Workers are busy renovating National Road 5, a critical artery connecting the region’s Southern Economic Corridor.
When completed, the network will connect Phnom Penh with Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok, and extend to Myanmar.
National Road 5 will “undeniably result in urbanisation, while the bypasses and bridges will improve road safety, and enrich the local community along with, of course, the region as a whole”, said Dun Vandyreagan, an official from the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation’s Road Infrastructure Department.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) committed an Official Development Assistance (ODA) loan of $600 million at an interest rate of 0.01 per cent to make the work in the Kingdom possible.
The project in Cambodia stretches from the outskirts of the capital through Kandal province, to the Thai border in Banteay Meanchey province via two routes through Pursat and Battambang provinces – spanning more than 350km.
Driving 215km up the road from Prek Kdam bridge towards the “Rice Bowl of Cambodia”, it becomes clear that the investment in the road network brings far-reaching advantages.
The project aids more than transportation, benefiting farmers with improved supply to local and international markets and enhanced logistics.
“I’m really happy that Jica is rebuilding the road, and the community is looking forward to it being completed,” said Muol Meun from Battambang province’s Moung Russey district.
Muol, head of rice farming collective Chrey Bong Kern Phol, said his cooperative once grew only 39 tonnes of rice a year, but after receiving training from Jica, that number gradually grew to more than 100 tonnes.
In 2009, before Jica began assisting rice growers, farmers were only harvesting once a year, but now yield crops twice in that timeframe.
Moul took home the model farmer award in 2014, and the group’s Phka Rumduol and Sen Kroob varieties won the coveted “World’s Best Rice Award” in 2018 and 2019 respectively, sparking demand and arousing local farmers’ interest in joining the collective.
“Our greatest challenge right now is that we are producing more rice than we can store as it is difficult to get our product to the market to sell . . . The road project will address this,” he said.
Moul noted that sometimes demand is so high for the community’s rice that he is unable to fulfil orders. However, farmers experienced difficulty coping with this year’s abnormally hot dry period – straining output this season.
“We depend on irrigation to water our paddy fields . . . after the work is done, we can easily expect to harvest 60ha of extra land and yield 100 to 200 tonnes of rice more than we currently do,” he said.
Further up the road is the Wat Chre Irrigation and Drainage Improvement Project – one of Jica’s most ambitious undertakings in the Kingdom – and the irrigation work referred to by Moul.
Jica has provided an ODA loan of almost $41.5 million for its construction.
Already 95 per cent complete, it will not only better control hydro flow, but also channel water to rice farmers throughout the area via secondary and branch canals – benefiting approximately 8,500 families, according to a joint survey by Jica and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Previously, rice farmers relied on poorly constructed irrigation canals built using slave labour during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Akio Yamashita, West Tonle Sap Irrigation and Drainage Rehabilitation and Improvement Project team leader, noted that the main canals were rehabilitated through Chinese aid.
“This is a good example of cooperation here in Cambodia,” he said.
When complete, the dam will include a fish ladder to ensure communities who rely on water resources continue earning after the project is complete, with their stocks able to migrate freely.
Srey Mao, 42, told The Post through a translator that she grew crops, including rice, water lily and mango, and supplemented her income selling drinks and snacks.
“I’ve faced some difficulty accessing water because sometimes it is plentiful and other times it is not. We expect to have reliable water after the project is completed, so I’m excited to see the work done soon as it will not only help me but also the whole community.
“I think the construction of the road is extremely important because we will grow a lot more crops than before and then be able to transport them to places we could not previously reach,” Mao said.