The Early Years
02 - December - 2011

Under Phase One of the IRRI-Indochina Program, which covered the period from March 1987 until the end of the year, IRRI appointed an Australian agronomist to begin a program of cooperation and assistance in Cambodia. A total of 11 IRRI scientists, including the Director-General, visited Cambodia during that year.

IRRI also dispatched a socio-economic team, comprised of an agricultural economist and an anthropologist in November 1987 to undertake in-depth studies of the constraints and opportunities for increasing rice production and improving the productivity of rice growing areas.  The IRRI team visited representative rice growing environments and held discussions with farmers and government officials.  It was concluded considerable opportunities existed for improvements in rice land productivity despite, the then current, constraints of low rice prices and problems in the government support system. 

The team recommended research was needed in the following areas:
  • Integrated nutrient management, with emphasis on the use of green manures and other organic sources;
  • Evaluation of traditional and modern rice varieties;
  • Assessment of water management systems, both traditional and introduced;
  • Integrated pest management;
  • Evaluation of farm implements; and,
  • Agro-ecosystem classification
The main objective of Phase One of the IRRI-Indochina Program was to identify and design projects for implementation in Indochina over the next several years.  Based on two years experience in Cambodia, IRRI had now designed a collaborative project to be implemented over a three-year period commencing early in 1988.

At the time the average national yield of rice was 1.4 tons per hectare - the lowest in Asia.  As previously mentioned, options for increased production included area expansion (over 600,000ha lay abandoned) and intensification.  The urgency of solutions to the country’s food production problems favoured the latter option, as area expansion was severely limited by labour and draft shortages that were unlikely to be overcome for some time.

The Australian Development Assistance Bureau (ADAB) Ministerial Submission for Phase Two described Cambodia’s rice research capabilities as “almost non-existent”.  The submission, made in March 1988, marked a shift in focus of Australia’s agricultural aid towards Cambodia, and confirmed the partnership with IRRI in developing “from a very low starting level, a national rice research and extension infrastructure [sic]”.

The total cost of the IRRI-Kampuchea Project (Phase Two) was US$2.31million over the three-year period commencing in March 1988, and eventually was extended a further six months without additional funding (as was Phase Three).  It was designed to provide support for the establishment and development of the Kampuchean Rice Research and Development Institute (KARRDI).  At this time the Ministry of Agriculture set up a joint project design team to identify a suitable site for KARRDI and to develop a blueprint for its program emphasis and infrastructure development.  The actual cost of infrastructure was not at that stage covered under the project.  However, the Cambodian government had requested IRRI to identify a suitable donor or consortium of donors to support infrastructure development at KARRDI.

IRRI is confident that the establishment of a country project in Kampuchea, including expanded training opportunities for national scientists and technicians, will result in a strengthening of rice research and technology transfer efforts and a greater national capacity to carry out these programs effectively.  The IRRI-Kampuchea Project is a unique opportunity to apply IRRI’s technical knowledge and experience to one of the world’s poorest, most-depressed rice-growing countries. – IRRI, January 1988

IRRI thus put forward concrete plans for a national research and development institute for the country’s main crop – rice.  They argued no existing centre had the “critical mass of scientists needed to make major progress towards improving rice productivity.  Moreover, no single organization in Cambodia maintains an overview of national problems and on-going research activities.” (Cambodian Rice Research and Development Institute (CARRDI) Proposal – May 1989)
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