The Bunong people are fighting for their future
The indigenous community of the Bunong is affected by land grabbing by international rubber companies. The loss of their land forces the Bunong to settle down and give up their traditional cultivation method. Our partner organisation BIPA (Bunong Indigenous People Association) has discovered in organic farming an alternative type of agriculture that allows the farmers to cultivate the small amount of land that remains to them more profitably. In addition to securing their livelihood, organic farming encourages the Bunong to work together again and thus strengthens their community.
Photo report about the project in Cambodia
Singeab Kleok Keo is convinced of organic farming. At a village meeting she speaks about the opportunities that organic farming offers for the future. Singeab has been a long-time supporter of BIPA and is an important link between BIPA and the village communities.
Singeab is 30 years old and has four children. Her father has supported the Bunong community during the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese occupation and Singeab also wants to fight for the future of the Bunong.
Singeab has learned at BIPA how to produce biological compost. She distributes it around her young pepper plants. She and her husband own a pepper field where they grow organic pepper and they are part owners of a rice field where several families work together.
Sometimes Singeab helps her husband on the rice field. But mostly she stays in the village with the children and takes care of the pepper plants.
The women from Singeab’s family have a special task: they are responsible for the rice spirits. In order to ask for a good harvest, Singeab performs an elaborate ceremony in the rice field. The relationship to the spiritual world is of great importance for the Bunong and the respect for nature is omnipresent since according to their belief the spirits live in the land.
Bewildered, the Bunong have to watch how more and more forest is destroyed. Valuable trees are brought out of the forest with large machines.
Neth Prak is deeply worried about the desperate situation of his community. Therefore, he has founded an association (BIPA) that is committed to the future of the Bunong. Besides securing the livelihood of the Bunong, organic agriculture is also a way to peace. The land problem fuels conflicts within the community. Organic farming brings the Bunong back to working together.
In their belief the world of spirits and ancestors is firmly connected with the forest. This graveyard is located in a small piece of forest that has not yet fallen victim to the land grabbing.
Next to the monoculture plantations, new settlements are being built where the workers of the rubber companies live.
Neth regularly visits the families at home and talks to them. This farmer has recently started planting Sacha Inchi. He talks to Neth about natural pesticides.
Nhong Prak and Ming Chuy are employed by BIPA. They advise the farmers in technical know-how. In organic farming the indigenous people have found an alternative method of cultivation to secure their livelihood as well as confidence and hope for their community.
Ming and Nhong ride their motorcycles from house to house and demonstrate methods of organic agriculture to the farming families in seven villages.
Kros Sok (left) has learned how to produce organic fertilizer with BIPA. His village community jointly cultivates a pepper field with 600 pepper plants. The profit is divided among all the farmers and used e.g. for school fees or hospital costs. The vegetable field next to it is also community land and its produce belongs to everyone who works on it.
This elderly woman is being advised by BIPA how to grow organic vegetable at home. She also plants a lot of garlic, which she loves.
Pokhat Seav is a “fertilizer pioneer”: he produces a liquid fertilizer from a mixture of pumpkin, papaya and buffalo manure with human urine, which has a good effect on his pepper plants. At the beginning, the neighbours were making fun of Pokhat. Today nobody laughs about his fertilizer invention, because Pokhat’s pepper plants are growing excellently.
Neth Prak in the garden of a farmer who has planted Sacha Inchi for the first time on the advice of BIPA. Neth regularly visits the farming families at home and exchanges ideas with them.
Neth talks to a farmer about the current state of the land rights claims that he represents against the companies. The Bunong trust Neth because he takes their concerns seriously and keeps his promises. They respect him as a mediator within their community and as a representative of the Bunong in the official talks with the rubber companies.
The farmers from the surrounding villages regularly gather in the office of BIPA. Here, important topics as for example cultivation practices and the marketing of products such as avocado, pepper and Sacha Inchi are discussed.
Many Bunong grow pepper today, which they can sell well. This gives them security in their vulnerable situation due to the land loss. However, they must continue to diversify their agricultural cultivation. BIPA therefore grows a variety of seedlings that are sold to the farmers at an affordable price.