Empowering Cambodian Communes

April 12, 2011

  • The World Bank’s Commune-Sangkat Fund has helped build over 13,200 kilometers of rural roads, nearly 10,000 culverts, 190 kilometers of bridges, and 1,800 irrigation schemes.
  • Irrigation makes the diversification of cash crops possible, even during the dry season.
  • The youth are an important resource for both infrastructure and social development.

Phnom Penh, CAMBODIA, April 12, 2011 — The World Bank is supporting irrigation, infrastructure, and social initiatives in Cambodia through the Commune-Sangkat Fund (CSF). The fund is part of the World Bank-financed Rural Investment and Local Governance Project (RILGP), a project which provides support for high-priority, commune-level infrastructure to improve livelihoods and reduce poverty. Presently covering 23 provinces, these are the ways the project is changing lives in Cambodia.

Crops are growing during the dry season

Khem Houl used to dream of his commune being green all year round. Now his dream has almost come true. Mr Houl, who is also the acting chief of the Sla commune in Takeo province, and the council have been investing commune funds in building canals rather than roads since 2005.

The commune has built a 3.5-kilometer-long, six-meter-wide canal bringing water to irrigate to the land of 8,600 families. The water allows farmers to not only grow rice but also grow crops such as cucumbers, tomatoes and sugar cane during the dry season.

“Since our canal was built some people, including myself, have started growing two crops,” Mr Houl said, “I want to see more crops. I want to see our farmlands full of crops all year round.”

Him Mer, a 70-year-old farmer, contributed over 360 square meters (or five percent of her farm land) for the canal. The reliable water supply has helped her increase rice yield by about 20 percent and she has had further gains from the other crops.

She praised the council for investing commune funds in the canal. “The canal is our lifeline,” she said, “I am happy. Even though I gave away part of my land, now I have water.”

Mrs Kert Im, 67, has opted to use 0.4 hectare of paddy fields to grow sugar cane after the canal was completed. She now earns around half a million riel annually, 50 percent more than she earned for her rice crop.

1,800 irrigation schemes throughout the country are in place, thanks to the World Bank-funded CSF.

More roads to connect

Aside from irrigation, the CSF has helped build priority infrastructure for communes: over 13,200 kilometers of rural roads, nearly 10,000 culverts, and 190 kilometers of bridges.

In particular, roads are essential for remote villages because it connects these to health centers, schools, temples, and markets. The Arak Tnout commune of Kampong Cham province used to be one of the poorest, most isolated places in the country until early 2000. The commune is now joined to the rest of Cambodia and the world by road.

“Now we are different,” said Arak Tnout Chief Ros Viret, “Since the roads have been built, our commune has become more market-oriented. People produce and sell more of their crops, such as cashew nuts, cassava and rice.”

Since 2007, Arak Tnout commune has invested funds in building more than 4.5 kilometers of roads where villagers carry their produce to provincial roads and markets. Most villagers have taken advantage of this and their incomes have significantly increased. 55 percent of villagers have also been able to build a house costing more than $20,000.

Mr. Viret said the second priority agreed upon by the commune was to invest in irrigation and agriculture extension, because of the opportunities this provides for increasing income.

Chief Chhon Ras of the Lumtong commune agrees that road investment is bringing a big change to the community. In agricultural villages like Lumtong, people grow enough crops to eat even though the soil is fertile for cash crops. With roads that will make markets more accessible, Mr. Ras says that people will start to grow more crops.

So far, the commune has been able to build 7.4 kilometers of roads and two bridges. A key priority of the commune is to extend the roads in the coming years.

Investing in social programs

Some communes, such as Tboung Kropeu in Kampong Thom Province, are investing in the social sector.

Keang Seng Ky, commune chief, says: “The commune uses part of the budget to support youth groups in their work.”

“They are raising awareness on domestic violence, bad gang behavior, the dangers of drug use, the spread of HIV/AIDs, the environment, and education. To date, 100 young people have participated in these activities.”

“Young people are a potential resource to help us both in infrastructure development and in social development. We need to support them and bring them close to us.”