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Diversify food sources, experts tell forum

Mayuri Mei Lin​ / Khmer Times Share:

Cambodia needs to diversify its food sources and improve marine conservation efforts amid dwindling numbers of fish stocks in the Mekong River, which remains one of the main sources of fish for Cambodians, experts said yesterday.
During a Sustainable Mekong Research Network (Sumernet) forum in Phnom Penh yesterday, experts said the government needed to improve efforts to ensure the fish population in the Mekong River remains at a sustainable level without compromising people’s dependency on the vast body of water.
“Cambodia needs to reduce its dependency on fish. This means diversification through farming and livestock so that cattle and chicken is available as a protein replacement,” Eric Baran, a senior scientist at international nonprofit WorldFish, said during a panel discussion yesterday.
“Also more fruit and vegetables.”
Experts also called on the government to encourage farming communities to use their flooded paddy fields as fish ponds to increase productivity and diversify the source of their catch.
“When we think about fish and rice we also think about flooded rice fields. Also because rain-fed rice fields, in most cases, can produce up to 100 kilograms of fish per hectare.
“There is no sectorial conflict, just an issue of management. There isn’t a conflict like with hydropower fisheries,” Mr. Baran said.
“There’s also better management in terms of nutrition. Rice fields are full of small fish which may not have high commercial value but have high nutritional value so mothers can feed it to their children,” he added.
The Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute’s Chheng Phen also called on the government to increase efforts and funding in the sector which he, and other panelists, viewed as being the most crucial resource to Cambodians nationwide.
“Inland fisheries depend on grants, but people can’t be giving you money your whole life. Inland fisheries resources have reduced a lot simply because of over-use and maybe poor management,” Mr. Phen said.
“To improve this, we have to increase awareness about the importance of the resource, how the resource works and how dynamic it is.
“It cannot be sustained if we keep going on with our development like we are today. All our policy-making decisions must take into consideration the importance of fisheries.
“All water users have to know this but really, the main actor is the government and they have to invest in this natural resource,” he added.
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ secretary of state Nao Thuok said the government was actively working on ensuring the fish population in the Mekong River, and other inland resources, were kept to a sustainable level.
“Now we also have some big investors from Norway coming to do aquaculture here. Also there are Chinese companies doing aquaculture here,” he said.
“Our Fisheries Development Strategy is keeping wild fish at sustainable levels with 500,000 tons inland and 100,000 tons for marine.”
He noted the government was also paying special attention to encouraging paddy farmers to cultivate fish in their rice fields.
Mr. Thuok was referring to Norwegian company Vitamar building a $23 million marine fish farm in Sihanoukville, which he said had already been approved. The company is set to begin conducting environmental assessments this year.
Chinese company Ocean Fishing and local holding company Khmer Holding Group in January presented a proposal to the government for a $100 million aquaculture project at an undisclosed location.
Cambodia and Laos on March 1 announced the formation of a joint committee to preserve the freshwater fish population in the Mekong River amid declining fish stocks in part due to illegal fishing and the construction of various hydropower dams.
In a statement released by the Mekong River Commission, both nations said conservation efforts were also to ensure that surrounding villagers’ food sources were not compromised.
The fish population in both rivers has been reduced due to overfishing, the use of illegal fishing equipment and habitat degradation, coupled with both countries’ fisheries ministries’ struggle with a lack of resources and manpower to police the areas.

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