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Land is life

January 2014 

Christian Aid Scotland team member Amy Menzies shares her recent experiences of the life-changing projects run by our partners in Cambodia.

man with tractor

An eye-opening opportunity

My first ever journey to a developing country took me to Cambodia, where 31% of the population live below the poverty line.

Christian Aid runs a joint programme in the country with our Danish partners, DanChurchAid (DCA), and I felt very privileged to witness the work going on there.

A quick history lesson paints a picture of why Cambodia's people have struggled to get out of poverty.

First the Vietnam War, and then the massacres at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, left the country in pieces, with roughly two million dead.

All land titles and ownership of any kind were abolished under the Khmer Rouge. So when the Cambodian people were freed from their rule in 1979, they had to start again with nothing.

Greater crop yields

On several occasions I visited families and communities who were benefiting from support to grow better rice crops.

Many people have small areas of land around their houses (usually about one hectare) that they use to grow rice - a staple part of the Cambodian diet.

But lots of farmers lack the proper skills or knowledge to make the most of the land they have. They grow just enough rice to feed their family - with nothing left over to generate an income.

Our partner, Development and Partnership in Action (DPA), which works to educate and develop the capacity of the poorest communities, took me to meet Thoeun Thaw, a 33-year-old man with a wife and two children.

  • I want others to benefit from high yield, as well as my family.'

Before he became involved in DPA's technology training project, Thoeun harvested two tonnes of rice a year from his one hectare of land - which wasn't enough to feed his family.

He also used chemical fertilisers, which were expensive and caused him and his family some health problems.

But thanks to the technology project, Thoeun's crop yield has doubled to four tonnes. He learned which are the best seeds to use, how to farm without chemical fertilisers and when best to harvest.

Thoeun now sells the surplus rice he grows. He's used the money to buy a tractor, and plans on extending his land and house.

But this inspirational story doesn't end there. Thoeun now shares his knowledge with his neighbours. 'I want others to benefit from high yield, as well as my family,' he told me.

I visited many families and communities with stories like this. Many of them had been shown how to set up rice banks and saving groups, which helped when planning for the future.

The sense of community was always very strong.

Challenges of climate change

Another problem Cambodian farmers face is the effects of climate change and the flooding it often brings. I was told on many occasions that the floods are getting worse each year.

Our partner, Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), is helping farmers to manage this problem with new technologies and techniques to increase their yield and reduce the use of chemical fertilisers.

  • Before, I could not support my family. I had to buy rice to eat. But now I sell it for money and have improved my standard of living.'

Farm promoter Netsome, who's taking part in the project, was keen to share her story. Netsome has 10 acres of land, on which she grows rice and vegetables.

Before she was involved in the project, she said, 25kg of rice seed would give her a yield of 250kg of rice. Now she uses 1kg of rice, which produces a yield of 675kg.

She no longer uses chemical fertilisers, which caused headaches and stomach problems, so now there is no need to buy medicine for her family.

Netsome told me: 'Before, I could not support my family. I had to buy rice to eat. But now I sell it for money and have improved my standard of living.'

As I left Netsome's farm, she gave me a bag of vegetables freshly picked from her garden. Cucumber and green beans! Delicious.

Inspiration

This is just a tiny part of the work I was lucky enough to see in Cambodia.

But both of these projects made a big impression on me, as the people I met told me about the real changes they had experienced in their lives.

In another community, a man spoke passionately to me about his land and what it meant. 'Land is life. We could not live without it,' he said.

It struck me that this applies to Netsome, Thoeun and the many others I met whose land is central to what is now a more prosperous livelihood.

Our partners work so closely with all of the villages I visited, and their strong relationships were evident wherever I went.

They work tirelessly to help those in most need and, with every family and community I met, I felt proud to work for Christian Aid.


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