Irrigation development in Cambodia: Challenges and Opportunities
By Dr. Yang Saing Koma, Khim Sophanna and Seng Sophak (CEDAC)
Irrigation development had deep root in the Cambodian history since the Angkor period, especially from the 11-14th century. And during the Khmer rouge regime from 1975 to 1978, forced labor was used to build several hundred of irrigation schemes across Cambodia within about 3 years. Currently, Irrigation development is still an important issue. The Cambodian Prime Minister in 2003 promoted his government as an “irrigation government”. Due to the increasing price of rice and other agricultural products early this year the government has reinforced the efforts to raise money from foreign donors to rehabilitate the existing and build the new irrigation schemes so that “Cambodia would become one of the world leaders in rice (white gold) export”. International organizations, NGOs, private sectors and local people are also active in rehabilitating some important schemes since the 1990th.
In 2008, in the frame-work of M-Power, CEDAC water group team has carried out the study of situation of irrigation by conducting an assessment of existing irrigation schemes and farmer water user communities in 13 major rice-growing provinces (about 90 percent of the total current rice cultivated areas of Cambodia). The results of the study show that 35% and 13% of the cultivated areas are potential irrigated areas in the wet season and in the dry season respectively. It is found out that there are more than 2000 irrigation schemes existing in those provinces. However, only 7 % of these irrigation schemes are considered to be “functional”, 34% as “partly functional” and the rest is “out of function” due to the lack of operation and maintenance system. Only around 200 organized farmer water user communities/groups (FWUC/FWUG) exist and being registered at the ministry of water resource or at district or commune level. In addition, the capacity of the FWUC/FWUG to operate and maintain the schemes and to provide good service to its beneficiaries is weak. The technical and financial support to the FWUC/FWUG from the state is also limited.
The study concludes that there is huge potential in terms of cultivated areas and water resources available for irrigated agricultural purposes. For the short-term, there is no need to build new schemes as thousand of existing schemes can be rehabilitated with lower cost. The main challenges to irrigation development for the purpose of sustainable used of water resources for agricultural purpose are how to ensure an effective capacity building and technical assistance for the farmer to develop and manage the irrigation schemes and the financial resources to invest in irrigation construction and rehabilitation. In order to utilize the existing potential effectively, it is recommended that the government and donors should establish national irrigation fund to invest in irrigation development as well as to set up the irrigation services center to provide capacity and management support to the FWUC throughout Cambodia. The national network of FWUC for the purpose of learning and policy dialogue should be also established and supported.