More than six years since Cambodian national Daravy Khiev finished her Masters in Human Geography at The University of Sydney, she is helping give back to the community she grew up in.
Now coordinator of operations & maintenance of irrigation schemes for the Australian Aid-funded program Cambodia Agricultural Value Chain (CAVAC), Daravy is putting into practice the lessons and research learning gained during her time studying in Australia.
After graduating from the Royal University of Phnom Penh with a degree in environmental management in 2005, Khiev was working behind the scenes in research before being selected to pursue her thesis on water management after securing a scholarship from the Australian government.
Speaking of her time studying in Australia, Khiev said it was a rewarding experience.
“It was a very rich experience,” she said.
“[Australia] is a different world from Cambodia where the education system is different.
“We had all of the resources available such as the libraries and all the journals that we couldn’t access here.”
Khiev, whose thesis involved in-depth research on farmers and water users in rural Cambodia, said gaining her masters in Australia enabled her to realise how the research could be put into practice back in her home country.
“I could apply the research I did in my thesis here at CAVAC by knowing how to help empower the community,” she said.
CAVAC, which involves working with communities, private companies and the government to build up the knowledge and capabilities of farmers, is now in phase two of the program.
With the aim of building on the achievements and lessons learned in phase one – CAVAC I – such as delivering water year-round to more than 19,000 households via the construction of 20 irrigation schemes, the second stage of the agriculture development program spans over six years until 2021 utilising a budget totalling AU$89.7 million.
Component two of CAVAC II is focusing on the construction of irrigation schemes in the provinces of Kandal, Takeo, Tboung Khmum, and Prey Veng and also involves partnerships with private companies to stimulate positive change in the market for agricultural products over the next five years.
Khiev, who has been with CAVAC since 2010, says she has experienced a lot of positive change since joining the program, including witnessing the CAVAC team increase in size as well as evolve according to the needs of the beneficiaries, in this case the farmers.
She said the irrigation programs implemented by CAVAC are flexible and are designed to optimally benefit the end-users.
“Our aim is to reduce the pumping costs for the farmers and it’s been reduced drastically,” she said.
“As an example, at one of our [pumping] schemes, farmers used to pump from the ground water [and/or surface water] manually using small petrol pumps and now they use our electrical pump stations which see the farmers pay five times less than what they used to pay.”
While a lack of water is a common problem faced by many farmers, Khiev says CAVAC’s irrigation schemes have changed the lives of one-time struggling famers.
“Our irrigation schemes have enabled the farmers to go the whole season without any struggle because we have connected the canals to reliable river water sources,” she said.
“It was our intention to double or triple the crops so the farmer has water all year round.”
Khiev says her job overseeing the implementation and construction of CAVAC’s irrigation schemes is not without its challenges, with ensuring the long-term sustainability of the group’s work, known as Farmer Water User Community (FWUC), among one of the top obstacles.
“The struggle we have is making sure the farmer participates in the whole project [before and] after we complete the scheme, that’s why our role is to ensure the farmers within the community continue to maintain the schemes even after CAVAC has completed its inputs,” she said.
“We have the team that go out to the field almost on a weekly basis working with the community and meeting with the farmers to explain to them the changes and how everything works to ensure the transparency is there.”
Khiev says CAVAC’s collaborative approach of working with the farmers will see them benefit for years to come.
“At the end of the day, we are working with farmers to help them get water so we have to work with them to ensure that our program is meeting the needs of farmers in terms of what they want,” she said, adding, “After construction, we stay at least two years to make sure that the scheme is operating well.”
Even as a long-term CAVAC employee, Khiev says the opportunity to continue to empower the farmers she works alongside is just as rewarding as it was when she joined the program many years ago.
“I think one of the most important things that keeps me going is seeing the farmers benefiting from our work and seeing the communities and farmers become independent.”