Dr Koma, 46, is being recognized for "his creative fusion of practical science and collective will that has inspired and enabled vast numbers of farmers in Cambodia to become more empowered and productive contributors to their country's economic growth.".
Koma he specialized in agriculture and earned his Ph D from the University of Leipzig, Germany, in 1995. Returning to Cambodia, he initially worked for foreign development organisations but firmly believed that “Cambodians need to take responsibility for their own destiny.”
“We believe in the potential of the people, of the farmer. We see farmer as a human being. That they have a capacity, they have the brain, they have the mind, their creativity.” - Yang Saing Koma, Coordinator, Prolinnova Cambodia, in TVEAP film
Championing sustainable agriculture, Koma founded in 1997 the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), with a team of seven and the help of a French non-government organization (NGO). In the early years, Koma struggled to make CEDAC an independent, self-sustaining entity, and eventually his determination yielded results. Today, CEDAC is the largest agricultural and rural development NGO in Cambodia.
A turning point in CEDAC’s history was in 2000, when it introduced to Cambodia the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), an ecologically sustainable approach to growing rice using less water and fewer external inputs. Starting with 28 reluctant farmers, Dr Koma has painstakingly promoted SRI in Cambodia that it is now practised by over 100,000 rice farmers. They have recorded 60 per cent increase in yields.
When CEDAC started a partnership with Prolinnova in Cambodia in 2001, Dr Koma became its National Coordinator. Launched worldwide that year, Prolinnova is active in 18 developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Prolinnova partners support farmer-led research and development that improves livelihoods and food security of the rural poor. This, in turn, helps the farmers take better care of their land, animal and water resources.
Watch Prolinnova Cambodia: Visionary Farming
Today, CEDAC is supporting 140,000 farmer families in twenty-one provinces. Between 2002 and 2010, Cambodia’s rice production rose from 3.82 million tons to 7.97 million tons, and CEDAC’s work has been credited as the major factor in this increase.
Established in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is Asia's highest honor and is widely regarded as the region's equivalent of the Nobel Prize. It celebrates the memory and leadership example of Ramon Magsaysay (1907 – 1957), the third Philippine President. It is given every year by the Manila-based the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) to individuals or organizations in Asia who manifest the same sense of selfless service that ruled the life of the late Filipino leader.
Says RMAF President Carmencita Abella: "The Magsaysay awardees of 2012 are six remarkable individuals, all deeply involved in creating sustainable solutions to poverty and its accompanying disempowerment - whether in the forests or on farmlands, in exploitative industries or in inadequate education. Working selflessly in unpretentious yet powerful ways, they are showing how commitment, competence, and collaborative leadership can truly transform millions of individual lives and galvanize progressive community action."
The 2012 Magsaysay awardees join 290 other laureates who have received Asia's highest honour to date. This year's winners will each receive a certificate, a medallion bearing the likeness of the late President, and a cash prize.They will be formally conferred the Magsaysay Award during presentation ceremonies on 31 August 2012 at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Manila.
"If you want to work with million farmers, start with only one or two farmers. We started only with one farmer. But now we reach a hundred thousand farmers. You have to see how you sustain the process."
- Yang Saing Koma, Coordinator, Prolinnova Cambodia, in TVEAP film
Sombath Somphone, Founder and Executive Director of Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC) in Laos, and a Board member of TVE Asia Pacific, won the Magsaysay Award for community leadership in 2005.
Photos courtesy: TVEAP Archive and Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation
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