The Ministry of Rural Development plans to pave 1,200 kilometres of dirt roads across nine provinces surrounding the Tonle Sap this year, in a $120 million bid to improve the lives of rural farmers and reduce migration.
“The committee questioned us about our vision to ensure farmers can transport their products to market easily and reduce the migration issue,” said Minister for Rural Development Chea Sophara as he left a questioning session at the National Assembly.
“Last year, 500 kilometres of dirt roads were paved [around the Tonle Sap] and we are planning to pave 1,200 kilometres more,” he said.
The roads are to connect rural areas to provincial towns, with the $120 million in funding coming largely from development partners aside from a $9 million government contribution.
The roads are to be built using the double bituminous surface treatment – a longer-lasting kind of road usually reserved for highways and cities, Sophara said.
The bidding process for construction contractors is now open, Sophara said, adding that the roads should be completed in 2017.
Although he welcomed the news, Yang Saing Koma, president of the Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, said the ministry shouldn’t focus on building roads alone.
“Having a better road will surely help farmers access the market, but having enough irrigation systems in place is equally important for farmers to improve their living standards,” he said.
Saing Koma added the ministry should emphasise building quality roads rather than quantity when it came to building new thoroughfares.
Independent economist Srey Chanthy said the paved roads would help Cambodia become more resilient to climate change and integrate farmers with local economies.
“There is economic potential as the population density is high for the provinces around the Tonle Sap area,” he said.
“The area is vulnerable to climate change, so upgrading to paved road will also make investments more sustainable and resilient to flood damage,” he added.