DAME Barbara Stocking, Oxfam Great Britain’s executive director, visited Cambodia in June, meeting government ministers, development partners, NGO leaders and Oxfam partners, as well as visiting Oxfam GB field projects. In this article for the Phnom Penh Post, she talks about her visit and her impressions on her first trip to the Kingdom since 2002.
Oxfam Great Britain executive director Dame Barbara Stocking (right) in Boeng Touk village during her field trip in Cambodia with staffer Sun Sisamuth. Photo Dustin Barter, Oxfam
THE first time I visited Cambodia was nearly 10 years ago. At that time, the country was still healing. Following the decades-long conflict, our team talked about working for Oxfam as their way of working for peace in their country. I recently returned to Cambodia and, although people still face many challenges, times have changed.
The number of poor people has decreased and there is visible development going on throughout the country. At the same time, inequality has risen, especially between rural and urban areas. I came away from Cambodia once again in love with the country and people, but with great worry about the challenges ahead.
We visited a forestry concession in Kampong Thom. Oxfam had been working with the people there to help them build up a small business selling resin from the trees. They told me that too many trees had been cut down and there was no way to keep the business going.
Now, we are working with them to try to enact Community Protected Forestry legislation so they can keep the 1,000 hectares still remaining, compared to the 9,000 hectares already under concession.
The people in the area are extremely poor, and it is unclear to me what will happen to them if they lose all of what remains. It took us about 90 minutes to drive through the concession, which is a now bare landscape with only tree stumps remaining.
Secure access to land is central to Oxfam’s new global campaign, Grow. The message of the campaign is that the resources for growing food will become scarcer over the next few decades.
Three years after the 2007/2008 food-price crisis, the cost of food items on both international and national markets are again rising quickly. Poor people, still suffering from the impact of the previous crisis, are being hit hardest.
As well as the challenges of rising prices, agricultural commodity indices on both international and national markets have been increasingly volatile over the short term, negatively impacting on both producers and consumers.
Land, water and energy are increasingly in short supply, and the situation is made worse by climate change.
Our work throughout the world suggests that prices for the staple crops of maize, sorghum and rice will double in the next 20 years.
According to the NIS’s latest figures, in May Cambodia had a 2.9 per cent increase in food prices, an 8.2 per cent increase for meat and a four per cent increase in the cost of fish and seafood.
This is very bad news for the poorest people, who will suffer the most, especially as they will have to spend a much greater proportion of their income _ often as much as 80 per cent _ on food.
The world will need to produce 70 per cent more food to feed our population by 2050. There are solutions to this, and a big part must be support for the small-scale farmers who still make up half the world’s hungry people.
We know what to do: small-scale farmers need drought-resistant crops, small-scale irrigation, extension services and rural roads to get their produce to market.
They also need to come together in producer and marketing groups, supporting them to get a good price for their produce.
Cambodia will need to invest in people whose livelihoods depend on natural resources, including forests. They will need secure access to land and natural resources, not only so they can feed themselves, but to feed the whole country.
Cambodia has important choices to make. Other countries have shown how there can be development without gross inequality, but that demands investment in small-scale agriculture and forestry, accountable governance and policies in health and education that reach the poorest people.
Without those actions, Cambodia is likely to have an increasing rural/urban divide with the potential for instability that comes when food, the very basis of life, is in short supply for the poorest people, especially small-scale producers and households headed by women.
Through the efforts of agencies such as Oxfam and its partners, communities are hopeful and expect a better life via access to markets and other opportunities.
It will require the collaborative efforts of communities, governments, NGOs, development partners and businesses to make this a reality.