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The pull of city life

Cambodia’s rural towns are not unique in their suffering due to brain drain to the cities., but that does not make the problem any less severe for those trying to get by in the countryside. Sun Narin investigates the causes of the skills crisis , and asks what can be done to bring students back to work in their hometowns.

Cambodia is an agricultural-based economy. The majority of the population living in the provinces farm for a living. However, many provincial students who study agriculture in Phnom Penh never return to the provinces to work on their families’ farms. Yang Saing Koma, president of Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture, said that educated youths are important not only for the agricultural sector, but also for the other development sectors. He said that graduate students are able contribute to the development of their provinces and the society as a whole.

“It causes deficiencies in human resources in the provinces when the educated youth remain in the city to work,” he said.

Kampot province-born student, Min Savang who graduated in Agricultural Economics and Rural Development in Phnom Penh in 2009, said that the lack of job opportunities in his province discouraged him from returning to Kampot province to look for work.

“I do not know what to do there related to my expertise. There are no organisations I can work with,” he said. He previously worked in Phnom Penh, but now he is working in Battambang province as a rural planning coordinator. However, he said: “If there is a good job opportunity in my province, I will go back to work there because I want to be near my family and help to improve my province.”

CDAC President Yang Saing Koma said not all students wish to apply their agricultural knowledge in their home provinces.  Many students in fact strive to work with NGO’s or Government agencies here in Phnom Penh.

“They are educated and skilful in agriculture, so they could use their knowledge to improve the farming in their provinces and make farming their big business,” he said.

“We have to encourage them to return and work in their hometowns so that we have human resources at the basic level,” he said, explaining that the market for agriculture is large in Cambodia because Cambodia still imports much of its food stuffs such as fruits and vegetables from Vietnam and Thailand.

Banking-major Dam Sophieng from Battambang province, has been working in Phnom Penh for nearly three years, said that there are not many jobs in her home province and hardly any  possibilities to further her education.

“[In Phnom Penh], I am able to seek a new profession, to pursue my study and to learn new things and expand my knowledge,” she said, but she also expressed that in Phnom Penh she has to spend a lot of money on food, accommodation and general living expenses.

Im Samrithy, the executive director of the Education/NGO partnership, said that students always have high expectations after studying.

“The higher they study, the better the job they hope to attain. How can they find what they are looking for in the countryside, what job can they do?” he said.

He said that the government should promote development more in the provinces, creating employment and education opportunities there. This would lure more Phnom Penh educated youths to return to their home provinces.

The Asian Development Bank is working to develop rural Cambodia by improving farming, infrastructure and other business at the basic level.

Peter Brimble, the Senior Country Economist of ADB, said that if the opportunities do not exists in the provinces, the educated youth will not return to live and work there.

“People do what is the best for them. If you want to develop your province, you need good people, but if good people do not come, how can you possibly develop it?” he said.

He added that the consequence can be a huge development gap between the provinces and cities and the negative impacts on the cities are traffic jams, overcrowding, slum areas, unemployment and many other social ills.

“[The Government] should create better environment, activities, urban-rural linkage, and balanced development between the provinces and the cities so that the educated rural youth will return to their provinces,” said Brimble. However, he stressed that it is quite challenging to ameliorate the issue by indicating that, “It’s the chicken and the egg problem. We do not know which one is the initial problem.”

In 2005, the Royal Government of Cambodia set up a strategic framework for decentralization and deconcentration reforms which is the policy that guides the process of governance reform to develop management structures at provincial, district and commune levels and it is considered the first step to start developing at the basic level.

Due to the fact that there are a lot of pressures in Phnom Penh including expenditure, work competition, overcrowding and a questionable social environment, 24-year-old Heng Hangphumihan, is returning to his native province, Siem Reap. He plans to be a physics teacher for grades 10 through 12 in the upcoming school year after being educated for four years in Phnom Penh.

“I want to live with my family and teach my provincial people since there is lack of quality teachers there. By doing this, I can contribute to the development of my province and producing a better educated younger generation,” he said.



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