FAO in Cambodia


Supporting farmers through micro-watershed management approach in Kulean Cheung Commune, Preah Vihear Province, Northern Cambodia

Mrs Hun Heng, rice farmer in Por Reang village of Kulean Cheung commue, shows a cashew plant at her plant nursery.

Nearly all villagers in Kulean Cheung Commune rely on rice farming for food and income, and Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs) collection in forest areas. They grow rain-fed rice, so there is only one harvest every year. If climate variability affects precipitation patterns, rice production and food security are at risk.

The area is prone to flood and drought due to climate change and degraded forest cover. Illegal logging, unsustainable harvesting of Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs) and agricultural encroachment have accelerated forest and natural resource depletion. In turn, forest ecosystem services such as micro-climate regulation, water storage and quality, soil erosion control and flood and drought mitigation have been affected, impacting on farmers’ safe access to water.

Ou Trav stream, which flows across the village and is a critical source of water for farming and livestock, recedes significantly during the dry season. The only two wells in Prey Smach village are also parched by January, early in the dry season.

Mr Kuy Kin, a 40-year-old rice farmer of Prey Smach village, saw a decrease in the yield of his 1.5-hectare rice field from 2.7 tonnes to 900 kg during a prolonged drought in 2018. "The harvest was barely enough for the family’s annual consumption, so I had to find work in a cassava plantation to buy food. Other villagers did the same,” Mr Kin said. “When there is no water, there is no life."

The micro-watershed management approach promoted by the Life and Nature Project (LNP), funded by GEF, offered a practical approach to addressing climate change adaptation for both local authorities and farmers facing the daunting consequences of climate change and environmental degradation.

In addition, the LNP integrates a climate smart agricultural practice approach within the micro-watershed management in order to increase productivity while also building resilience to shifting precipitation patterns. The goals of the interventions are for Kulean Cheung Commune’s farmers being able to intensify their agricultural production while protecting the environment and its natural resources.

Watershed management committees for improved governance, participation, ownership and food security

In Kulean Cheung Commune LNP trained local authorities and farmers in the sustainable use of watershed resources and organized exchange visits to familiarize people with the concept of micro-watershed management. A Watershed Management Committee (WSMC) was formed with more than 20 local participants including Chief and Councilors of Kulean Cheung Commune and village chiefs as well as members of the Community Protected Area Management Committee (CPAMC) and the Community Forest Management Committee (CFMC).

With support from LNP, the WSMC developed a five-year Watershed Management Plan (WSMP) aimed at improving the state of watershed natural resources for the future.

The WSMC is officially recognized by the authorities of Kulean Cheung Commune and the Director of the Provincial Department of Environment (PDE) of Preah Vihear. Since commune authorities are members of the WSMC, it establishes a platform to officially share and address concerns and to integrate WSMP activities into the Commune Development Plan and the Commune Investment Plan. "This ensures continued funding for watershed management activities", explained Mr Chheng Ouy, Commune and WSMC Chief.

Based on the five-year WSMP and with funds and technical support from LNP, in May 2019 the community built three check dams for water flow control along the Ou Trav stream. “Now farmers can conserve water to use during part of the dry season, while they cooperate to restore the degraded forest cover, improving the catchment ecosystem services,” Mr Ouy said.

Mr Yin Ut, a 52-year-old farmer, whose rice field is close to one of the new check dams, said his yield increased by 30 percent thanks to the irrigation water from the stream that is now retained by the check dam.

"The year before, I did not have a good harvest, almost not enough to feed the six members of my family” he said. “Now that the stream water flow is regular, I can also grow vegetables and watermelons for consumption after the rice harvest, and sell the surplus.”

To ensure women’s livelihoods needs and constraints are properly considered in WSM, LNP encouraged the establishment of Women Producer Groups (WPG), and their meaningful participation in the WSMC.  WPG assist women to support each other by sharing their knowledge, skills and experience to improve their livelihoods and leadership role in local development processes.

As a consequence women were able to raise their voices, and in doing so highlight struggles with having to travel far to fetch water. As a result, and upon request from the villagers, a community pond was rehabilitated with support from LNP. The rehabilitation of the pond provides women with more convenient access to water that helps to reduce their heavy workload of taking care of the household, providing food for their families, childcare and agriculture.

Mrs Hun Heng, aged 52, farmer and student of the Farmer Field School (FFS) said that the pond allows her and other members of WPG to intensify their home gardening and to raise chickens for both food and income. Another farmer and FFS member, Mrs Haem Hun, aged 40, said that thanks to the rehabilitated pond, the WPG now plans to raise chickens using savings accumulated with the help of LNP.

“The pond will ensure enough water throughout the year. Also, the water level of community wells is increasing after the pond has been rehabilitated. We want to do fish farming in the pond for improved food security” she said.

FFS member Mr Sambeath, 31, explained that in order to secure the area and prevent the erosion of the pond bank, the villagers raised funding to fence the pond and plant vegetables, coconut and other trees around the perimeter. LNP supported the seedling establishment by demonstrating the application of a water saving drip irrigation system, while the tree seedling production group contributed with sharing some of their own tree seedlings. A management committee has been established to oversee the use and maintain the pond.

Additionally, a three days field trip for selected PWG members to Ratanakiri was organised to facilitate knowledge exchange on agroforestry home garden practices. Returning participants shared their newly gathered knowledge resulting in a community led decided to trial the innovations.

Increased local capacities to manage and restore natural resources and forests

Forests are key to maintaining watershed functionality through increasing water infiltration and aquifer replenishment and preventing superficial runoff and soil erosion that can fill in streams with sediment.

Kulen Cheung Commune’s forest areas, Por Meak Boun Community Forest (CF) in Phyour Chrouk village and Por Reang Community Protected Area (CPA) in Por Reang village, have been subject to land clearing and illegal logging, exacerbating watershed degradation.

In response, the commune was able to establish management committees for both the CF and the CPA, and with support from LNP, these committees have strengthened their organizational and forest patrolling capacities and efforts. Tree planting and assisted natural regeneration initiatives took place and the committees planted a total of 20,483 seedlings to restore 23 hectares of degraded forest land.

Mr Tep An, Chief of Por Meak Boun Community Forest, said his community relies upon forest resources for NWFPs to sell, and they came to realize that forest loss makes them more vulnerable to climate change impacts. 

“Prior to the arrival of LNP, wild orchids and malva nuts, the most valuable NWFPs, were severely threatened due to over harvesting. People were competing for these resources”, An said. “Now we have set rules for harvesting wild orchids and malva nuts. This will allow NWFPs to regenerate and be available in the longer-term.”

Mr Long Punharith, Deputy Chief of Tbeng Meanchey Forestry Administration Cantonment, said that LNP helped settle disagreements over community forest borders by installing concrete poles to demarcate the border. After the CFMC was legalized, he noticed smoother and more efficient forest patrolling and a decrease in the infringements of forest regulations. 

“There is more trust between the CFMC and the Forestry Administration Cantonment”, Mr Punharith said. “And having a CFMC makes the management more effective, as they live nearby the CF and can immediately report on infractions to law enforcement officials.”

 A new way to farm rice with less water

To reduce reliance on NWFPs, farmers also need to improve their agricultural practices and find alternative options to generate income. The LNP works with the Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries via the FFS approach to train farmers in the villages of Por Reang and Prey Smach in Climate Smart Agriculture techniques, including System of Rice Intensification (SRI) seed selection, use of cover crops, organic fertilizers and natural pesticides, intercropping and agroforestry. All these practices and techniques improve soil health and food security and may provide additional seasonal income.

Mr Men Sambeath, said that the different techniques he learned have helped farmers build resilience to shifting precipitation patterns. SRI techniques also shorten preparation time and reduce the number of seeds needed enabling farmers to adapt to unpredictable onset of rainy season. He hopes to be able to expand his rice cultivation with the concept taught by LNP and to start growing vegetables and fruits for household consumption and sales.

“Without joining the FFS, we would not have learnt all these improved techniques to farm rice using water more efficiently, which makes us more resilient to climate change. Also, we can enhance the yield by applying natural fertilizers and pesticides that can be prepared by ourselves. Now with the check dam there will be water to irrigate the farm.”  

“The project has strengthened our adaptation and resilience to drought, providing access to water, which allows us to increase the agricultural production. I expect our living standards to improve in the coming years”, Mr Sambeath said.