LDS Church works with Cambodian government to aid rice farmers

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KAMPONG CHHNANG, Cambodia -- Last November, KSL 5 News showed you how Utahns were helping Cambodian children receive education and training that changes their lives. Now, other Utahns, also missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are working to help rice farmers double their production.

The rice fields of Kampong Chhnang province in Cambodia are brown in the dry season, but the farmers who own them have increased production substantially in the last three and a half years.

"I went around and spoke to a number of them, and almost every one of them indicated that, personally, the amount of rice that they raised on a particular piece of ground doubled, in terms of the yield received," said LDS missionary Elder Lowell Curtis.

Lowell Curtis and his wife, Cheryl, are from Riverton. They are serving a humanitarian mission in Cambodia.

The farmers the couple are helping belong to a cooperative and participated in a project with Latter-day Saint charities and CEDAC -- the Cambodian Center for Study and Development of Agriculture. After centuries of doing it the same way, now they plant fewer seeds and plant them differently.

The farmers see a difference.

"New rice machine; the farmer come here, and testing, and [I] feel that the rice that come out is very good," Oum Sok said through a translator.

He was talking about the rice mill. LDS charities provided the funds to build it; the farmers from the village and surrounding villages financed the machinery. With a larger crop and their own mill, they have enough for their families and plenty of yield to sell.

The program also encourages the families to raise other crops, which create a healthier diet. The farmers also learn to raise chickens or pigs and increase their numbers. The money they earn from sales now goes here to the savings bank the farmers built, and they have moved out of poverty.

These villagers are not Latter-day Saints, most are Buddhists or Muslims.

"This particular project, the number of beneficiaries would be well over a hundred thousand, I suspect," Curtis said. "There aren't any members of the Church who have directly benefited from it. It's just an attempt to help individuals wherever the help may be needed without consideration for religion or national origin."

The rice program started in 2006 and concluded at the end of 2009. The farmers saw an increased success every year; and with the savings program, many have become financially independent.



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