Water: As a Source of Bond Farmers in Rural Communities
22 Mar 2018
The village of Prey Kuy, in Kampong Thom province, falls in a region blessed with plenty of rain, so one might imagine its farms are bountiful. Ninety percent of the population are farmers. They subsist on the food they grow, and earn money by selling their surplus crop in markets across the province.
In Khmer, Kampong Thom means "big port" or "big harbour". The name reflects the connection to water, a lifeline for the people of the province. But these days that blessing of water is also a bane
Government data notes how climate change has affected Prey Kuy in recent years – causing floods and droughts that have devastated its farms.
Climate change has affected dozens of villages across Cambodia. From 1996 to 2013, more than two million hectares of the country’s paddy rice fields were damaged by floods or droughts . Declining yields have resulted in large numbers of farmers leaving their villages in search of other jobs. Many have migrated to other countries leaving the old and young children behind, devastating family bonds, and leading to a host of social problems.
Siem Kean was part of the exodus. She left Prey Kuy a few years ago, with her husband and five sons, forced out by a fierce drought, and looking elsewhere for work.
But then she came back. Now a village councillor she is trying to stand her ground, determined to try to recapture Prey Kuy bountiful past, drawn here by ties to the land and community.
The return home has not been easy, she says. “There are days when people have nothing to eat and nothing to sell”.
She tells of months when families go without making any money, and of a persistent drought that have led to increasing poverty in Prey Kuy. The hard times she says have led to a spike in domestic violence. Many of the farmers scraping to survive are being driven to gambling and drinking. It is taking a toll on families. Women come to seek her counsel every day, she says. She listens, provides advice, but there is little she can do fight what she sees as the root cause: climate change.
According to Siem, if farmers could plant rice two to three times a year without worrying about the weather, they would have stable income, which in turn would lead to less gambling, drinking, and domestic violence.
She acknowledges that helping farmers cope with climate change will not be an easy, but she is hopeful that changes in government policy will make a difference for farmers here, and across Cambodia.
Those policies being formulated in the capital Phnom Phen, are looking at how to make farming communities more resilient to climate change, by improving irrigation infrastructure such as canals, water gates and reservoirs. Bunnara Chhun, a government official with the National Committee for Democratic Development Secretariat says “we support Sub-national authorities to strengthen their overall capacity to plan, design and deliver public services for climate resilience building. The locally developed policies ensure more efficient implementation on the ground”. The UN Development Programme is supporting both national and sub-national governments to help communities adapt to climate change and improve livelihoods.
 United Nations Development Programmes., National Committee for Disaster Management., (2014). Cambodia-Disaster-Loss-and-Damage-Analysis-Report 1996- 2013. P.23. Retrieved from UNDP Cambodia website: https://goo.gl/SbZngA