With the government pushing the sustainable development goals (SDG) agenda forward, fishermen and farmers urged authorities to address the various ecological and environmental challenges they face during an event this week in Siem Reap.
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Speaking at the ‘Under the Sun, Under the Tree’ discussions during the recently concluded ‘Asean-China-UNDP Symposium on Localising the SDGs and Realising Poverty Eradication’ event in Siam Reap, they said their businesses were facing serious environmental challenges that are putting sustainability efforts at risk.
“Climate change, resource depletion and the lack of finance, as well as the unavailability of land for agricultural production, are some of the broad challenges some fishermen and farmers are facing,” said Pan Sopheap, executive director of the Farmer and Nature Net Association.
Mr Sopheap said policymakers have to step up efforts. “There is the issue of deforestation, lack of irrigated farming and fisheries resources depletion that are affecting both the farmers and fishermen. The fishing industry is not properly protected altogether by policymakers.
“In fact, we need better government policies to support farmers in order to capacitate them. For that, we need collective capacity building, the mobilisation of resources and better communications,” he said.
He drew attention to the problem of limited irrigation facilities which, he said, is plaguing farmers in some areas of the country.
“Many farmers are still depending on rainfall for the irrigation of their farms. This is uncontrolled farming and it is not sustainable. These farmers need funding to improve their irrigation systems, to access water and for that to happen, there is a need for more funding,” said Mr Sopheap, who warned that without such coordinated efforts the country risk seeing a decline in these sectors.
There is also the problem of heavy migration in some areas, with farmers and fishermen leaving their villages to seek employment elsewhere, he said.
“They had to abandon farming due to agricultural land scarcity, or due to climate change, while the depletion of fishery resources and poaching by outsiders has left some fishermen jobless. They had to migrate to places where they get better money,” he said.
Kung Phoak, Undersecretary of State at the Council of Ministers, said that to achieve the SDGs the government is trying to engage stakeholders as much as possible.
“This demands a lot of preparation. The goal is to raise awareness among stakeholders to show them how relevant this is for them.
“Some Cambodians are aware of the plan, but they do not know it in the context of SDGs. They know it as part of the government’s strategic plan. The aim is to keep talking about how important this is to them,” he said during a panel discussion at Siam Reap’s Sofitel.
He said the government is also engaging with the private sector through the establishment of the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone.
“Some sectors are coming out with innovative ideas on how to let the people enjoy the natural landscape which is their source of life,” he said.
Nuon Nakry, spokeswoman for the Toeuk Vil commune, said a myriad of environmental issues were affecting her commune. Besides the depletion of fisheries and deforestation, some communes were beset by garbage accumulation. But she said her commune has been able to successfully address some of these issues in line with the SDG goals, including achieving better health and better education.
“We solved the schooling problems and all children are now getting an education and are healthier,” she said.
She made it clear that good communication with policymakers has been the key to solving many of these issues.
The communes were asked if they had a strategy in place to keep their young from seeking jobs outside the community.
Some communes have an investment plan to meet the financial needs of its members. This boosts business activity and keeps young workers in the community.
Ms Nakry said such investment plans were engaging as they addressed the financial shortages the youngsters faced.
Khem Phalla, from Sangkat Svay DangKum commune, said her commune also has some of these financial packages.
“We find solutions for the problems faced by the young generation,” she said, adding that this was the responsibility of elected officials. “When we have no solutions, we go back to the government for answers.”
Some farmers said they are finding difficulties selling their products. They urged authorities to address the lack of foreign markets for their products. They also pointed out that some imported goods were too competitive compared to locally produced agricultural products.
“This is a problem for us. Not only do we have problems finding foreign markets, we also find strong competition for products produced locally,” one of the farmers said.