Building a brighter future for rice farmers in Cambodia

A water dam in the small community of Tuol Sdey, in the Svay Rieng province of southeastern Cambodia
Farmers and villagers’ lives made easier with a new water dam which stores rain in a nearby reservoir. (Photo: UNDP)

Farmers in the small community of Tuol Sdey, in the Svay Rieng province of southeastern Cambodia, have reason to be happy.  For the first time in decades they can rejoice in having two harvests in one season.

This is largely due to the construction of a new water dam which stores rain in a nearby reservoir, providing farmers with the necessary water supply to irrigate their farmland and produce greater rice yields.

Highlights

  • 80% of Cambodia’s population live in rural areas, vulnerable to floods, droughts and other weather-related disasters
  • The dam in Tuol Sdey has more than tripled the land area receiving water for rice cultivation: some 830 hectares compared to just 250 hectares prior to the construction of the dam
  • The dam is one of 45 projects under the Cambodia Community Based Adaptation Programme which helps 150 rural communities in flood- and drought-prone areas build resilience to the impact of climate change

The new dam is one of 45 projects in Cambodia—implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility—aiming at improving the lives of people adversely affected by droughts and other climate change-related phenomena.

Before the dam was constructed, villagers suffered from major water shortages, forcing large numbers of hungry people to wander off to neighboring villages in search of work as daily laborers, at times traveling as far as Vietnam where they often ended up begging.  Even children had to abandon school to venture off with their parents as they pursued a means to support themselves.

“We used to have many people migrating out of the villages.  I’m talking about groups of families leaving to the extent that the villages became so quiet,” said Sok Sek, the community chief, adding that things improved enormously after the construction of the dam was completed in May 2011.

Standing at more than two meters high and 32 meters wide, the dam is actually a large concrete wall which functions as a spillway to preserve water in the nearby Bathou Lake, the heart of a sprawling lowland area which holds the key to economic survival of 2,500 people in the community.  There used to be a metal gate under the village’s main bridge, but corrosion destroyed it, leaving an open gap for rain water to flow downstream.  Little of it could be tapped for farming.

The spillway and over 40 other similar projects in the country have received funding from the Swedish government and Australian Agency for International Development. Tuol Sdey commune’s residents – most of whom live in mud houses – also managed to raise US$1,200 for the spillway, out of its total cost of $20,800—mainly funded by a Swedish government grant .

“When we did not have this spillway built, we were able to grow one rice crop per season. The yield was just barely enough to pay for fertilizer and diesel to operate the generator to pump water into the field,” said Pov Morn, 57, a villager.

Now things look brighter for the community.  Neang Tey, who used to beg for a living in Vietnam, lives by herself in a hut on the edge of a paddy field.  For the first time, she managed to plant two crops on a small plot and produced one ton of rice.  It won’t make her rich but she said is enough for her to live on until the next harvest. “I don’t need to go begging anymore,” Neang said.

UNDP’s work in Cambodia concentrates on three major areas: promoting democratic governance, poverty reduction, and environmental management.  The objective is to encourage sustainable development and assist the government in designing and implementing policies which will help speed up progress towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals.