Extension Knowledge

Posted June 1999

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) training for sustainable agriculture and rural development: lessons and experience from Cambodia, Part 1

by Patrick Duffy
FAO Consultant and Project Coordinator
email: pjbduffy@compuserve.com
The author served as a consultant and project coordinator on two missions in Cambodia in 1998 with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FAO. See also Environmental Impact Assessment training for sustainable agriculture and rural development: a case in Kenya.


Eighty-five percent of Cambodia's population of 11.4 million people live in rural locations where poverty is widespread. A lack of infrastructure in the countryside hinders development and contributes to the imbalance between urban and rural areas. Furthermore the transition from a command to a market economy requires significant changes in the structure, functions and administration of public institutions. This applies as well to the training of the human resources required for achieving sustainable development.

The rich natural resource base of Cambodia has been significantly degraded over the past 30 years and is expected to come under increasing pressures as new economic and social interests continue to emerge in a context of poorly planned and controlled natural resource exploitation. This applies to agriculture, forests and fisheries (O`Brien, 1999). Moreover, by not knowing the potentials and constraints of its own natural resource base, Cambodia risks making economically unsound decisions which could have both immediate and long-term negative impacts.

Following years of conflict, there is an urgent need for training of Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries (MAFF) and Ministry of Environment (MOE) staff. Training in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and planning is particularly important if staff are to have the knowledge and skills to manage the natural resource base. One of the most urgent problems facing the country is the lack of skilled officials to implement environmental legislation and economic instruments appropriate to ensure sustainable development and protection of natural resources. By targeting staff with EIA and related learning interventions, influence can be brought to bear on improved natural resource management to correct practices which are detrimental to the environment.

In January, 1996, FAO and the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGOC) agreed to implement a two-part project titled "Support to Human Resources Development for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD)". The project (TCP/CMB/6612) recently produced a report called "Sectoral National Action Plan for Agricultural Higher Education". A small component of the project gave support to the EIA training, which is the subject of this article. This article is meant 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.

Environmental training is a high priority in Cambodia at present because it provides the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed by professionals, officials and policy-makers to understand the complexities of the environment. In addition they need to understand the contribution of a properly managed environment to economic development.

New government policies and planning controls are being put in place to improve natural resource management and environmental protection. This development has imposed particular additional skilled manpower requirements. It is now clear that there is a crucial need for provision of the trained human resources necessary for environmental planning and impact assessment in agricultural development. Trained workers in agriculture need to have an understanding of the implications of ecological issues in their work (Phat Muny and V. MacNamara, 1997). Under the project GCP/CMB/6612, a proto-type agro-ecological curriculum was programmed. Once this curriculum has been implemented, it could form a backdrop for the type of training described in this article.

EIA is recognized for its potential to promote and deliver sustainable development. Basically, it is defined as "an activity which predicts the impacts of a proposed project or action on human well-being, including 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 in advance of irrevocable decisions being taken on proposals. The Cambodian experience revealed another practical use for EIA, namely its use in problem solving for the environmentally damaging agricultural practices in a war-torn country.

The results of an EIA are reported in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which is a documented assessment of the environmental consequences and recommended mitigation measures to reduce negative impacts and to 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 reviewed for its adequacy by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE).

The outline of the EIS typically follows the following sequence, which is widely used internationally:

  1. Project need/rationale
  2. Project/activity description and alternatives
  3. Description of the environment of the project/activity
  4. Predicted/observed environmental impacts
  5. Mitigation measures to treat impacts
  6. Residual impacts
  7. Further studies required to treat residual impacts

At present the RGOC is preparing the legislation and regulations to introduce EIA into government planning. The legislation will apply to physical projects and to agricultural, forestry, and other resource management activities. It was with this background that the RGOC requested FAO assistance in organizing training on environmental planning and impact assessment for both the MAFF and for the MOE. The assistance called for a needs assessment on the requirements for EIA training in the MAFF and MOE and for the preparation and delivery of two one-week courses to staff at locations in and around Phnom Penh.

Elsewhere EIA has been shown to be effective in new project planning as well as in the correction of ongoing environmentally damaging practices such as the harmful use of agricultural chemicals (Duffy, 1998). It was decided to see if the application of the EIA model to ongoing practices is relevant and practical in Cambodia by examining this application in course work and with 42 case studies brought to the course from the workplace by the trainees. Furthermore, it was 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

During January, 1998 interviews were held with staff from MAFF and MOE, including the fledgling Environmental Assessment Branch of MOE, and with prospective students. Meetings were also held with staff and consultants at World Health Organization (WHO), the European Union (EU), an ongoing Asian Development Bank EIA project, and FAO. A survey of existing training materials for environmental planning revealed a number of useful guidelines and training models including ones used in Kenya (Duffy, 1998), Bangladesh (Halim et al, 1996), and Cambodia, (Tyler et al, 1996). These were employed to identify suitable approaches to the Cambodian courses.

A recent assessment of trained manpower for agriculture and the environment/agro-ecological fields recommends that university graduates master competencies based on knowledge of Cambodian ecosystems, farming systems, rural socio-economic environment, and the macro- and micro-economy. A proto-type curriculum for environment/agro-ecological study has been proposed, one which recommends the introduction of a general core course in environmental studies in the second of a four year program of study to form the basis for more advanced courses that integrate environmental management in the students` chosen fields (O`Brien and Koy Huot, 1997).

At present, EIA courses are not offered at undergraduate schools of agriculture, forestry and fisheries in Cambodia. A short introductory course in EIA at an early stage would equip the student with predictive skills to avoid negative agriculture/environment interactions. This places less reliance on heuristic (self-correcting) solutions when projects and activities go wrong.

The criteria used by the ministries in nominating participants in the EIA training allow a number of points to be observed:

It was found that the basic education of prospective students was adequate for the proposed training and that several men and women had some relevant training and experience in environmental protection. It was also realized that the courses should be given in Khmer, preferably by experienced nationals and with less emphasis on reading lengthy documents and more emphasis on class and field discussions and illustrations. The reason for this was because some participants had weak reading skills in English and also in Khmer, due to disrupted school education. EIA literature in Khmer was found to be scarce with one notable exception referenced below. Khmer/English interpretation was made available as needed.

 Figure 1. MAFF staff and a farmer lead a discussion on fertilizer/environment interactions in a rice paddy case study
 Figure 2. This cabbage crop will be sprayed 30 times before harvesting
Several possible field trip locations were assessed for case work. Two were selected because they represent serious problems which are widespread in Cambodia. One dealt with agricultural chemical use in rice paddy culture south of Phnom Penh (Figure 1) and the other focussed on pesticide use in mixed vegetable farming east of the city (Figure 2). An additional case was selected for classroom work, namely the development of a palm oil plantation. In the field, the discussions were led by MAFF specialists from Phnom Penh headquarters and the provinces, together with one or two farmers at each site.

A number of competent Cambodian resource persons were interviewed and 12 were retained to present material and lead discussion in class and on the field trips. Two very good interpreters provided English/Khmer translation simultaneously, when required, for the English speaking course director and other visitors.

In terms of training materials and literature, many relevant documents were assembled from FAO and other international organizations and from Cambodian sources. FAO English language publications were distributed to each participant on the subjects of EIA, agro-ecological zoning, land quality indicators and the control of water pollution from agriculture. It was found that these were of limited use to the trainees because only a very small number of participants understood enough English to read advanced technical reports. However a few of the illustrations were useful.

While there was much reference material from the international literature, there is a definite lack of EIA and resource management literature in the Khmer language. One notable exception is a background reference manual for Regional Environmental Development Planning (REDP) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) entitled 'Environmental Planning and Impact Assessment in Cambodia' (Tyler et al, 1996). Produced in English by the Asian Development Bank and the International Development Research Center, the document was translated into Khmer by the MoE. It was distributed to each trainee and thus served as a basic reference for the EIA courses. Other useful references included the illustrated Integrated Pest Management literature in Khmer, which is widely used in Cambodia.

Materials used in the course were translated, including matrices, checklists, networks, and overlay diagrams. The entire assembled training package was entered into a computer data bank and retained for future course offerings. The national consultant counterpart was responsible for the planning, budgeting, and logistics for the courses, thereby obtaining valuable experience in practical aspects of course planning and management.

Two five-day courses were held back-to-back in May, 1998 in response to the expressed preferences of the client ministries and the participants. Staff often hold down two or more jobs and prolonged absences create financial hardships. Each course was planned to accommodate 25 students. With the foregoing planning in place, the following objectives were seen to be obtainable in a five-day course:

The course outline was drafted as summarized below:

Course execution

As planned, the five-day course was given twice on back-to-back weeks following the above schedule. The venue was the well-equipped MAFF conference room at the ministry headquarters in Phnom Penh. The course was a combination of seminar, lectures, field trips and workshops.

Participants were professionals from both ministries with a variety of backgrounds, including agronomy, plant protection, forestry, animal health, law, planning, agricultural economics, hydrology, fisheries, and financial planning.

As the course progressed, all main points were noted in Khmer and English on separate flip charts and fixed to the classroom wall. Thus, the entire course offering was visible throughout the week. The display proved to be useful for periodic review and for the course overview on the final day.

Three assigned case studies were written for solution during the course, as follows. The cases were made up of briefing information and a series of core questions to be answered during and after the field trip.

1. Rice paddy farming south of Phnom Penh featuring the use of agricultural chemicals and the importance of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices

 Figure 3. Some farmers need advice on fertilizer types and application - Rice paddy farming case study No. 1
 Figure 4. Cast-off illegal pesticide containers are abundant - Case study No. 2
The purpose of this field case was 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 have 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 (Figure 3).

2.Pesticide use in a mixed vegetable farming area east of Phnom Penh

This field trip afforded the opportunity for the class to obtain a thorough briefing on the problem of indiscriminate sale of banned chemical pesticides from Vietnam and on the overuse of chemical sprays on food crops (Figure 4). As noted in Figure 2, cabbage crops at the case study site are sprayed with pesticide thirty times before harvest.

3.Palm oil plantation development: a case for in-class solution in working groups

The case described 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 and pollution from pesticides and herbicides is a 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 are immigrant workers and overloading of existing local infrastructure and social services and increased health problems in the local community. Other problems with these large projects include land tenure and land/resource use rights.

The main learning outcomes from the three case studies are as follows:

  1. Even though the participants were generally familiar with the problems in rice paddy culture and the use of fertilizers, they needed to understand the underlying causes from the field trip presentations and discussions. The time spent on this aspect permitted them to rapidly gain insights into cause/effect relationships.

  2. The mixed vegetable farm case revealed the main causes of environmental and human impacts brought about by the improper use of banned pesticides. Using the EIS model, the participants learned to identify the need for pesticide licensing, product application instructions, and public awareness to guard human health where pesticide use is required.

  3. The palm oil situation illustrated the conventional application of EIA to a proposed project, together with the completion of the environmental impact statement for the use of decision-makers. The class gained confidence in the traditional EIA model and worked throughout the case solution to the final recommendation stage.

  4. Each case provided essential common experiences and reference points for discussion in the seminar and workshops in class.

  • To: Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) training in Cambodia, Part 2

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