FAO in Cambodia

Centering the integrated landscape approach on resilience for sustainable watershed management and food security of rural communities


Strengthening the adaptive capacity and resilience of rural communities using a micro-watershed approach to climate change and variability to attain sustainable food security in Cambodia, or in short the “Life and Nature Project” (LNP), was afive-year project (2016-2020) funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). It aimed to improve the resilience of rural communities to impacts of climate change, while restoring and conserving ecosystem functions to support agriculture and attain food security.

The LNP focused on an integrated natural resource management approach called the “landscape approach” to sustain rural livelihoods and the biodiversity of micro-watershed areas in four target sites in four provinces: Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, Preah Vihear, and Ratanakiri. The approach was delivered under the project’s integrated “watershed management”, “climate smart agriculture” and “gender and alternative livelihood options” components.

Across the project’s integrated components, key results achieved include:

  • Establishment of four Watershed Management Committees (WSMC) with five-year Watershed Management Plans, embedded in the five-year Commune Development Plan (CDPs) and the relevant annually updated Commune Investment Plans (CIPs). The WSMC is regarded as the first of its kind in Cambodia.
  • Restored around 243 hectares of degraded forest, with 156 186 tree seedlings planted.
  • 10 519 hectares of Community Forests (CFs) and Community Protected Areas (CPAs) placed under protection.
  • Twenty-eight cascading in-stream structures and one pond constructed; 1 080 tree seedlings planted along 2 700 meters of restored stream banks.
  • A national Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) curriculum was developed with the government to provide the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) with the training framework and pedagogical resources to scale-up the valuable climate change adaptation lessons gained through the project’s implementation.
  • Central and provincial level MAFF staff trained in CSA theory and gender-responsive practices through a training of trainer programme.
  • Governmental staff from three ministries (MAFF, MoE, and MoWA) at provincial level trained to deliver cross-sectoral, gender-responsive coordination and collaboration to enhance services for climate-vulnerable, agriculture-based communities.
  • Forty-five CSA Farmer Field Schools (FFS) were conducted, providing climate adaptation knowledge, tools and support to over 1 200 male and female farmers; with particular emphasis on responding to women’s needs and constraints; 50 percent of the FFS learning plots were owned by women-headed households.
  • Fifty-two Women Producer Groups were established in the four target areas, aiming to enhancing women’s economic empowerment by promoting their meaningful participation in capacity development to improve their farming group management and financial skills through saving groups and collective climate-resilient business plan development.
  • Six inclusive and accessible training and videos were produced to complement and support the adoption and understanding of the integrated nature across all project’s components.

The combined actions aimed at restoring the fragile and over-exploited catchment ecosystems, their ecological functions, the natural resource base, the habitats for native wildlife, and the essential environmental services and goods they provide to support local livelihoods. In addition, it is estimated that 423 hectares of agricultural land and 443 households will benefit from the 28 water-focus infrastructure improvements. Through a cash for work plus (CFW+) approach, the project paid community members to undertake infrastructure construction and reforestation activities in which a total of 1 000 people (279 women) benefited financially from the construction of the 28 cascade check dams. The approach therefore not only strengthened ecosystem services and access to water resources, but also injected much needed cash benefits into communities, especially unskilled workers, when other rural employment and income was scarce. The LNP also provided important CFW+ benefits for tree planting work during the lean season.

The climate-smart farmer field schools allowed farmers to try innovative practices and methods that strengthen resilience and livelihoods. Addressing soil degradation issues through growing cover crops, improving water management with drip irrigation system, and exploring innovative pest management practices were amongst the FFS themes chosen by men and women through a participatory community engagement process. In total, an estimated additional 442 hectares of agricultural land is under improved CSA practices as a direct result of the project’s activities.

The project sought to improve meaningful and active representation and engagement of women in decision-making processes regarding natural resource management by strengthening their leadership skills. Notably 40 percent of the WSMC members are women, and 65 percent of the beneficiaries of FFS were female farmers. To improve the situation for rural women, and in particular of women headed households, 23 Women Producer Groups (WPG) consisting of 502 members were established across the target provinces. The LNP assisted the WPGs to identify and establish successful collective business models, including gender-responsive trainings to coach WPG members on group management, record keeping, business planning, farming techniques, information sharing and conservations of ecosystems.

The groups played major roles in supporting women through linking them with markets and providing the necessary skills to identify and diversify their livelihoods towards suitable options. Each WPG created its own business plan informed by a rapid market assessment and women’s needs and constraints. Some WPGs decided to focus their business on lemon, cassava and chicken production, while other groups focused on producing organic fertilizers to sale in local markets.

This market-led approach proved a creative way to support female-headed households and women farmer groups to strengthen their self-esteem, their marketing and negotiation power to produce more sustainably and generate higher incomes. The saving activity played a pivotal role in building and enhancing women’s cash flow capacity for (business) investments, as well as strengthening women´s economic empowerment, leadership and management skills. 

The LNP was successfully implemented by FAO and key partner ministries, including Environment (MoE), Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery (MAFF), and Women’s Affairs (MoWA), as well as their sub-national offices.