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'Green zone' takes root in Siem Reap

A joint German and Cambodian regional economic development program to develop an agricultural “green zone” around Siem Reap at a cost of about $20 million is gaining momentum, with five districts selected for the project’s first phase.

Four German organizations – GTZ, DED, InWent, and KFW – have guaranteed 12 million euros for the project, and the Cambodian government has committed to contributing an additional 10 percent of this figure, or 1.2 million euros.

GTZ program leader Martin Orth, based in Siem Reap, told the Post that the project would both beautify and economically enrich the target districts.

The simple objective, he said, was “to grow vegetables and raise animals for the platters of the tourists who come to Siem Reap. The main theme is to link the tourist boom in Siem Reap to the rural areas.”

He pointed out that 50-80 percent of the vegetables and about 75 percent of other foods consumed in Siem Reap were imported and that Siem Reap performed poorly in passing on money derived from tourism revenue to the general population.

“The pro-poor impact of in-destination tourism revenues is estimated at 27 percent in Luang Prabang, Laos, and 26 percent in Da Nang, Vietnam,” he said. “But the pro-poor impacts are an extremely low five percent in Siem Reap.”

“We want to turn the areas surrounding Siem Reap into a natural green zone and turn the poor districts into rich districts so that people can earn more money to better support their families,” Siem Reap governor Sou Phirin told the Post.

“This project, it is hoped, will help to expand economic growth in the rural areas of Siem Reap province.”

Phirin identified the debut districts as Pouk, Angkor Chum, Varin, Svay Leu and Sot Nikom.

He said that three of the chosen debut districts, Pouk, Varin and Angkor Chum, were in Khmer Rouge hands as recently as 1995-97 and that there was much underutilized land. Land speculation, especially in Pouk district, he added, was rapidly encroaching on agricultural areas.

“We are now surveying the geography in the chosen districts and developing the human resources to carry out this project which will be officially started at the end of this year,” Phirin said.

The wide-ranging green zone program would also help develop infrastructure in the target districts with more paving of local roads, for example.

The program would aim to revitalize and promote the local handicrafts industry since most of the souvenirs and handcrafts sold in Siem Reap tourist markets were, like foodstuffs, imported.

The green zone project had its genesis in 2005 when the Council of Ministers requested assistance from German organizations to help farmers reap some of the benefit from the millions of dollars that pour into the province each year from international tourism.

Joint program preparation missions worked together in 2006 to define the scope and areas of German support, and in 2007 an agreement was struck to jointly tackle the problem that too few benefits from the booming tourism economy were trickling down to the local population, especially the rural poor, creating a disparity between the booming Siem Reap urban area and surrounding areas that were among the poorest in the Kingdom.

The regional economic development program officially began in October 2007 and was to last for eight years, with a completion date for the first phase scheduled for September 2010.

Siem Reap deputy governor Bun Tharith earlier this year led a Cambodian delegation to Germany to learn about green zone projects firsthand. He told the Post that Germany in the past decade had had success with similar projects in other countries.

“People will be provided with business capital and technical training and will then be integrated into the basic community project for a sustainable joint benefit,” Bun Tharith said.

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