By Paul Wyrwoll
ICEM’s Paul Wyrwoll reports from farming communities in Cambodia, where the recent rehabilitation of the Stung Chinit irrigation scheme has enabled many households to harvest a dry season rice crop and improve their food security.
However, the overall distribution of benefits and costs turns out to be much more complex than he expected.
Rice is the most important crop in Kompong Thom province, as it is across the Lower Mekong Basin. Situated north-east of the Tonle Sap, this province encompasses a large and flat floodplain. Farmers typically rely on a single rice crop, grown during the wet season in a lush landscape of endless rice fields. But in the dry season, the land is transformed into an arid dustbowl. Household food security is contingent on a store of the previous season’s harvest. Alternative income opportunities do exist, but they are limited, meaning that this livelihood cycle is highly precarious for poor households. Food security for families here can be completely undermined by a single adverse event, such as a destructive pest outbreak or the devastating 2011 flood.
The answer to this dramatic shift between rainfall abundance and deficit is well understood: irrigation of fields during the dry season with water from a reservoir, groundwater aquifer, or an alternative water source. But these solutions can be expensive, difficult to maintain, and/or entail external social and environmental costs.
Irrigation: ebbs and flows
Cambodia has a long history of irrigation construction. The long-lived prosperity of the Khmer Empire (AD 802- AD 1431) was founded on an extensive system of canals and reservoirs supplying an abundant agriculture sector. During the late 1970s the Khmer Rouge conscripted almost the entire population to build a vast irrigation infrastructure. The regime envisaged a […]