A national network of women farmers was established in the capital yesterday in the hopes of amplifying the voices of the Kingdom’s primarily female agricultural labour force amid a male-dominated policymaking environment.
Some 100 “women-farmer champions” met in Phnom Penh at a conference organised by Oxfam and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). The women selected 48 national champions – two from each province – to represent the interests of agricultural stakeholders at the national level.
Women represent 75 per cent of the agricultural labour force but hold only 20 per cent of government positions in agricultural policymaking, said Oxfam policy adviser Kaneka Keo.
“Women farmers have done a lot of good – we need to give them a platform to have a chance to talk,” she said.
Cambodia’s women farmers are particularly vulnerable to climate change, according to several international bodies.
This, compounded with the lower literacy rates among female farmers, impairs their ability to take out small loans, plan crops to market demand and access information on climate-change adaptation, said Keo.
Siem Reap province champion Seak Kaliyann, who heads a cooperative of 100 farmers, said yesterday that beyond the challenge of a lack of market access, the past two years of drought have dried up income. She is able to produce only enough to feed her family, though she could previously make $250 per year selling produce.
Keo said that accessing micro-finance loans was a “complicated process”, sending women to same-day moneylenders with higher interest rates, which pushes farmers into debt, which in turn drives the migration of men to seek work further afield, like in Thailand.
Leam Sangim, a champion from Preah Vihear, said that because of the drought, 15 people had left her Kulen district village last year.
At yesterday’s conference, Mom Thany, deputy chair of the MAFF’s gender and children working group, acknowledged the lack of representation for women.
“It’s slow; it needs to improve, and it’s not just MAFF – it’s every ministry,” she said, highlighting the government’s Gender Mainstreaming Policy and Strategic Framework in Agriculture 2016-2020.
The framework, adopted last October, seeks to increase women’s economic empowerment and representation in the agricultural sector. One example would be to have more female “extension trainers” – ministry workers who teach farming techniques and strategies for climate-change adaptation.
The role of the network created yesterday, Oxfam’s Keo said, would include holding MAFF accountable in the implementation of such policies.