It’s always nice if you can buy food that’s good for both your taste buds and the environment. Ibis Rice does just that. The Wildlife-Friendly Ibis Rice Project, a partnership between NGOs and the government, aims to protect wildlife in Cambodia’s northern plains through an initiative where local farmers grow high-quality Malis rice while agreeing to preserve the forests where they live. The project has been underway in two protected areas in Preah Vihear province since 2008. “The protected area is full of people, so you have to work with the people living there in order to do wildlife conservation while trying to change how they rely on the forest,” says Karen Nielsen, enterprise planning advisor for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Cambodia program. The aim is to protect 51 threatened species, including the Giant Ibis, the white-shouldered Ibis, Asian elephants, leopards and wild dogs.
The WCS implemented the project and provides advice while assisting with the marketing and sales. A Village Marketing Network is set up in each village. The VMN buys rice from the farmers and ensures that the farmers respect the conversation agreements with oversight from the national resource management committee. The conservation agreements call for farmers to adhere to certain rules. Each village has a land-use plan where rice paddies are mapped out and farmers are not allowed to expand those paddies without approval, Nielsen explains. The forest cannot be cut down and hunting is not permitted, she stresses. “If they agree to that, we’ll purchase the Malis rice,” Nielsen says. “They have to grow the right variety of rice.” The farmers set the price of the rice, but they have to play by the rules, she adds. Transportation, packaging and the eventual sale of the rice is coordinated by Sansom Mlup Prey, a Cambodian NGO set up by the WCS. SMP organizes the collection of the rice from villages and delivers it to a mill for processing. The rice is then labeled “Wildlife Friendly” before it’s delivered to outlets. “It’s very nice rice. In fact, rice grown in the forest is supposed to be very tasty rice,” Nielsen says.
Nielsen essentially acts as the WCS’ liaison to the SMP. The initiative currently operates in four villages in the Preah Vihear area Nielsen says the WCS is hoping to set up the project in five more villages. As well, plans are in the works to establish the project in Kampong Thom province. The FCC Phnom Penh recently agreed to buy 100 percent of its rice from the project. The company has been buying the rice because it’s good rice and the project is good for the environment, says Raphael Guillien, chief operations officer for the FCC. “It’s really good rice,” he says. “We want to help the environment as much as we can.” The rice has been selling in the Angkor Market in Siem Reap and in Phnom Penh at Lucky Market, Veggy’s, the Food Pantry and Nature Garden. “It’s getting better,” Nielsen says. “More places are starting to carry it.”