Before the Khmer New Year, I happened to visit a Vietnamese village bordering Cambodia's
Svay Rieng province.
I was astonished to see many beautiful concrete houses built on the edge of green
rice fields. This tells that the farmers who own them have far better living conditions
than their Khmer neighbors.
The secret behind the success of the Vietnamese farmers can be tracked down easily.
It's the flow of water that makes things flourish.
Unfortunately, the world seems to turn upside down on the Cambodian side of the border.
Destitution stretches across the Cambodian land.
The rice fields have become cracked by the burning sun following the rice harvest
several months ago. Except for a few motorbikes that carry farm produce from Vietnam,
there is virtually nothing moving during this time of the year.
I decline to use communist Vietnam as an example for "democratic" Cambodia.
But Vietnam's agricultural development seems very successful.
Farmers there grow three rice crops a year thanks to the advantage of their irrigation
systems, whereas Cambodian farmers depend solely on rainwater and grow only one rice
crop. Thus most Cambodian farmers can hardly make ends meet. I was told by some villagers
that last year many Khmer farmers were hired to work on the Vietnamese rice fields
and some went to collect rice stalks left behind.
However, the situation of Cambodian farmers can be changed. Many benefits can happen
if our farmers have water to farm during the dry season. Usually, some farmers would
gamble and drink wine to pass their boring time when there is no farming.
This can result in many problems, including family violence, crime and theft.
While in Vietnam, I saw many young men and women throughout the village living and
working joyfully with their family. Back into Cambodian soil, we only saw a few youths,
as many of them had gone to look for work in the city where they face or create different
If they have farming work to do at home, they don't need to go to the city. They
can also live happily in their village in the traditional manner with the protection
of their family.
We know that Cambodia is going to seek more international aid soon after the new
government is formed. Since more than 80 percent of the population are farmers, both
the donors and the government should make agricultural development a top priority
in their meeting.
Instead of giving our farmers food, give them the means to make more food themselves.
Give them irrigation systems and water to grow more rice crops. Poverty reduction
Moeun Chhean Nariddh - Phnom Penh