Gov’t Lapses Hurt Rural Poor

Lapses in government efforts to control the distribution of land and the use of natural resources is making the already precarious financial situation of many poor farmers even worse, a report from a local think tank said.

The policy brief on “Food Sec­urity in Cambodia” from the Cambodia Development Re­source Institute cited recent re­ports about overfishing and logging concessions signed over to companies.

“Increasing pressure on forests and water bodies has serious implications for the environment, but restriction of previously open access and the leasing out of these resources to powerful commercial interests hits the poor hard,” the brief stated.

The two-year study of 244 households in two provinces concludes that rural poverty is a serious problem affecting anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent of households.

About 90 percent of the country’s population lives in rural areas.

The study also found that this poor population has “increasingly limited access to land.” In the villages studied, between “11 and 13 percent of the land changed hands, to the net benefit of richer households” over the past five years, the report stated.

To make matters worse, international and local aid efforts to improve the lives of some of Cambodia’s poorest farmers are for the most part not working, another CDRI policy brief stated.

“In most cases, the economic impact of the programs on village output and incomes is so far disappointing,” states “Learning from Rural Development Pro­grammes.” Researchers from CDRI and the Ministry of Rural Development studied rural development programs of six international and local aid in five pro­vinces last fall.

The report said that villagers of all socioeconomic classes are benefiting from the construction of roads, wells, ponds and health centers, but that other projects like the construction of schools and irrigation equipment were only being used by those who could afford them.

“There are some successes and some failures,” said Ngy Chanphal, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Rural Devel­opment. “There are many challenges ahead of us—one of the challenges is that we choose a new approach to rural development and learn from our mistakes. We should build on our experiences.”

The reports come at a time when staff from the Ministry of Agriculture are meeting to assess this year’s rice production and decide whether to ask the international community for food aid.

The country’s inability to adequately develop rural areas, protect natural resources and prepare for possible crop shortfalls is partly due to political maneuvering for this summer’s election, the former minister of Rural Development charged.

“If the situation is still like this we will face a serious problem of food—especially rice,” said Hong Sun Huot, a Funcinpec member. “Most government projects have been done mostly for advancing political purposes.”

Hong Sun Huot left the country after the factional fighting of July 1997. When he returned to Cam­bodia, he found himself locked out of the ministry he had worked in, and out of a job.

Ngy Chanphal flatly denied charges the ministry has been doling out aid and food for party purposes.

“We are doing things all over the country—how can we be helping one party when we are helping rural people all over Cambodia?” he said.

 

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