A project in Stung Treng province is giving women the opportunity to participate in one of the fastest-growing food-production sectors in Cambodia: aquaculture fisheries – a field that has also traditionally been among its most male-dominated.
According to a new article in the Journal of Asia Fisheries Science, the aquaculture sector, which already provides a sixth of Cambodia’s total fish production, is dominated by men due to its reliance on labour-intensive systems and constantly changing technologies. Cultural norms in many Cambodian villages ensure that women and girls are in charge of domestic work rather than learning new methods for food production, the report says.
But a project known as WISH-Ponds, launched by the NGOs World Fish and the Culture and Environment Preservation Association (CEPA) in 2011, has spread small-scale aquaculture ponds to “peri-urban” regions – usually poor areas where urban dwellings meld into countryside – to promote fish-production techniques that can be incorporated into women’s household chores, the report notes.
The ponds are built using small, concrete tanks with easy-to-use water storage technology to raise African catfish, known for their high resistance to low-oxygen water.
“WISH-Ponds provides a more sustainable method for introducing aquaculture to households, and especially for women who have limited experience growing fish,” said Chea Seila, a natural resource management researcher and one of the report’s main authors.
The ponds can be operated independently by women, Seila noted, and require limited land and labour, making them useful for boosting the food security and income of the rural poor.
The WISH-Ponds project was launched in Stung Treng’s Kamphon village, and the women involved are reported to have spent their extra income from fish sales on other foods and household goods.
The study’s authors also note that women’s involvement in aquaculture production is especially important as the sector is expected to grow to produce about 300,000 tonnes of fish per year by 2020, a 150 percent increase from 2014.
Responding to the findings, Rodrigo Montero, gender adviser for the German International Development Agency, said it is particularly important for women to be involved in food production and income generation because they are more likely to invest the benefits back into the family.
“Promoting the economic empowerment of women is a fair and smart approach, because it not only benefits women by increasing their financial autonomy, but is more likely to benefit the health, nutrition and educational outcomes of their children, families and communities,” Montero said.