Knowledge is Power in Rural Cambodia: Here’s How an Agricultural Program is Changing Lives in Siem Reap Province
Education is a fundamental component to alleviating poverty. In rural communities throughout Siem Reap province, an ongoing educational program is empowering Cambodians and improving livelihoods. Strengthening Resilient Livelihoods (SRL), is a government-led agricultural project that is providing communities with information on sustainable farming practices. The project is directly improving household incomes, and sequentially stimulating the local economy.
Provincial project manager, Bou Somneang, is from a national consulting company (Cadtis) and was contracted by the National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development (NCSDD) to implement SRL in several communities in Siem Reap province. Somneang is currently working with 800 families throughout the region, 80 percent of whom have successfully implemented the project and are increasing their household income.
“A preliminary survey suggests there’s been a 20-50 percent increase in family income after the project was implemented,” explained Somneang.
One component of the project facilitates education on sustainable poultry raising. The four pillars of the project include information on ethical breeding, healthcare and vaccination requirements to prevent livestock disease, seminars on organic feed preparation and distribution, and poultry infrastructure and maintenance. Essentially, Somneang’s team provides rural families with a new chicken coop, and the skill set required to raise healthy livestock.
“Before the project, I didn’t know how to raise chickens properly and a lot of chickens were lost because of that. The training has taught me how to properly care for my livestock, prolonging their lives and making them healthier,” said household matriarch Phrunh Saran, from Lhong Village, Sronal Commune, Siem Reap province.
Small-scale farming communities in Cambodia typically raise livestock for household consumption only. According to Somneang, traditional poultry raising methods mostly consisted of chickens roaming around the family farm and fending for themselves. Raising chickens in this fashion is difficult and costly because animals would often die from disease, malnutrition or predatory attacks.
However, through developing a new skill set, families are scaling-up their poultry businesses. Today, Phrunh Saran is raising 13 hens and 50 chicks, and she has increased her household income by $350 annually.
“Since I’ve been involved with this project, I feel happy because now I have the skill set required to change my life and improve my family’s livelihood,” added Saran.
Currently, Saran’s poultry is mostly sold within her commune. However, she is hoping to branch out to different markets soon. Selling in provincial or national markets will yield a higher price for poultry, contributing to an increased household income for her and her six children.
The improvement of rural livestock farms has stimulated cross-sector economic growth, as well. As we were strolling around Saran’s family farm, she explained that several small food businesses have opened since the project has wrapped up. Specialising in roasted chicken, there are a variety of food stalls to choose from along the highway leaving Sronal commune. After an enlightening morning in Lhong village, the UNDP communications team stopped at one of these food vendors to enjoy an authentic roasted Khmer chicken. It was quite literally farm-to-table, and it was absolutely mouth-watering.
In nearby Kantrang Commune, Slith village, 40-year-old Chhon Vit and 41-year-old Thann Sok have doubled their income after participating in the produce production component of the SRL project. Like many rural households, produce is grown primarily for domestic consumption. However, as part of the program, families are receiving training on sustainable soil care and fertiliser distribution. Funding is also provided to families wishing to expand their growing space. As a result of the project, Vit and Sok have moved from earning $250 to $500 annually from growing produce. In the future, they are hoping to specialise in one cash-crop—bitter melon—in order to continue growing their household income.
Down the road from Chhon Vit and Thann Sok, 24-year-old Pec Pov and her husband, 26-year-old Phleanh Long, started vegetable farming about a year ago. They specialise in eggplant and chillies, and the project has helped the young couple to scale-up production and send more produce to market. Specifically, project coordinators provided lessons on advantageous harvest and crop planning, and how and when to use pesticides to mitigate crop disease. Although they have recently started working in the agricultural sector, they have seen positive returns. She has two young children, and she’s excited to pass down lessons learned; however, she was quick to reiterate the importance of continuous education. Specifically, she brought up the fact that her children will need additional education in the agricultural sector to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Sronal Commune Chief Luk Voun is acutely aware of the spill-over benefits agricultural education has inspired in his community. Spanning 13 villages and encompassing approximately 2,000 families, the SRL project has led to the development of local governance committees, including a Farmers’ Group (FG). The role of the FG is to ensure effective implementation of the project and assist in adaptation of sustainable farming methods when required. Voun also mentioned that since project completion, several infrastructure projects—including a new community centre—are now underway.
Agricultural development and infrastructure projects are primarily funded by community-run financing initiatives. Coined Savings Groups (SG), a project component under the SRL umbrella, these financing initiatives provides low-interest alternatives for community members. Comprised of around 25-30 farmers, members of the SG agree to contribute funds to a mutual account, saving a certain amount each month to grow the community’s capital.
Essentially, the system works as a sort of community bank for farmers to access funds to buy new farming equipment, fertiliser, seeds, etc. Interest rates accumulate on borrowed funds, but they also heighten member capital and thus encourage farmers to save more money and pay down their debts faster.
Arguably one of the most positive spill-over benefits synonymous with education is a renewed sense of confidence and self-worth. Learning in most capacities empowers human beings to feel accomplished and self-sufficient. The more we learn, the more capable we feel to pursue new ambitions, think critically, and formulate opinions, morals, and values that will guide our lives and the lives of our children. Education in all respects is important, and the lessons learned in rural Siem Reap are a positive reminder that knowledge in any capacity is power.
“People feel happy with the project because they are able to improve their living conditions and they are more productive throughout the day,” said Commune Chief Voun. “I am very happy to see my people happy and active in their daily lives.”
SRL was designed to reduce the vulnerability of rural Cambodians, especially land-poor, landless and/or women-headed households. The project works to achieve this goal through investments in small-scale water management infrastructure, technical assistance to resilient agricultural practices, and capacity building support. For more information about this project, click here.
For more information on projects currently under the UNDP umbrella, click here.