Initial Field Visit in Cambodia

On 17 January 2016 project team members Andreas Neef and Kellie McNeill from the University of Auckland, Bryan Boruff and Julia Horsley from the University of Western Australia and Floris van Ogtrop from the University of Sydney arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to undertake an initial field visit of flood affected communities in Kratie province.

This week-long visit — coordinated with support from Dr. Chanrith Ngin from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Mr. Siphat Touch from the Ministry of Rural Development and Dr. Vong Sok from the Ministry of Environment — involved inception workshops with key stakeholders, meetings with non-government organisations and initial field visits to the five most flood affected communes in Phrek Prasob district including Chroy Banthey, Tamao, Saub, Prekprasab and Koh Tasuy. This initial stage was aimed at identifying some of the internal and external pressures facing communities and to understand the impacts of these risk factors upon food, water and energy security in the district.

The first inception workshop took place on 18 January at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), attended by both students and staff including four student research assistants; Yuk Seng Ponleur, Nhem Sareth and Veng Chhenghak from RUPP and Lucy Benge from the University of Auckland. The workshop began with an introduction to the project by Andreas Neef and was followed by presentations on the themes of food security, participatory hazard and hydrological mapping, Q-sort methodology and resilience in disaster risk reduction policy. This led to discussions surrounding the project’s potential contribution to current climate change adaptation work taking place in Cambodia.

Travelling four hours north to Kratie the research team met with the Deputy Governor of the province, Mr. Cheak Meang Heang, on January 20. This meeting highlighted the impacts of climate change upon agriculture in the region, especially related to water shortages for irrigation, livestock and household consumption and discussed the potential implications of hydroelectric dam projects in the upper Mekong River. Water scarcity emerged as one of the more significant and ongoing challenges facing the region despite the near annual occurrence of flooding in many parts.

Following the welcome by the Deputy Provincial Governor, the team made their first field visit to Koh Tasuy Commune, located on an island in the Mekong south of Kratie town. This commune is made up of three villages with around 348 households of which the majority grow corn for animal feed and tobacco. Although annual flooding is expected, planned for and often benefitted from, this commune has seen a change in flood patterns, with more severe flooding in 2012 and 2013 requiring the temporary evacuation of livestock to land outside the commune. Other challenges include a decline in market demand for tobacco and high input costs, which has led many households to take loans from microfinance institutions or to migrate to urban areas for off-farm employment.

The following day on 21 January the second inception workshop was held in Kratie to introduce the project to the Deputy Provincial Governor of Kratie, Mr. Cheak Meang Heang, the District Governor of Phrek Prasob, Mr. Ean Narum as well as to commune heads and representatives of non-government organisations working on climate change adaptation projects in the Kratie area. Workshop participants discussed the need for crop diversification and alternative rice varieties to deal with flood and drought as well as issues surrounding how the project would address the long-term impacts of climate change in communities.

Following the Kratie inception workshop the research team made initial field visits to Chroy Banthey, Saub, Phrek Prasob and Tamao communes where rice farming and fishing are the main sources of livelihood. From these visits three communes, Koh Tasuy, Phrek Prasob and Tamao, were selected for more in-depth discussions with village heads, teachers, elderly and female-headed households, which were carried out during a week-long field study by the students from RUPP and the University of Auckland. Initial conversations indicated some of the key challenges facing the area, including issues surrounding land ownership, the loss or sale of land as a consequence of debt, deforestation for agricultural growth, water and fuel shortage, waterborne diseases during flood times, loss of market access for particular crop types, reduction in fish quantities and external migration of youth for off-farm employment.

These discussions also indicated similarities between communes in terms of coping and adaptation strategies which included the use of communal and private safe land for the evacuation of livestock, the exchange of fish for rice and vegetables during flood times, the construction of higher houses, the production of new crops for sale and subsistence. This initial research stage will be followed in June this year with a second field visit to follow up on key emergent issues including questions surrounding the role that climate change plays in people’s decisions to migrate or sell their land and how these key challenges intersect with the food, water and energy security of communities.