Rice Fields Fishery: An important Asset for Cambodians
“Where is water, there are fish”, a Cambodian proverb. Fish provided around 70% of protein intake for all Cambodians, especially rural people. This country has abundant water resources and is rich of natural lakes, rivers, streams and all sorts of water ways. The Mekong River, the Great Tonle Sap Lake, the 3S Rivers in the northeast region; act as main sanctuaries of fish population. But, in the past 40 years, the landscape has been changing a lot. The total population has been increased more than double, from 6 million in the sixties to 14.5 million in 2012. Illegal logging has destroyed most of the forest in the past twenty years and it contributes to water body’s dry up. These trends have put high pressure to natural and fish resources. In addition, anarchic fishing activities and low law enforcement capability of the state contribute to the decline of this once high productive source in the world.
Rice field’s fishery is an integral part of fish supply here. The three million hectares of rice fields and natural ponds in it would provide around 130,000 tons per year (official figures provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery). In the harvesting season, November-January, rural Cambodians are harvesting not only rice, but fish and other aquatic produces. Due to increasing use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture, increased destructive fish harvesting methods; it could be observed that fish population is decreased as well. It effects food security and nutrition. People need to rethink the negative impacts and effects of their own behavior.
During this New Years Eve, I and my family come to Siem Reap province, home of the famous Angkor Wat Temple, to visit our relatives here. We spent some time to pump a small fish pond/canal, next to their house, to harvest some natural fish for our family celebration. We take the bigger fish and keep the small one in another pond and the same canal for reproduction. We got around 20 Kg of many sorts of rice field/wild fish, including 2 Kg eels. With some beers and very fresh fried fish from the pond, we have a small drink together to celebrate our family gathering. It is just a small example to illustrate importance of fish in our daily life.
In conclusion, rural Cambodians are encouraged to preserve and dig ponds, where they could; so that they could not only have water for home consumption, but for supplementary irrigation/agricultural production and fish refugee camp. We do need to restore the local landscape and to make the proverb becomes increasingly true again.