One of the most moving moments in a trip I made to Cambodia in 2009 was when I spoke with a woman at the marketplace out on Highway Number 6. She had staked her claim to a fairly prominent spot near the road, and she was selling herbs and vegetables.
That morning she had set out from Bakong at 3:00am by bicycle in order to arrive at the market early enough to get a good position, but when I spoke to her near midday sales had been slow and the vegetables were wilting in the April heat. Today she would make less than 4000 riel, or less than a dollar for her effort.
Cambodian farmers live in a knife edge between self-sufficiency and disaster. Savong noticed an uptick in demand for places at his residential home for children SHEC (formerly SOC) after flooding wiped out rice crops during the most recent monsoon season, late last year. One event like that can render all hope of putting enough food into the mouths of the family.
Fishing is also a staple part of local agriculture, and the lifeblood of Cambodia (as it is in neighbouring countries) is the Mekong River which descends from China and defines much of the SE Asian delta. In Cambodia it indirectly feeds the Tonle Sap lake when, during the dry season the river out of the lake changes direction, and the Mekong flows inland.
But fishing on the Mekong is under threat thanks to hydro schemes in neighbouring nations, schemes that will stop the migration and breeding of fish, as well as from intensification of fishing including banned practices such as dynamiting.
This attached article features discussion about the river, and about recent films – made by Cambodians – that document the changing course of the river’s influence in modern Cambodia.
Between climate change and human impact, the outlook for agriculture in Cambodia is getting no safer, no more reliable than before. In some respects the recipe is forming for an economic catastrophe.