. Next to his vegetable garden and rice fields, he can also rely on few tropical fruit trees.
Simphone spends three hours in his garden, every morning, to take care of his vegetables and his poultry. Then, on the afternoon, he goes to work in the field while his wife stays at home doing the household chores. Eventually, on the late afternoon, he comes back home to take care of his vegetable garden for one last hour. When his kids are not in school, they give him a hand with the farm work. Her wife is in charge of the sale. Usually, she goes to the local market once to twice a week to sell their food products but oftentimes, traders from the surroundings come to her place to buy their production and sell it at better price in town.
Like most of the farmers of Ban Hay Nieng, Simphone has used chemicals for years to grow his rice and vegetables. In 2012, he took part to the technical training on sustainable agriculture practices organized by CCL and SAEDA. Since then, he stopped putting chemicals in his vegetable garden, using biological fertilizers instead. After this new practice was introduced (Year 0), Simphone didn’t see his yield increase straight away (in Year 1) but he could see a change only in Year 2. His annual crop of vegetables increased enough to allow a production surplus that he could sell. Thanks to his increased yield of vegetables, he generates more profit next to his rice production. This is a first positive impact but the major change for him is that, he and his family have improved their daily diet intake, covering energy and nutritional requirement all year long now.
The family used to eat the entire part of their vegetable production and they used to eat vegetables only 4 to 6 month in the year but today, they can eat seasonal vegetables and aromatic herbs all trough the year. According to him, now this is only a small part of the production which is eaten (30%) whereas the major part, the production surplus, can be sold (70%).
Through the “Right to Food of Ethnic minorities” Project in Xiengkhouang (2012-2015), CCL and the local Non-Profit Association SAEDA (Sustainable Agriculture and Environment Association), offered farmers a chance to change their farming way benefiting from the technical training activity on sustainable agricultural practices. Simphone has learnt how to produce his own organic fertilizer, biocompost.
Thanks to this composting method, his soil fertility is constantly renewed and its fertility has improved a lot since the beginning of the project. Thus, Simphone doesn’t need to increase the chemical inputs year after year anymore. “Concretely, in terms of visual aspect, my vegetables are more beautiful than before. Above all, they are much more tasteful”. Simphone is proud of his products and he is glad to have been part of this project experiment. He is the first farmer of his village to have given up on agrochemicals. On his rice plots, he only uses wood dust but no more chemicals. By adopting new sustainable organic practices, he wanted to protect his soils and restore their fertility. According to him, it seems he has made the right decision.
Most of the farmers of Ban Hay Nieng still use nitrogen fertilizers in their na (rice fields) as well as pesticides on their off-season crops (grown on the same na). At first, a lot of farmers were doubtful regarding these new practices. They didn’t want to take any risk by changing their habits but since they saw Simphone’s last harvests, they seemed to become more curious about it. They wanted to get more information on these sustainable methods, knowing where to find sawdust and how to compost organic fertilizer. Simphone does not sell his vegetables at a better price than before, though he is satisfied of the project. Indeed, his agricultural production has increased a lot and the food status of his family is now more secure than ever.
He is a model of success and accomplishment for all his neighbors. For now, he is one of the few farmers (as far as we know) to offer organic products on the market (local market). Simphone could have increased the selling price of his vegetables but he didn’t. He keeps selling them to equal price as conventional farming’s ones. Nevertheless, Simphone represents an alternative path of development for all farm operators across the region, for smallholders especially.
By promoting the knowledge of sustainable agriculture and the know-how of organic farming methods, Simphone can incent other farmers of his village and from other villages around, to adopt good practices. Eventually, they can build up a farmer organization and altogether reaps the fruits of what they have sown. Changing old habits require time and patience. Family farming and organic farming are moving forward and they will eventually meet.