8 Jan 2018

IBIS Rice: the bird-friendly rice scheme boosting livelihoods in Cambodia

On 27 December, BirdLife Cambodia hosted a Farmer’s Day at Khet Svay village in Siem Pang, to celebrate the area’s first harvest of IBIS Rice. This award-winning project is helping to conserve Cambodia’s national bird, the Giant Ibis, and its crucial wildlife sanctuary home.

Farmer Itey Phar harvests IBIS rice at Khey Svay village © BirdLife International Cambodia Programme
Farmer Itey Phar harvests IBIS rice at Khey Svay village © BirdLife International Cambodia Programme
By Jessica Law and Coline Ganz

Update: Since the scheme was introduced in 2017, it’s been adopted by four villages (Khes Svay, Khes Kraom, Pong Kriel, and Nhang Sum) and  488 households have had their rice field mapped. 166 households are now part of the scheme and in 2018 they sold 44 tonnes of rice at a 20% premium price. Last year was also crucial for Ibis Rice in Western Siem Pang as the scheme was certified by organic certification entity ECOCERT/USDA. This was a welcome surprise since we are only two years into production. But because of the remoteness of WSP, the limited use of pesticides in the villages, and the use of traditional varieties of rice seeds by the villagers we were certified organic in September 2018.

The Western Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary is truly special. It is a vital refuge for not one, but five Critically Endangered bird species. These include 20% of the world population of the Giant Ibis Thaumatibis gigantea and 50% of the world population of the White-Shouldered Ibis Pseudibis davisoni.

It’s no surprise, then, that the BirdLife Cambodia Programme* has been striving for years to protect Western Siem Pang. In 2016, the last puzzle piece fell into place when the southern part of the forest was finally added to the Wildlife Sanctuary. But logging, hunting and the encroachment of farmland are ever-present threats.


IBIS rice protects the Giant Ibis' habitat from unsustainable farming practices © J C Eames


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Recognising the important role that local communities play in conservation, BirdLife focused on the villages surrounding the protected area’s boundary. If these farmers had greater food security from their existing rice fields, they would be less likely to resort to hunting or clearing forest for farmland. And so BirdLife formed a partnership with IBIS Rice and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to establish the already highly successful IBIS Rice scheme in a prime new location.


How it works


Launched by the WCS Cambodia Program, IBIS Rice is an ambitious, not-for-profit conservation enterprise working with Cambodian farmers to produce world-class, Wildlife Friendly™, organic jasmine rice. They do this by selling their rice crop at a premium price, which aims to increase household income and reduce food insecurity. In return, villagers agree to respect the wildlife sanctuary laws.


Half of the White-shouldered Ibis' population depends on the Western Siam Peng wildlife sanctuary © J C Eames


The scheme has been doing fantastic work for some time. “We launched in 2009,” said Nicholas Spencer, IBIS Rice CEO, “and, thanks to our consumers in Cambodia and Europe, we are already protecting 500,000 hectares of forest and wetlands, helping conserve more than 50 endangered animal species, and increasing the incomes of 1,000 rice-farming families.

The scheme has been so successful and we were looking to expand it to areas with similar issues and ambitions. Working with BirdLife at Western Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary was an obvious next step.”

Ty Srun, BirdLife’s Site Manager at Siem Pang, foresees further expansion throughout the community. “We are confident that once other villagers see how much more participating households receive for their IBIS Rice, the number of families joining the scheme will quickly increase.”


Quality, not quantity


To participate in the scheme, farmers agree to abide by a protocol where they refrain from hunting, logging or using pesticides and herbicides. They also pledge not to expand their fields into the wildlife sanctuary. Participating villagers allow their fields to be mapped, and satellite imagery is then used to ensure that they continue to honour the sanctuary boundary.

"I am happy to be a member of IBIS Rice"

For the villagers, it’s well worth the effort. “I am happy to be a member of IBIS rice,” said Mr. Thun Kork, a villager of Khet Svay, Stung Treng Province. “IBIS rice encourages me and other villagers to protect endangered wildlife and stop using the chemical fertilizer. Most importantly, it helps improve our local livelihoods because we can sell our rice to the IBIS Rice project in a premium price.” 

And so, we see once again that conservation need not come at the expense of livelihoods. In fact, as is often the case, improving one can enrich the other in one fell swoop. 

* The Western Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary is safeguarded by the BirdLife International Cambodia Programme, with funding from the Darwin Initiative and the MacArthur Foundation, working with the Ministry of Environment and the Stung Treng Department of Environment.



IBIS Rice has been made possible with the help of the following Government bodies:

Fields were mapped with the help of the Stung Treng Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction.

Samsum Mlup Prey and the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT) provided guidance with marketing and agricultural extension.

The scheme was overseen by the Stung Treng Governor.