Studying why Cambodian rice growers adopt improved technologies

The Cambodian government considers the adoption of improved farm technologies to be one of the drivers of agricultural development – the kind of development that can improve living standards, especially in rural areas.

The Cambodian government considers the adoption of improved farm technologies to be one of the drivers of the country’s agricultural development – the kind of development that can improve living standards, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately, little research has been done to figure out which factors actually convince farmers to adopt those technologies.

Socheat Keo, a Cambodian scholar with the Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) program, wants to be the researcher who finds the answers, thereby contributing to his country’s agricultural development. He’s particularly focused on rice production – the dominant sector of Cambodian agriculture.

The goal of BHEARD, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is to develop agricultural scientists and increase agricultural research capacity in Feed the Future partner countries. The program is named after Dr. Norman Borlaug, an American biologist, humanitarian and Nobel laureate who has been called “the father of the Green Revolution.”

With aid from BHEARD, Keo started his doctoral studies at Michigan State University (MSU) in January 2014, seeking a Ph.D. in the Department of Community Sustainability. He faced plenty of challenges studying in a new country. Being away from his wife and child was difficult. But going back home posed its own challenges, too. Writing his dissertation in Cambodia – away from the resources of MSU – was not easy. But his struggles bore fruit. He recently passed his dissertation defense, and is currently making revisions. He expects to graduate from MSU in spring 2018.

Keo’s dissertation covers his research into the adoption of productivity-enhancing inputs and improved farm practices in Cambodian rice production. His findings indicate that farmers’ adoption of technologies like improved rice varieties and chemical fertilizer are interrelated and complementary. His work further suggests that factors like irrigation, social learning (in the form of information from neighbors), age of household head, secondary education, TV ownership (as a means of accessing media) and remittances are positively associated with the adoption of improved farm technologies.

Keo’s dissertation also examined the role financial credit plays in decisions to adopt interrelated farming inputs. His research results suggest that providing credit to farm households increases their probability of adopting high-yield rice varieties, fertilizers and pesticides – as well as combinations of those three types of modern inputs. The effect of credit on the adoption of pesticides, in particular, is very robust.

One of his studies investigated the impact formal and semi-formal land titles have on the adoption of chemical fertilizer and manure in rice paddy production. His empirical findings show that both formal and semi-formal land titling significantly increase the average adoption rates of chemical fertilizer and manure, but that land titling in general does not significantly increase productivity.

After earning his Ph.D., Keo plans to continue his research, and to use the results to contribute to Cambodia’s agricultural development policies.

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