Infrastructure development, particularly good roads, is the nexus connecting people with markets, modern healthcare and education facilities.
The Rural Infrastructure Programme, a joint Cambodian-German initiative, has brought together farmers and buyers in Kampong Chhnang Province by building a network of roads.
While the numbers who have benefited from the project are numerous, several beneficiaries expressed their gratitude at the project implementation.
A village leader in Kampong Chhnang reported that there has been “a 50 per cent increase in the enrolment of 12-17-year-old girls in secondary schools”.
Ensuring roads that can be used all-year-round will lead to higher school enrolment. Community leaders report that before the road construction, parents were reluctant to send their daughters to secondary school, as they were often unable to return home during the rainy season.
With transport costs declining substantially, markets become more accessible to farmers. Rice farmers from the beneficiary communes report that before road rehabilitation projects were carried out, only one trader was regularly purchasing rice from them and paying low prices.
Now 10 rice traders are visiting regularly to buy rice. This has resulted in a 50 to 70 per cent increase in prices.
Sok Sophal, a medium-sized rice trader, says rice production used to be constrained by limited investments. Since the completion of the roads, she has been able to buy much more rice.
“Rice production has almost doubled in the last three years. Better access to the main road network enables youths to work in surrounding factories as well.
“The additional family income is used to buy mechanical tillers, more fertilisers and better quality seeds,” she says.
Meanwhile, Prom Sophia and her husband Savut started to grow sugar cane after the road was built.
“We now sell it at the big market in Romeas. My next project is to grow citrus, mangoes and coconuts on my land,” she says.
Better market access also resulted in Chun Leang and her husband, Channa, to start a small mushroom farm. The whole family helps in the business and they harvested their first crop in November 2017.
A case where the lack of a good road network resulted in tragedy is that of Lay Bon. He lost his wife to snakebite while she was giving birth. The road connecting his home to the main network was in a bad state and often flooded during the rainy season.
“We could not use a vehicle to take my wife to the health centre. My friends were helping me carry her through the floodwaters in a hammock when she died, he said.
“Since the completion of the road there have been no more deaths from snake bites,” said Prom Sophia, a registered nurse who has a private practice serving communities along the road. Also, child vaccination rates have risen to 100 per cent from recent statistics.
The Rural Infrastructure Programme is improving year-round access to markets, schools, health centres and public services all over the country.
To date, the German Government has co-financed, through the KfW Development Bank, more than 2,000km of roads, over 70 bridges and 50 schools. It is also developing another eleven markets. In project areas, the average per-capita income has increased by over 50 per cent.