Small farmers in limbo as Cambodia wavers on Tonle Sap conservation rules

In 2021, Cambodia’s government began enforcing a ban on farming in designated conservation zones around the Tonle Sap wetland, moving to protect the health of this vital fishery but also disrupting the lives of thousands of farmers who live around the lake.

Vorn Keo, perched on the edge of a green wooden boat, navigates through the flooded forest of Tonle Sap Lake and across the boundary into a designated conservation area. Several feet below the water is Keo’s farmland, where his family has grown rice since 1952.

In November 2021 the Cambodian government began enforcing a decade-old ban on farming in the conservation zone, disrupting the lives and livelihoods of Keo and more than 15,000 families around the lake.

The ban is intended to conserve the lake’s declining fish stocks, which provide 60% of the protein consumed in Cambodia.

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