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Biomass a benefit to rural Cambodia

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Women sort out coconut shells in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district earlier this year. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

Rural Cambodian communities are seeing economic benefits as a result of a biomass and farming resilience project run by GERES, a French NGO.

As part of the AREA project, 200 households in Kampong Chhnang province are growing 22 varieties of trees to negate the effects of deforestation, including the shortage of fuel wood.

Mathieu Van Rijn, the program director for AREA, outlined the further economic benefits of the project beyond their participating households.

“Many small artisan palm sugar producers depend on locally available and low cost wood to sustain their businesses. The further energy sources have to travel to the end user, the higher the price is. Low cost, locally available fuel wood sustains local businesses beyond our project participants.”

Cambodia is abundant in biofuel sources, such as sugarcane and coconut shells; however, they need to be planted on a large scale, using land that can be used for food, according to Van Rijn.

“Sugarcane requires the need for industrial-scale plantations, supply chains and a dedicated processing industry to create ethanol,” he said. “Users would need specific equipment to use the ethanol for cooking and would be competing with an international market.”

“Coconut shells can be used alongside our plants. The more renewable and sustainable sources of biomass used, the better. But, they’re not available everywhere,” said Van Rijn.

A closed cycle of local biomass use and supply ensures that the project is not at odds with food security efforts in Cambodia.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation is currently offering technical assistance to the ASEAN secretariat to ensure that bioenergy production does not infringe on food production in the region, according to it’s website, which states: “Bioenergy also offers opportunities to increase incomes and employment in rural areas, provided that appropriate policies and investments are put in place to enable smallholders to take advantage of growing biofuel markets.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Erika Mudie at newsroom@phnompenhpost.com

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