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Environmental impact assessment training for sustainable agriculture and rural development: lessons and experiences from Cambodia

P.J.B. Duffy

Patrick Duffy is President of the resource management, environmental assessment and international development consultancy firm P.J.B. Duffy and Associates Ltd., 5839 Eagle Island, West Vancouver BC, Canada V7W 1V6; tel.: (+604) 921 6119; fax: (+604) 921 6664; e-mail: pjbduffy@

This article aims to illustrate the importance of developing human resources through non-formal education and extension training, particularly in the protection of natural resources important to agriculture, fisheries and forestry. It addresses the environmental situation in Cambodia and provides background information on a project to provide environmental impact assessment (EIA) training to professionals in these sectors. Attention is given to criteria for the selection of trainees, training methodology (field trips and case studies), preparation of training curricula and materials, training execution and knowledge gained. The article illustrates the application of EIA training as a tool in addressing chronic environmentally damaging agricultural and rural development practices and in transforming attitudes, behaviours and knowledge regarding natural resources management practices.


Formation sur l'évaluation de l'impact sur l'environnement pour le développement agricole et rural durable: l'expérience du Cambodge

Le but de cet article est de montrer à quel point il importe de valoriser les ressources humaines par l'éducation non scolaire et la vulgarisation, tout particulièrement dans le domaine de la protection des ressources naturelles vitales pour l'agriculture, les pêches et les forêts. L'article décrit la situation de l'environnement au Cambodge et fournit des informations de base sur un projet destiné à former des cadres du secteur sur les méthodes d'évaluation de l'impact sur l'environnement (EIE). L'accent est mis sur les critères de sélection des stagiaires, la méthodologie de formation adoptée (visites sur le terrain et études de cas), les programmes d'étude et le matériel didactique proposé, le déroulement de la formation et les connaissances acquises. L'article souligne l'importance de la formation à l'EIE si l'on veut s'attaquer aux pratiques de développement agricole et rural destructrices pour l'environnement et changer les attitudes, les comportements et les connaissances en ce qui concerne les méthodes de gestion des ressources naturelles.


Capacitación sobre la evaluación del impacto ambiental para una agricultura y un desarrollo rural sostenibles: enseñanzas y experiencias de Camboya

Este artículo tiene por objeto ilustrar la importancia del fomento de los recursos humanos mediante la enseñanza no académica y la capacitación de extensión, particularmente en relación con la protección de los recursos naturales importantes para la agricultura, la pesca y la silvicultura. Se presenta la situación ecológica en Camboya y se da información básica sobre un proyecto para impartir capacitación sobre la evaluación del impacto ambiental (EIA) a profesionales de estos sectores. Se presta atención a los criterios para la selección de los cursillistas, la metodología de la capacitación (visitas de campo y estudios monográficos), los programas/material de la capacitación preparados, la capacitación impartida y los conocimientos adquiridos. El artículo ilustra la aplicación de la capacitación sobre la EIA como instrumento para abordar las prácticas crónicas de la agricultura y el desarrollo rural que ocasionan daños en el medio ambiente y transformar las actitudes, el comportamiento y los conocimientos en relación con las prácticas de ordenación de los recursos naturales.


Cambodia has expressed a need to develop human resources through non-formal education and extension training, particularly in the protection of natural resources important to agriculture, fisheries and forestry. Such training must take sustainable agriculture and rural development (SARD) beyond the physical environment and into the area of economic, social and political issues (FAO, 1996). Tools are being developed for communication and learning interventions that help to change attitudes, behaviours, knowledge levels and management practices in the use of natural resources for agricultural production and rural development. Environmental impact assessment (EIA) can serve this role, because it can be tailored to field-oriented problem solving with stakeholders' participation.
EIA training can help extension workers to take into account the environmental and socio-economic complexity of diverse farming systems and rural development practices when putting across their messages. As a result, sustainable agriculture and rural development, which are considered information-intensive rather than physical input-intensive (Roling, 1994), should be strengthened. The findings of this article come from training courses in Cambodia which depended heavily on the real-life problems participants brought from the field. They illustrate EIA's considerable potential to promote and integrate environmentally friendly practices in agriculture and sustainable development at all levels.


Poor planning and control, combined with new social and economic pressures, have significantly degraded Cambodia's rich natural resource base over the past 30 years, a trend that development experts forecast will continue. Agriculture, forests and fisheries are seen to be coming under increasing pressure (O`Brien, 1999). Moreover, owing to a lack of knowledge of the potentials and constraints of its own natural resource base, Cambodia risks making economically unsound and irrevocable decisions that could have both immediate and long-term negative impacts.
There is an urgent need for training of Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries (MAFF) and Ministry of Environment (MoE) staff. Training in EIA and planning is particularly important if staff are to have the knowledge and skills necessary to manage Cambodia's natural resource base. One of the greatest problems facing the country is a lack of skilled officials who can implement the environmental legislation and economic instruments needed to ensure sustainable development and natural resources protection. Directing EIA and related training towards satisfying staff needs can help improve natural resource management and correct environmentally harmful practices.

Environmental impact assessment

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) was first introduced 30 years ago as a planning tool for infrastructure projects in the United States. It was rapidly taken up by developed and developing countries and development agencies. EIA is recognized for its potential to promote and deliver sustainable development. It can be defined as an activity that predicts the impacts of a proposed project or action on human well-being, including on the well-being of ecosystems on which human survival depends. Thus, EIA is normally a predictive exercise aimed at foreseeing the environmental and related socio-economic impacts of proposed development. As will be seen, the Cambodian experience revealed another practical use for EIA, namely in solving the problems of continuing environmentally damaging agricultural practices.
The results of an EIA are reported in an environmental impact statement (EIS), a documented assessment of the environmental consequences and recommended mitigation measures to reduce negative impacts and enhance positive ones. Normally, the EIS is prepared for government by the land developer or manager. For projects sponsored by government ministries, such as transport, public works or communications, the EIS is prepared by staff and checked by the MoE.
The Government of Cambodia is currently preparing legislation to introduce EIA in government planning. The legislation will apply to physical projects and to agricultural, forestry and other resource management activities. Against this background, the Government requested FAO assistance in organizing capacity building, including training in environmental planning and impact assessment for both MAFF and MoE staff, and the preparation and delivery of two one-week courses to staff at locations in and around Phnom Penh.
In earlier work in Kenya (Duffy, 1998), EIA was shown to be effective in new project planning, as well as in the correction of continuing environmentally damaging practices such as the harmful use of chemicals in agriculture. It was decided to see if application of the EIA model is relevant and of real use in ongoing agricultural practices in Cambodia by examining it in course work and in 42 case studies which were brought to the course by the trainees. It was also decided to see how EIA ties in with government policy and programmes in communicating appropriate agro-ecosystem management to farmers.

Planning and delivery of EIA training

A recent assessment of the trained workforce for agriculture and the environment in Cambodia recommends that university graduates should acquire knowledge of ecosystems, farming systems, the rural socio-economic environment and the macro- and microeconomies. A prototype curriculum for environmental/agro-ecological study has been proposed which recommends the introduction of a general core course in environmental studies in the second of a four-year programme of study. This is intended to form the basis for more advanced courses that integrate environmental management in the students' chosen fields (FAO, 1997).
A short introductory course in EIA at this stage would equip the student with the predictive skills necessary to avoid negative agriculture-environment interactions. Such an approach relies less on heuristic (self-correcting) solutions for when projects and activities go wrong. At present, EIA courses are not offered at undergraduate schools of agriculture, forestry and fisheries in Cambodia, or in most other developing countries.

Criteria for selection of trainees

Ministries used the following criteria in nominating participants for the EIA training:

Course objectives

The following objectives were seen to be attainable in each of two five-day courses planned back-to-back in May 1998 (each accommodating 25 students):

Course execution

Participants were professionals from the MAFF and the MoE with a wide variety of backgrounds, including agronomy, plant protection, forestry, animal health, law, planning, agricultural economics, hydrology, fisheries and financial planning. During the course, the main points were noted in Khmer and English on separate flip charts and fixed to the classroom wall. Thus, all the course notes were visible throughout the week. This innovative display proved to be useful for periodic review and for a course overview on the final day.

Case studies

Three case studies representing serious environmental problems in Cambodia were written for solution during the course. Each case study was designed to contain briefing information and a series of key questions to be answered during and after the field trip.

MAFF staff and a farmer lead a discussion on fertilizer-environment interaction in a rice paddy case study


Case study 1. Rice paddy farming south of Phnom Penh: use of agricultural chemicals and the importance of integrated pest management (IPM) practices. Some farmers need advice on fertilizer types and application. This field case aimed to illustrate the pervasive problems of uninformed use of chemical fertilizers and the attendant environmental impacts and crop production effects. Farmers in the study area had had some exposure to IPM training, and two served as valuable resource persons, together with provincial agronomists and IPM specialists, to discuss corrective measures used on the farms.

Cast-off illegal pesticide containers are abundant


Case study 2. Pesticide use in a mixed vegetable farming area east of Phnom Penh. This field trip enabled the class to obtain a thorough briefing on the problems of indiscriminate sale of banned chemical pesticides from Viet Nam and overuse of chemical sprays on food crops.

Case study 3. Palm oil plantation development: in-class solution in working groups. The case study focused on the negative and positive effects of palm oil development, such as land clearing, soil erosion and decline in soil fertility. Palm oil processing operations require large quantities of water. Pollution from pesticides and herbicides is a consequent threat, as is the oxygen-depleting effect of mill wastes on aquatic life and the contamination of drinking-water supplies. The social changes associated with these plantations were introduced into the EIA exercise. Examples include the need for immigrant workers, the overloading of existing local infrastructure and social services, and increased health problems in the local indigenous community.
The main learning outcomes from the three case studies were as follows:

EIA of case studies by participants

A total of 42 environmental problem cases were brought to the two courses by the 50 participants. Participants with interests in the same problems formed working groups to solve them. The output was a completed EIS in point form, which was presented to the class and followed by a question-and-answer session. A total of 20 case solutions were presented, thus considerably reinforcing the EIS model as a problem-solving tool.
The working group activity was popular and productive, partly because it relieved the pressure from individuals having to seek solutions independently. Working group members benefited from solving several cases together. They took turns to present results and recommendations to the class. As well as the knowledge they gained, course participants thus obtained experience in making formal oral reports to decision-makers in a role-play setting.

Examples of proposed activities and projects

Several participants described projects with observed negative impacts that had been undertaken recently. By applying the EIA approach to problem analysis of recent projects, a review showed what had been done and why, what the effects were and what could be done to rectify the damage and to avoid such problems occurring on similar projects in the future. Examples included:

Results from selected case solutions

Rural development projects and activities with negative effects

Legal abattoir locations and operations need to be reviewed against existing zoning and permit regulations, while illegal ones need to be reviewed against existing laws.
Recommended pollution control measures need to be phased in by the MoE and the Ministry of Health and operations that are seriously polluting and hazardous need to be replanned and relocated.
Community leaders, the MOE and the MAFF need to coordinate action to establish sustainable water supply systems. This entails adding new wells and piping in sustainable locations and regulating well developments, closing down unsuitable facilities when necessary. A public awareness programme must be maintained before, during and after this shift in supply sources.

A rural road built without regard for preserving fish stoks in a large lagoon


Agricultural activities with chronic negative environmental effects

The improper use of chemical insecticides is widespread, and some of their effects on soil, insects, birds, fish and humans are already well known. The working group on this problem described the illegal importation of such chemicals from Viet Nam, and how product labels and instructions are written in Vietnamese (which most Cambodians cannot read).
Insecticide traders are generally not informed on correct application rates, recommended applicators and necessary safety precautions to prevent farm workers from coming into contact with insecticides. The working group put forward a number of mitigation measures. These included the creation of a government pesticide control body; on-farm field demonstrations of correct packaging, labelling and use of authorized chemicals; and wider training in IPM.


Why was the EIA training useful?

The training emphasized the importance of EIA as the responsibility of the developer (for private sector projects) and the sponsoring ministry (for the public sector). There now exists a cadre of MAFF and MoE staff with the necessary training to work with the new regulations, when they are authorized by the Government of Cambodia.
Course participants learned how to prepare a problem statement and then analyse the cause-effect relationships. Working in groups, they examined the various proposals and on-going activities, as well as the problem-solving options. Trainees then took the solutions back to their work places. Trainees now have a powerful tool for predicting the negative impacts of projects and activities and avoiding recourse to heuristic (self-correcting) solutions to problems after the fact.
It became clear from the training that EIA principles and techniques are highly relevant and applicable even to a poor country such as Cambodia, which lacks institutional and physical infrastructure as well as human capacity. In Cambodia, EIA can be equally beneficial in correcting continuing environmentally detrimental agricultural practices and in proposed projects.

What were its limitations?

Information gaps are common in EIA work, and the more serious ones can hold up delivery of a complete EIS. There was a lack of information for the course case studies, reflecting a general shortage of environment-related information in Cambodia. It was therefore important to use problem-solving strategies that recognized the existence of these information gaps.
Overworked staff members perceive EIA as a demanding task that takes up time and effort. The commitment it involves may be seen as a drawback by participants, until they see results in the EIS and subsequent decision-making.

Conclusions and recommendations

The non-formal approach of EIA training was shown to be very effective, as it featured two field trips with provincial agriculture extension officers and IPM specialists, as well as agronomy and plant protection workers. Its emphasis on solving the problem cases studies brought to the courses by the participants also proved a positive feature. The presentation of case study solutions in simulated technical hearings strongly reinforced the EIS model as a problem-solving tool.
The course approach can and should now be used in training in the provinces. As one author commented, entering the course material into a retrievable computer database "promotes the ownership of product lines in the local participating institution as well as the facilitation of expansion of the training initiative" (FAO, 1998).
It was found that the five-day format of seminar, field trips, case studies and working group assignments and presentations is an effective way of delivering introductory EIA training. The format suits the technical nature of the subject and the learning preferences of young professionals and can usefully be repeated.


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FAO. 1996. Environmental and sustainable development themes in agricultural extension programmes: a review of FAO case studies, by
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FAO. 1997. Curriculum development for agriculture education in Cambodia. FAO Project TCP/CMB/6612. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 26 pp.

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