By: Heng Pheakdey
Due to rapid economic growth in the last decade, Cambodia’s poverty rate has dropped dramatically from more than 50% in 2004 to just 19% in 2013. However, it should be noted Cambodia’s economic success has been a largely urban phenomenon.
Rural poverty, which has declined at a much slower rate, remains a major concern. Today, Cambodia still has about 2.6 million poor people, 90% of whom live in the rural areas. These people consist of subsistence farmers, small fishing families, landless people, internally displaced persons, mine victims and tribal communities.
These people are poor because they have limited access to natural resources, they live in remote villages far from basic social services and facilities. Most of them depend on small scale subsistence agriculture for their livelihood. They lack proper education, skills and training so there are fewer employment alternatives for them.
Experience in other developing countries suggest that rural poverty will persist unless there are policies to improve agricultural productivity and rural infrastructure, to provide rural populations with access to social services, and to facilitate the development of rural producer and consumer organizations.
In that regard, to help move rural people out of poverty, rural development is clearly a priority for Cambodia. Implementing land reform to redistribute land to the landless and small-scale farmers can help alleviate rural poverty because it provides them a productive and relatively reliable way to make an income.
Investing in rural infrastructure, increasing access to electricity, building the human assets of the poor including education and health, and helping the poor to access economic opportunities are an integral part of promote growth in the rural sector.
Creating rural financial institutions to expand access to credit can improve rural productivity. With credit, rural communities can buy capital that increases their productivity and income. Increased credit helps expand markets to rural areas, and stimulates small-scale trading and manufacturing, thus promoting rural development.
Helping poor producers increase their output through the intensification of agricultural production systems, improving equitable access to productive natural resources and technology and expanding access to markets are critical elements of any strategy to enable the poor to enhance their food security and increase their incomes.
Heng Pheakdey is founder of the Enrich Institute, a Phnom Penh-based training organization
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