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‘For Self’ To ‘For Sale’: (Dis)Connections With International Markets and NGOs In Thalap Rivat

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

ABOUT | Farming feeds both people and economy of Thalap Rivat. Our discussions with village authorities and farmers demonstrate their close links with global markets and international pools of knowledge. However, the degree of such connections varies among the farmers. This article explores uneven geographies of the development and (dis)connections.

Team members: 
Ong Ching Hui, Gerald Tan, Nur Farzana Ibrahim, Vortey


FARMING IN THALAP RIVAT


Do you know where your food comes from? Do farmers know where their products end up? Usually not. In this article, we scratch the surface of the ‘glocal’ networks of food production in Cambodia’s Thalap Rivat commune, largely focusing on three villages, namely, Kandal, Ler and Anglongsuay.

Thalap Rivat is made up of eight villages, consisting of 1700 families. Farming contributes to a large part of people’s income and connects them to the world; they export much of their produce and their farming practices have gained attention from international NGOs.


A map of out field work sites in three villages (‘Phom’ in Khmer translates to village)


Main crops farmed include rice called Pka Doung (translated as ‘coconut flower’), sesame and cashew. Other crops are grown at a smaller scale, and these include: soybean, potato, cassava, sugarcane, corn, and mango. All products are considered ‘organic’. Although herbicides are used to remove weeds from farms before planting, farmers do not use chemical fertilisers or insecticides directly on the crops.


Though farms are located near the Mekong River, farmers do not use irrigation technologies. Instead, they plant crops that do not require much water. As crops are planted right after the wet season, the farming soil contains sufficient moisture. Any additional water is obtained from rainfall and ponds. The commune produces an approximate surplus of 300,000kg of cashews and 100 – 200,000kg of rice for export per year, and this sale enables the earning of about 30-40 million riels per year.


Interviews with the commune chief and farmers in a rice field in Phom Kandal


SMALL BUT FAR-REACHING: NUMEROUS NETWORKS OF THALAP RIVAT


The commune produces more than it consumes, and surplus is sold to other villagers or external traders. For the external trading, a solid multi-market bidding scheme is in place: the highest bidding market gets their products, on top of a 200 riel transaction fee. Mr Ou Chov, a Thalap Rivat’s accountant and the Community Commissioner, speculates that products would end up in neighbouring countries like Vietnam and Thailand.


Farming ‘input’ is similarly globalised. Various international and national NGOs have connections with Thalap Rivat, including Plan International, which cooperates with CRDT (Cambodian Rural Development Team) and Mlup Baitong, and SEDA (Small Entrepreneur Developmental Agency). Since 2012, these NGOs have introduced new types of equipment (e.g. nets for chicken coops), new seed varieties, new knowledge and techniques (e.g. planting one seed rather than multiple seeds per hole), and new markets for farmers who signed up with their programme.

Signboard outside our homestay in the Kandal village, reading ‘Tourists are the hope of our community.’ Many tourists who visit this commune are indeed colleagues of the NGOs.


FARMING PRACTICES, CHALLENGES AND NGOS' SUPPORT IN ANGLONGSUAY VILLAGE


We further seek to explore the farming practices, challenges and NGOs’ support for growing three crops, namely, cassava, sesame and cashews, in Anglongsuay. As case studies, three farmers are interviewed.


UNEVEN GROGRAPHIES OF DEVELOPMENT AND (DIS)CONNECTIONS


While the respective villages have connections with international organisations and markets, the depth and number of connections are not the same. Discussions with individual farmers in Anglongsuay reveals that villagers in Kandal receive from NGOs more benefits like education and equipment. They think it is because Kandal is seemingly the village centre of the Thalap Rivat commune, looks more ‘developed’ and is physically closer to where natural resources like the river are available.


In contrast, Anglongsuay farmers still depend greatly on knowledge obtained from the past generations; they are ‘geographically excluded’ from NGO networks and supports due to their faraway distance from the centre, where NGO workers live and where workshops are held. Moreover, Anglongsuay villagers own a less portion of land than other villages. For example, the three farmers we interviewed in Anglongsuay own less than 5 ha of land, while each family owns about 10 ha of land on average in Kandal. This seems to foster NGOs’ further involvement in animal husbandry education in Kandal.

Nevertheless, the farmers in Anglongsuay generally welcome NGOs and are grateful for their help. NGOs seem to have done good work in the region, providing useful aids to farmers based on types of activities they already engage in. Now that some NGOs have shifted their focus area from Thalap Rivat to Central Stung Treng, some questions remain: what will be the future of smallholder farmers unreached by the initial wave of NGO aid? Will knowledge and tools spread from the commune centre to those farmers? Are villagers empowered and willing to help others with the commune?


SNAPSHOTS OF OUR EXCURSIONS TO THE FARMS!


The humble cassava! Also known as tapioca, we commonly consume it in chips or kueh (an Asian snack). If it is eaten raw, it tastes slightly sweet, like coconut flesh. Unfortunately, planting cassava doesn’t obtain much profit. Our interviewee hopes to use her land to plant some bananas next year and concentrate more on rearing animals.


Cross-border relationships! Mr. Sai Moeun, our interviewee, is Laotian. He has a Cambodian wife, and our translator, Mr. Haeng, speculates that his wife moved to Laos during the Khmer Rouge. Alhough we examine only one crop per farm, most families in the commune grow multiple crops. They grow rice for personal consumption and sale (usually 1 ha), producing an average of 1 ton of rice per year on top of other crops.


Our interviewee, Mr. Tith Sun in his cashew field. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem to know too much about cashew farming. For instance, when we asked how long the trees will live for, he laughed and admitted he didn’t know (Mr. Haeng said about 15 years). A courageous farmer indeed?



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