The staff at PNKS know too well the impact that climate change is having on the communities they serve. Working in rural areas of Cambodia, mostly with farmers, they hear the stories of the changing weather patterns and see their effects on family life.
For farmers already living in poverty, climate change is yet another burden they have to bear.
“Sometimes there’s too much rain that causes flood, and sometimes too little and causes drought,” says Leak Chowan, the program manager. “The rain sometimes comes late, and sometimes early. The climate is unpredictable. People start planting and then there’s no rain for a long period. This climate destroys the plants, or they do not grow well due to lack of water. In all of the PNKS target areas – Prey Veng, Kampong Speu and Kampot - there is drought, then flood.”
In these remote communities, loss of crops means the migration of young people, particularly the men. Left behind in the villages are the elderly, women and children. They are the ones who now manage the farms, their families and a changing social structure.
To meet their needs, PNKS is training farmers and helping strengthen their networks so they can share experiences and improve their agricultural techniques. They’re also strengthening community structures – such as Village Development Associations and the Commune Development Associations, as well as Water Management Committees. By improving village governance, they can help the villagers to manage both the climatic changes and the social changes that are occurring at the same time.
The agricultural training covers a wide variety of methods to suit smaller and larger farms, the very poor and the moderately poor, and those who are willing to risk much or just a little. It typically covers the following techniques:
Not all of the techniques are appropriate for all situations. Some are too costly (like plastic sheeting) and some are too political (like communal ponds). Different options suit different families.
PNKS has recognised a feeling of injustice from some farmers, and some staff too.
“They believe climate change is human-induced. Especially industrial countries like America and China produce most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and we Cambodians suffer that.”
“My hope for the future,” says Chowan, “is for all people to understand climate change and help preserve and protect natural resources. For the rich to help the poor, and that we will work together to fight pollution and develop a friendlier environment in the world.”
Sous Serei is a leader of a PNKS association and a local adult literacy teacher. She’s a gifted story teller and a respected and trusted woman in her community. Married with four sons, the oldest of whom is studying engineering at university, she should be enjoying the benefits of her labours. Though her husband is uneducated and works in the gravel mine, they should have been comfortable. But farming, she remembers, is not like in her parents' day.
The following interview is by Leak Chowan, form TEAR's partner PNKS.
My hope for tomorrow is that people will stop using chemical fertiliser. I want them to plant trees and preserve them. I want more natural resources to be available. I want to protect the community forest.
Sous Serei says: “When I was young I felt there was a lot of rain and my parents used only compost for their rice field. We could start growing rice in May. When I grew older I felt like farming was more difficult. The rain was unpredictable. The farm work did not produce as many crops. For the first time, my family started to use chemical fertilizer. We were given it for free. In this village, one family was given a 20kg bag. It helped the field produce good crops. And people started to buy and use the fertilizer. Now the soil is very bad.
Through PNKS I have learnt farming methods: compost making, human rights, health, about domestic violence. And I taught literacy classes. PNKS supported me.
The compost making is a very useful skill. It helped bring my land back to normal. We had been using chemical fertilizer for a long time. The fertilizer is expensive but we had to buy it or we wouldn’t get any harvest. PNKS trained us in how to make compost – mixing the excrement from animals with leaves and other waste. I have been using the compost for my field for a few years and gradually it has become better. Now I do not use chemical fertilizer.
I helped others in my community to make compost, and have been promoting it. Other people do it because they saw me. This year I have noticed that people don’t complain that they have no money for fertilizer. Before, every year I heard people complain that they didn’t have enough money to pay for the fertilizer. Because they use compost they are reducing their need.
Being a literacy teacher, I have helped many adults learn how to read and write Khmer. The class stopped long ago but my students still practise their reading, I saw them. Sometimes children from the village ask me to tell them stories. I teach them to say ‘thank you’ and to be polite.”
PNKS means "light of hope". They are a Cambodian Christian NGO working in community building, agriculture and livelihoods training and health.
This project has received funding from the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), responsible for Australia's overseas aid program.
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