Agriculture and Natural Resources Management

Agriculture and natural resources management are key components in any poverty reduction strategy in Cambodia. Rural Cambodians rely on a combination of access to agricultural land, forestry resources and fisheries in order to have a diversified and sustainable livelihood. The fair and equitable distribution of these resources, along with their effective long-term conservation is vital to the interests of rural Cambodian poor. There have been some improvements but some concerns still remain.

Agriculture provides employment and income opportunities for the majority of the Cambodian population, ensures food security at the local and national levels, and fulfills a crucial environmental role. Although there has been a surplus in rice production at the national level in the last five years, at the regional and household level there are growing numbers of families that are unable to cover their consumption needs. NGOs are concerned with two main issues: (i) the overuse of agro-chemicals, which have negative impacts not only at the household level but also in the national economy and the environment and (ii) the lack of public consultation and debate about the possible impact on small farmers of WHO membership and the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA). NGOs also recommend the following measures:

  • Establishment of a decentralized and small-farmer oriented research and extension service, and support to self-organized farmer associations or cooperatives.

  • Enforcement of the sub-decree on agricultural material standards (especially pesticides use), and further implementation of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which increases yields while minimizing agro-chemical inputs.

  • Provision of training and credit opportunities for rural youth in agriculture and agribusiness.

In the natural resources management sector, there has been a welcome increase in consultative processes in the development of legislation. However, these consultations have been uneven and not always

transparent. While NGOs and community representatives have spent much time and effort engaging in these processes, they have been discouraged when they find that major changes are made to draft legislation after the consultation is complete, thereby eliminating much of their input.

  • Please see the Partnership and Participation section on page 8 for further information on the need to create procedures on the consultative process for all new and modified legislation.

Another common concern of NGOs in the fishery and forestry sectors is the generalized perception of ordinary people as culprits instead of as agents for the protection and preservation of natural resources.

  • NGOs encourage donors to assist Government and local communities to increase the role of local communities as agents for the effective protection and preservation of natural resources.

  • In the fisheries sector, this would involve assisting local communities to participate effectively in community fisheries, highlighting both rights and responsibilities. This might also involve building the capacity of the Department of Fisheries to support community fisheries.

  • In the forestry sector, this would involve redirecting funding from the reform of the concession system (which is not working) to instead helping the government reorient efforts towards increasing communitiesí role in managing forests and new protected areas.

The fisheries sector in Cambodia is extremely productive and has great potential to contribute to food security and poverty reduction. However, fisheries management suffers from governance-related issues such as: corruption; low direct financial or economic return; no clear new laws; poor cooperation among different government agencies and local authorities; and no clear penalties or mechanisms for enforcement as is the case with illegal fishing. The recent distribution of fishing lots to local communities, while welcome, is not benefiting the poorest rural communities. The areas were released according to their limited auction value and not on the basis of local need. The very fast pace in which the reforms were implemented has left a gap in terms of capacity to manage the new community fisheries. Local authorities, military and police elements continue to protect illegal fishing operations, bringing them in conflict with local communities.

  • NGOs recommend an urgent review of the recent reforms and their impact on rural livelihoods and the sustainability of the fisheries, in order to assist further implementation of the reforms.

In the forestry sector, concerns regarding negative impacts for forest-dependent communities include: forest and land concessions that ignore guidelines for sustainable forest management continued anarchic logging extensive clearing of land for private ownership; obstacles to the transport and sale of non-timber forest products (NTFP); and lack of coordinated land use planning. In addition to participatory efforts in legislation and increasing the role of communities in managing forest and new protected areas, NGOs recommend:

  • Impose a ban on land concessions in forest areas, and increase efforts to stop anarchic logging and all clearing of land (with the exception of traditional swidden).

  • Remove barriers to marketing NTFPs and resin. which can be harvested without negatively affecting the forest.

Besides the need for open consultations in regulations related to the Land Law, NGOsí main concerns in the land reform process focus on the prioritization of activities to ensure pro-poor implementation. Large organizations that finance land reform programs often prefer to concentrate on land administration rather than land management and land redistribution. In the specific case of Cambodia, NGOs believe that the most important direct poverty alleviation opportunities lie in the distribution of land to rural landless families.

  • The highest implementation priorities should concentrate in land distribution (through a nationwide programme of Social Concessions) and land management (especially demarcation and registration of State Land).

  • The priority for land administration should be titling in areas where poor people are most vulnerable to being dispossessed. Surveys suggest that these are particularly: areas that were fought over during the 1990s; areas where the local economy is booming; areas with high land values and potential for commercial exploitation (e.g. as plantation land); areas near national borders and along national roads.

For further and detailed discussion of the above issues and recommendations, please see the following papers: Agriculture and Rural Development, Fisheries, Forestry Sector and Land Reform on pages 11, 30, 32 and 46 respectively.

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