Despite uncertain times due to COVID-19, our dedicated Wat4Cam team is working to increase farmers’ revenues through more sustainable agricultural practices, strengthened value chains and improved water efficiency in five provinces in Cambodia.
Launched in February this year, the Water Resource Management and Agro-ecology Transition in Cambodia project - Wat4Cam for short - was just in its beginning stages when COVID-19 ramped up, forcing countries to introduce drastic measures to limit its spread. While the impacts of the pandemic on international development are largely unknown, it is perhaps more important than ever to keep the wheels turning where possible. While closely monitoring and following recommendations of local authorities, the Wat4CAM team is working to do just that.
Although Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in southeast Asia, the economic trend (pre- COVID-19) has been positive, with the country achieving high economic growth rates of around 7% annually for more than a decade. Also encouragingly, there has been a tremendous downward trend in the poverty rate from 48% in 2007 to 13% in 2014. Today, approximately 70% of the population lives in rural areas, and agriculture continues to be a critical sector for daily living, with smallholder farmers being the main source of all food consumed. Increased agricultural growth has been a major factor contributing to the declining poverty rates, responsible for more than 60% of the decline, and further progress toward poverty reduction will continue to depend on the success of agriculture for many years to come.
Implemented with the support of the EU and Agence Française de Développement, the WAT4CAM project is designed to support Cambodia’s national strategy of contributing to poverty reduction and food security through water resources use and management, including irrigation rehabilitation. NIRAS is responsible for the implementation of component 4 of the project, which focuses on helping farmers to increase their revenues through better agricultural practices and higher quality produce, improving water efficiency, and developing dry season crops to improve climate change resilience. A core part of our efforts will focus on the promotion of agro-ecology practices, crop diversification and institutional support for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) in parallel with restructuring of and support for agricultural value chains.
Running until February 2024 and operating in five different provinces (Battambang, Preah Vihear, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom, and Kandal), Wat4Cam progress to date has been possible due to a strong and dedicated team consisting primarily of local expertise. This is proving to be particularly valuable in a time when many international experts find themselves stuck in their home countries.
A crucial part of the inception phase of any project is to ensure that the implementing team is very familiar with the operating areas and knows the people they will work with and for. To that end, the Wat4Cam team has already conducted a number of initial field visits to understand the situation on the ground and learn about stakeholders’ expectations and hopes for and challenges facing the project. For example, during the second week of March, representatives from NIRAS, CIRAD (one of our local implementing partners), and a number of Wat4Cam experts - including Team Leader Nicholas Richards - travelled to the Preah Vihear province to meet with representatives from the Preah Vihear Mean Chey Union of Agricultural Cooperatives and visit one of the sites where the project will be implemented. The team had the opportunity to participate in a meeting bringing together representatives from many different cooperatives with whom they will work in the coming years. These site visits are ongoing across the country, dependent on the COVID situation, during the inception phase.
NIRAS’s office in Phnom Penh and local partners have also provided significant support in the beginning weeks of Wat4Cam, and our strong local presence makes us optimistic about our ability to keep this project on track, despite the uncertain global situation.