Restored canal helps farmers triple rice yield

Cambodian farmers in South-western province collect rice output. (Photo: UNDP Cambodia)

Takeo – Farmer Tous Sok Heang carefully jots down in a notepad the number clocked on the scale each time a sack of rice is put on it to weigh. The rice buyer does too for his own record. The last sack is lifted from the scale and the buyer hands her US$200 in down payment, promising to pay up the rest later.

“We are rich today,” Tous Sok Heang quipped, clutching the cash in her hands.

It’s another pay day for the 30-year-old woman who lives in Tnot Chum village, Sambuor commune in Takeo province, southern Cambodia. And she had every reason to be happy. For the first time ever, she and her fellow villagers had a very good rice farming season. During a single nine-month season ending in February this year, they reaped three harvests, boosting up the total yield by three folds.  


  • Some 47 kilometers of canal have been dredged and enlarged to feed water to over 41,100 hectares of rice fields during dry and rainy seasons in 12 provinces.
  • Farmers have been able to triple their rice yield since they’re no longer dependent on rainwater alone.
  • Rice farming is the main livelihood for the majority of the rural population in Cambodia. But lack of irrigation system is among many constraints still facing them

Previously, one rice cycle was the norm due to lack of water. The canal that zigzags across the paddy field was hopelessly shallow, leaving the villagers to bet on the mercy of the sky every year.

“In one year it may start early in the season but in the next it may arrive late,” said Chi Chim, the commune chief.

“For example, two years before the restoration work started on the canal, we had a bad drought and as a result the farmers almost could not grow any rice. The rice that was already planted wilted and died because of water shortage. We cannot pin much hope on the rain these days,” he added.

In mid-2012 the canal was dredged and widened with funding from Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and Australian Aid (AusAid). Stretching 6.5 kilometers, it is now hooked up with a lake to give farmers enough water to grow rice in three cycles, each lasting three months from planting to harvest. 

“As long as long as there is water, we will keep working tirelessly on our land. We can’t complain,” she added.

 Cambodian farmers collect rice harvest in Sambuor commune, Takeo province. (Photo: UNDP Cambodia)

Rice farming is the main livelihoods for the majority of the rural population which makes up around 80 percent of Cambodia’s 14.5 million people. Despite a steady rise in production in recent years, farmers continue to face several constraints including high vulnerability to drought and flood, and inadequate infrastructure such as roads and irrigation system.

The canal restoration in Takeo was carried out by a non-governmental organization in cooperation with the local authorities. It was part of a broader intervention overseen jointly by United Nations Development Programme and GEF Small Grants Programme to help reduce vulnerability of the rural families to impacts of climate change. 

Overall some 47 kilometers of canal have been dredged to feed water to over 41,100 hectares of rice fields during dry and rainy seasons in 12 provinces. This will provide some 11,240 poor families across those provinces with a better irrigation to boost yield and improve living conditions to cope with harsh climatic events.

But having enough water is just one part of the story. Seeds play an important role in increasing the yields too.

Traditionally, Cambodian farmers use long-cycle seeds which take six months to harvest. But to make the most of water resource, many have slowly switched to short-cycle seeds instead, especially those that take just three months to grow and harvest.

This led to a bumper crop last year across the communities where the joint UNDP-GEF SGP project has been working. According to estimate by local officials in Takeo, on average, a family with one hectare of land produced 15 tons of rice from three cycles of crop within a nine-month period. That is 5 tons per hectare in a three-month growing cycle, which fetched approximately US$915 in sale. The villagers and local officials said that at the end of each cycle a family was able to pocket around US$260 in profit after deducting input costs on operating generator to pump water into the field, fertilizer and renting harvest machine.

Holding bricks of cash she has just received from selling her rice, Lim Savoeun, another farmer, said the profit helped make a big difference for her family.

“In the past, we struggled to scrape by and sometimes had to loan money from others to fill the gap [in the earning],” the 37-year-old woman said. “But we can avoid that since we are now able to grow rice in more cycles than before. This will allow us to make more savings to support our children’s education.”