Safer ground: where crops, not landmines, are planted
For many small hold farmers in western Cambodia, farming can be a risky business. Not only are landmines and explosive remnants of war a safety hazard, but they also hinder agricultural productivity which is often a ticket to a better income and greater food security for poor families.
In Banteay Meanchey province, 55-year old Teng Louch is happy. Nineteen anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) were found, removed and destroyed in Malai district, including in plots of land near his home. Now, he grows crops on land that are free of such dangerous devices that can still maim or kill if undetected and not destroyed properly.
- Around 4-6 million landmines remain in Cambodia
- Government still needs $450 million to fulfill its obligations under the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty to clear all landmines and ERWs by 2019
- Through Clearing for Results project, UNDP has been supporting the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA) by building its capacity in regulating, monitoring and coordinating the country’s mine action sector
“I used to be a laborer, cultivating other people’s land for them and being paid KHR 16,000 ($4) a day,” says Louch. “Now, I can plant near my home and earn from it.”
Through the Clearing for Results project, the United Nations Development Programme and its partners have been helping the government of Cambodia clear landmines in the most highly contaminated provinces of Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Pailin. The $25 million project, supported by the governments of Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Austria and the United Kingdom, has helped clear around 83 km2 of land since 2006. The project, now on its second phase, has also contributed to the steady decline of landmine casualties throughout Cambodia, from 188 in 2006 to 48 in 2013.
Furthermore, 80% of land cleared in the three provinces in 2011 is now being used for agricultural purposes, according to the project’s post-clearance monitoring. One such family benefitting from this is Louch’s.
“I was able to plant cassava and rice on 10 rai (1.6 hectares) of land,” Louch says. “The following year, I earned $667 from the cassava. I also harvested 10 sacks of un-milled rice which I kept for me and my family. It lasted us an entire year,” he shares.
The provincial Department of Agriculture states that around 80% of the land cleared in Malai district by all demining operators is being used for agriculture. Of this, 70% is planted to cassava, a lucrative crop in high demand for export to Thailand.
In Battambang province, 36 year old Len Pheap now grows sesame and mango seedlings on a 200m x 25m plot in her backyard that was also swept clear of landmines through the Clearing for Results project. Come harvest time, Pheap could earn around $138 from sesame and as much as $1,031 from mangoes. This is not a small profit for a former laborer hired to clear forests and was being around KHR 16,000 ($4) a day.
Both Louch and Pheap say they use their earnings for basic necessities such as food, clothes and medicines as well as for household utilities. Louch has also set aside a small portion of his profit to hire a tractor to prepare the soil for the next cropping season. Pheap, on the other hand, saved some amount to hire trucks to collect water from the nearby river for her crops.