De-mining transforms former battleground into field of hope

Beneficiary from mine action project
Cambodian farmer Prak Chrin, third from left, plants green bean seeds on her new land recently cleared of land mines in Samlot district, Battambang province. (Photo: UNDP Cambodia)

Battambang – Farmer Prak Chrin paced slowly as she dropped green bean seeds into shallow holes on the ground. Nearby, her son, a hoe in his hands, was carving up the holes for the seeds in the family’s new farmland in a far-flung northwestern part of Cambodia.

Two years ago the field was once a shrub land infested with landmines. Now it is a ticket to a more stable future for the 50-year-old woman and her three sons. Rice, corn and bean are growing side by side on the land after it was swept clean of landmines and other explosive devices.

Highlights

  • 5,400 ha of land have been cleared from landmines and UXOs under UNDP’s mine action project
  • The casualty has fallen from 4,300 people in 1996 to 186 in 2012
  • 80% of the cleared land have been used for agricultural and resettlement purposes

“I am so glad to finally be able to use the land for crops,” said Prak Chrin who lives in O Tatiek village in Samlot district, Battambang province.

By any standards, the village’s landscape is one of the country’s heavily-mined regions. But years of de-mining work, with support from international community including the United Nations Development Programme, are gradually transforming a former battle ground into a field of hope for the rural folks.

Since 2006, a UNDP’s mine action project – with support from international donors including Canadian Internatonal Development Agency (CIDA), Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid) and Austria – has helped get rid of the deadly devices and free more than 5,400 hectares of land in Cambodia. Some two-thirds of the cleared areas have been converted into farmland.

In Rukha Kiri district, about 60 kilometers east of the provincial town, rows of pineapple are sprawling. It is a new cash crop in the one hectare property that farmer Thong Yeuy, a mother of six children, owns in her backyard.

“Just over a year ago this land was full of shrubs. We could use only a small portion of it because of landmines,” the 42-year-old woman said while navigating through pineapple rows to pick the fruit. She said she made about US$250 a year from selling the crop to supplement rice farming.

The amount may not seem that much but it can go a long way for rural families in a country where about a quarter of estimated 14.5 million people eke out a living on less than US$1 a day.

The work of various mine clearance operators have drastically reduced the number of casualties – to 186 in 2012 from 4,300 in 1996. Meanwhile, Cambodia has also grown in the know-how and capacity to even send de-miners to assist other mine-afflicted nations in the context of U.N.-peacekeeping missions.

Back in O Tatiek village, farmer Prak Chrin now owns a total of three hectares of land compared to just one she had four years ago. With bigger land, she said she looked forward to collecting higher yields form harvest at the end of the year. In the long run, she hopes to increase her saving from selling crop surplus to build a larger house to replace the 15-square meter, rickety cottage she is currently sharing with her three boys.

That’s her dream, but for now the most important thing for her is the absence of fear factor.

“Every morning I and my children just go out to work in the field, walk the cows without worry anymore,” she said. “Things are a lot better now for us.”