Drip irrigation helps address villagers’ farming challenges

Farmer in the field
Cambodian farmer Mut Phalla tends to her vegetable garden which is now equipped with a drip irrigation system to feed water to the plants. (Photo: UNDP Cambodia)

Siem Reap – It was mid-afternoon and Ms. Sim Eang, 42, was preparing to water the eggplants she is growing in her front lawn. Normally, she would make rounds of carry buckets of water on her shoulder to feed the plants, but not anymore.

Her family is among the 25 households of people with disability where the task of getting water to their vegetables has been made less burdensome. Thanks to the drip irrigation system, a network of tiny tubes that feed water directly to the plants.  


  • 25 households of people with disability benefit from the drip irrigation project

“All we need to do is just pump water into a container and let it flow down to the plants,” said Ms. Sim Eang, her face protected from the sweltering sun by a large-rim hat.

The drip irrigation is a simple concept with multiple benefits. At a well, water is pumped into a barrel to which a main pipe is attached. From there, it stretches its reach to a vegetable plot via a hose with branches of tiny tubes pointing right at the root of the plants. Through the tubes – that are the size of juice straws – water drips out slowly to keep the soil at a plant’s root moist all day while the adjacent areas remain dry. This helps minimize the growth of weed and grass near the plants.

The system was installed by a GEF Small Grants Programme funded project with the aim to help reduce farmers' vulnerability to the effect of climate change, especially drought. The project has also received funding from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).

The drip irrigation system is a practical tool for virtually any household but nowhere can it be more suitable for these villagers in a new settlement for people with disability, a village located in Balangk commune, Prasat Bakorng district, Siem Reap province. Many of them are men who have lost legs due to landmine explosions. Because of their disability, they feel constrain in their ability to participate in farming activity, leaving their wives to shoulder most of the burden.

“The project is a great example of promoting resiliency and especially of helping disable people who have gone through such a devastating injuries to have a livelihood,” Douglas Broderick, UNDP Resident Representative in Cambodia, said during a recent visit to the site.

The village sits on a mountainous area of Koulen Moutain range in the northwestern part of Cambodia. Here live more than 1,300 families, out of which 125 are those of families with disability as the results of landmine accidents. Women make up more than 60 percent of the population.

Rice farming is a main source of food. However, as the yield from the rice farming is low due to poor soil and fast drainage of water, exploiting nearby forest is another source to secure their food. And this puts pressure on natural resources in the area. Improving water management through the drip irrigation system is one way to help divert people’s habit to depend on natural resources.

Mr. Seth Khoeun has been using a generator-powered sprinkler all along to water his vegetables. While they are green, they are surrounded by grass too, and because of that he said he was considering replacing it with the drip irrigation system instead.

“The difference between our previous practice of showering the plants and the drip system is that the later keeps each plant fresh and lively. With showering, the soil dry up fast under the heat, leaving the plants wilted,” Mr. Seth Khoeun said.

Mr. Dam Cheum, 45, lost one of his legs to a landmine 20 years ago. He said his condition has limited his ability to help his wife in nurturing the garden. But the installation of the drip system has given the couple some relief. Twice a day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – he pumps water from the well behind his house into the barrel to feed the plants, a routine that he said does not just keep his plants alive and green.

“It’s also like doing exercise which is good for my health. Usually, I fill three to four containers a day and that way I can keep my weight in check,” he said.