The project will also strengthen targeted communities’ ability to adapt to climate change risks. The “Feed the Future Cambodia Rice Field Fisheries Phase II” project is implemented by WorldFish through grants provided by USAID and funding from the US Feed the Future Initiative.
In Cambodia, almost all rural households depend on rice field fisheries (RFF) – the fishing that mainly occurs in and around flooded rice fields during the wet season from May to November – as a “free” nutritious food source.
But these fisheries – which provide 20-25 per cent of the inland fish catch and are home to many species of fish and other aquatic animals – are under threat from overfishing and environmental degradation.
“Since 2012, USAID fisheries investments have increased the productivity of rice field fisheries and have provided poor, rural households nutritious food,” noted USAID Cambodia Mission Director Polly Dunford.
“The success of this work will contribute to food security in Cambodia and support the Royal Government of Cambodia’s strategy to develop 1,200 community fish refuges in 75 per cent of all communes by 2019.”
To ensure fisheries are managed sustainably, the five-year project will work with research, development, and government agencies and rural communities to promote the importance of this valuable source of nutrition and food security. The project focuses on Pursat, Battambang, Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces around the Tonle Sap Lake, where dependence on rice field fisheries is greatest.
The project promotes sustainable methods of managing up to 120 community fish refuges (CFR), which are sanctuaries for brood fish during the dry season. Research shows that a CFR, with improved management, can significantly improve fish productivity of the rice field environment as soon as one year after the intervention.
“Scaling out best-practice CFR methods will ensure that fish, the second most consumed food after rice and accounting for 61 per cent of animal source protein intake for households in Cambodia, is more available and accessible to poor and rural families,” explained Nigel Preston, WorldFish’s Director General.
Another project focus is to promote the importance of small fish and dietary diversity, and hygienic food preparation and sanitation to families with young children. Small fish, when eaten whole, are a rich source of vitamin A, zinc, iron and calcium, which are needed for cognitive and physical development, especially in children.
Awareness of the nutritional benefits of small fish is needed in Cambodia, where undernutrition among the rural poor is widespread and where 40 per cent of children under five are stunted. By the end of the project in June 2021, it is anticipated that at least 15,000 people, of which 10,000 are women and children, will have improved dietary diversity, including higher consumption of small fish and vegetables.
The project builds on the lessons and the achievements of phase I of the project, also funded by Feed the Future and USAID.
Between 2012 and 2016, phase I of the project trained and worked with local CFR committees to make over 400 improvements at 40 CFRs in the four target provinces. This led to a 9 per cent increase in fish catch for households living around the project sites in 2015. For the poorest quarter of households, whose dependence on RFF is greatest because they often lack the land to farm or capital to invest in more intensive form of fishing in lakes and rivers, production increased by 71 per cent. In addition, an awareness-raising nutrition campaign led to an increased at-home consumption of small fish by 13 per cent on average from 2012 to 2016.
During phase II, lessons learned from developing CFRs in the Tonle Sap region will be further shared with broader audiences to encourage expansion in Cambodia and other countries.