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Australian aid improving lives in rural Cambodia

Australian-funded CAVAC has provided rice farmer Chhin Sokun with a canal and roadway that have transformed her life.
Australian-funded CAVAC has provided rice farmer Chhin Sokun with a canal and roadway that have transformed her life. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Australian aid improving lives in rural Cambodia

The Oz-funded Cambodia Agricultural Value Chain is boosting farm productivity and upgrading important infrastructure in the Cambodian countryside

Chhin Sokun and her husband own almost 5.5 hectares of land in Porng Toeuk village in Kampot province. Since their marriage about 13 years ago, she and her husband have been growing rice, as well as a little corn, banana and taro, around their house.

Like many other farmers in her area, Sokun used to only be able to grow one crop of rice each year. That was because she didn’t have access to year-round water through an irrigation system. “I could grow only one time per year. I grew traditional rice which relies on rain and takes around six months to grow. I got a yield of two to two and a half tons per hectare at most,” she said. However, things have now changed for Sokun and her community.

The Cambodia Agricultural Value Chain (CAVAC) program is an initiative funded by Australian aid. The program aims to accelerate the growth of agricultural production in rice and vegetable farming. One of the things CAVAC focuses on is the rehabilitation and construction of irrigation schemes. As of January 2014, the program has already completed around 20 irrigation schemes. This includes the Sbove Andeth canal, which now brings water within reach of Sokun’s farm.

Sokun is a curious person and she always discusses how to grow rice with other farmers. She learnt that farmers in other areas with canals can grow the IR variety of rice, and get higher yields.

“I also want to grow the IR variety because I saw farmers in the next district who got the canal before me can grow it and had high yields, but I couldn’t grow like them because of not having enough water,” she said. “After the canal was rehabilitated, I switched to the IR variety, and I can grow two crops per year. The yield also went up quite significantly. Now we get four and a half to five tons per hectare,” Sokun said.

The extra rice means extra income for their family.

“When we did traditional rice cultivation we made between three and four million riel ($750-$1,000) in profit per year. Now that we are doing dry season rice cultivation, we make six million riel in profit per season, so in total we are making 12 million riel in profit per year,” she said.

Sokun and her family are not the only ones reaping the benefits from the rehabilitated canal. The canal allows nearly 700 hectares to be irrigated, benefitting around 1,000 households. The extra rice that is produced each year is worth around $600,000.

Irrigation canals built by CAVAC can bring other benefits to communities. For instance, CAVAC typically constructs a simple roadway alongside each canal. Sokun sells some of her produce in Touk Meas market, around 15 kilometres from her home.

“Before, I drove to the market on a road that was long and difficult, but now I drive on a shorter, smoother road,” she said.

The larger harvest and better road access has also led to an increase in the number of rice traders in her area. Now Sokun can simply sell her paddy to traders immediately after harvest, without the difficulty of having to transport the rice like before.

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