After the successful establishment of 30 model villages, the Ministry of Rural Development is preparing to collect information on the status of other villages to create an additional 250 by the end of the seventh mandate in 2028, aiming to help develop infrastructure and provide low-interest loans to expand small-scale businesses within local communities.

Over the past 10 years, these villages have been established with the financial support of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), including 10 each in Tbong Khmum, Takeo and Kampong Speu provinces, each with different potential.

“Fifty villages will be established each year. We are preparing documents to collect data to determine which villages are the most, more and less developed to create a map. Once we have this information, it will be easier for us to set specific goals to help the targeted villages,” rural development minister Chhay Rithisen said at a recent press conference.

In the process of establishing a model village, the ministry examines the geographical situation in the areas and provinces that are close to markets for agricultural products, especially the villages where people are willing to participate in community development.

In addition, it is necessary to select villages with different potential in important sectors such as culture, eco-tourism, tourism, economy and agriculture to develop as models.

“We don’t set up a model village where people are not willing to cooperate. Some people do not care about our project and do not want to take initiative themselves; instead, they wait for us to do everything for them,” he said.

“But we are warmly welcomed in some villages where people stand up and work independently with our support. We are proud of the results, especially because all of this work has been successful,” he said.

The ministry plans to build 250 new model villages by the end of the seventh mandate government in 2028. Ministry of Rural Development

According to the ministry, after a village is selected, the development focuses on three main areas. 

The first is economic advancement, which helps increase household income through professional skills training and providing loans to run large-scale diversified agricultural ventures.

The second involves social development activities such as improving health through the supply of clean water and toilets, and building infrastructure like roads, health centres and model kindergartens.

The last area is the promotion of education and management, such as teaching villagers to be more diligent, fostering a community spirit and encouraging them to take ownership of their achievements, to increase public and social security, order and especially to promote the safe village-commune policy.

“We create model villages to boost economic growth, social welfare and health and sanitation, ensuring adequate infrastructure. Another goal is to help residents become leaders of their village and community,” the minister said.

“A village development committee is also set up to encourage residents to diligently train in life skills and gain more knowledge. We help develop the village, assist in finding markets for their products, and when their goods are sold, they earn income,” he said.

The village development committee takes on the role of leading and coordinating the annual development plan for the residents and organising the promotion of the model village to attract more tourists.

It also helps promote community cohesion, creating an economy of scale. Villages can unite, forming a larger community. When they join together, they gain the power to negotiate prices, such as lowering agricultural costs, and have the opportunity to compete in external markets, thereby increasing their profits.

Minister of Rural Development Chhay Rithisen meets with a model village community in Takeo province in January

If a model village achieves its planned goals, it is rewarded with funding for further development. This can also foster competition between villages, driving them to achieve development milestones.

“Development must happen rapidly, like mushrooms growing. If the villages unite, development will be easier. Neighbouring villages can benefit from the model villages by sending their children to its schools, hospitals and playgrounds, and utilising new infrastructure such as roads,” he added.

The ministry’s Model Village Development Team has developed criteria for eligible villages with five main evaluation areas: economic, social, health and living environment, infrastructure and good governance.

Kim Leang, Champa commune chief in Takeo’s Prey Kabas district, said that five of the nine villages in the commune have been selected as models: Chompou, Russey Thmey, Ponsang, Champa and Roneam Pich.

Chompou earned first place due to their construction of a community kindergarten and a playground for children.

The model villages receive many benefits from the ministry and KOICA, such as low-interest loans to create and expand businesses. These include projects like building ponds to raise fish, silk weaving, growing vegetables and raising cattle. 

“I see KOICA team members coming to the community. Financial loans with low interest rates are provided. The project helps improve our livelihoods and brings honour to our commune, too,” Leang said.

The ministry’s department of rural economic development director Ky Sophal said a family can secure a loan of $2,000 only, with an interest rate of 1.5 per cent per month.

“Before providing the loan, we teach them how to manage and use the budget and also about the risks associated with the loan to ensure they do not misuse it,” he said.

The average monthly income for rural areas has increased to two million riel, approximately $500, per family, up from 1.3 million riel, or $325, in 2015, as per the Ministry of Planning’s National Institute of Statistics.

According to KOICA, 334 projects focusing on income generation, living environment and capacity building were approved for implementation in the initial model villages in 2018, with a total budget of $955,000. Each village received a budget ranging from $20,000 to $80,000 to develop their community.

The pilot project is one component of the $8.95 million Self-Supporting Rural Development Project via participatory approach. Since 2014, over 900 pilot initiatives have been implemented in 30 model villages across Takeo, Kampong Speu and Tbong Khmum provinces.