Improvements in agricultural yields and practices, coupled with improvements in education, have the potential to bring real benefits to millions of Cambodians. More than 80% of the population lives in rural areas, (one of the highest percentages in the world), and agriculture remains the largest sector of the economy in terms of GDP. It employs the vast majority of the workforce, a large proportion of which are subsistence farmers.
Rice is Cambodia’s major crop and its staple food. There has traditionally been just one rice crop per year because Cambodia lacks the extensive irrigation systems needed for double-cropping. In addition, without irrigation systems, the amount of rainfall determines the size and quality of the crop that is produced, with the potential for large variations from year to year. Another problem, as mentioned above, is that land mines have restricted the amount of land available for cultivation.
Many subsistence farmers who grow rice to feed themselves and their families lack the skills and knowledge to change what they do, and many don’t have the luxury of being able to experiment with alternative crops and methods as failure could well lead to severe food shortages for the family.
Rural poverty in Cambodia
Although the Kingdom of Cambodia is rich in natural resources, decades of war and internal conflict have left it one of the world’s poorest countries. The legacy of strife includes social and economic scars. Many millions of land mines were sowed throughout the countryside, where millions of them still lie, hidden and unexplored. Mines are an enduring menace to the eight out of ten Cambodians who live in rural areas, and they are an obstacle to agricultural development.
Cambodia’s poor people number almost 4.8 million, and 90 percent of them are in rural areas. Most of them depend on agriculture for their livelihood, but at least 12 percent of poor people are landless. Small-scale farmers practice agriculture at the subsistence level, using traditional methods. Productivity is low.
Two-thirds of the country’s 1.6 million rural households face seasonal food shortages each year. Rice alone accounts for as much as 30 percent of household expenditures. Rural people are constantly looking for work or other income-generating activities, which are mainly temporary and poorly paid.
Landlessness is one of the causes of a strong trend of internal migration that is also driven by the pressures of rapid population growth and the desire to evade from recurring flood and drought in lowland areas. People are moving from the more densely populated provinces in the south and west to the more sparsely populated provinces in the north-east, which include some of the country’s poorest districts.
Who are Cambodia’s poor rural people?
The country’s poor people include subsistence farmers, members of poor fishing communities, landless people and rural youth, as well as internally displaced persons and my victims. Tribal peoples and women are generally the most disadvantaged.
Women, in particular, do not have equal access to education, paid employment and land ownership and other property rights. For many women, reproductive health services are inadequate or non-existent. Many women had to assume the responsibility of heading their households after male family members were killed in the conflict.
Where are they?
Cambodia’s poorest people are isolated. They live in remote villages, far from basic social services and facilities. Many have to travel more than 5 km to reach a health clinic, and still, others live more than 5 km from the nearest road.
Why are they poor?
The pressures of a fast-growing population contribute to poverty. Because of a lack of education and skills training, people have inadequate employment opportunities and low capabilities. They are insecure, excluded and vulnerable. They have limited access to natural resources. Poor health, lack of education, poor infrastructure and low productivity lead to deeper poverty. The cycle of poverty, ill health and high health care expenditure cripples poor Cambodian families economically.
Rural poverty and lack of opportunity in rural areas have contributed to the spread of HIV-AIDS, as young women migrate to urban factories and become sex workers in neighbouring countries. Although HIV prevalence rates have shown a decrease, the impact of the infection continues to be strong.
Agriculture in Cambodia