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New tools reveal crucial role of fisheries in Cambodia

Better tools to address the inextricable links between land, water resources, fisheries and livelihoods have been developed, adopted and adapted to manage the resources in the Tonle Sap wetlands of Cambodia.
Throughout Cambodia, nearly one-third of land becomes inundated during the rainy season, turning rice fields into fishing grounds. When the rains end, a dry season lasting up to six months creates widespread water shortages. Water management and the uses of water bodies are thus key aspects of agricultural development.
Small wonder, then, that Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries sought to broaden the scope of its commune agro-system analysis (CAEA) — a planning tool to engage local communes in decision making. While CAEA had been official policy in the country since 2004, it had focused primarily on agricultural issues. In 2008, with support from CGIAR’s Challenge Program on Water and Food, Cambodia began to strengthen aspects of CAEA related to fisheries.
In addition to researchers from WorldFish and the Ministry’s Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), the project team comprised specialists from the International Water Management Institute, the Inland Fisheries and Development Research Institute (Cambodia) and the School of African and Oriental Studies at the University of London, as well as an independent consultant.
Working with four target communes, the researchers updated the CAEA guidance manual to address water resources more effectively. On the one hand, they modified an existing tool to improve understanding on the use of different water resources at different times of the year. On the other, they introduced a host of new tools to achieve several goals, including the following:
•    identify key water bodies such as rivers, streams and natural ponds, as well as the extent of flooded forest;
•    provide additional insight on water resources and water use for agriculture and fisheries;
•    analyze uses and make-up of water bodies;
•    rank the most important fish species in terms of local livelihoods, abundance and value; and
•    understand key factors affecting livelihoods, as well as the gender breakdown of tasks.
The tools are already heightening the communes’ appreciation for water resource issues. In the north, for example, Chamnar Krom and Samproch expressed concern about the impact of new reservoirs on grasslands and fish. In the south, Sya and Sna Ansar both identified the need for community-based groups to address conservation and water-use issues.
Apart from its immediate impact in the field, the research promises to resonate at the policy level. DAE has endorsed the revised guidance manual, and its involvement in the project from the start builds a strong foundation for future uptake. Indeed, several other projects in Cambodia have already embraced the new tools, including the Ministry’s sustainable land management initiative with UNDP. What’s more, practitioners in Lao PDR have further modified the tools for their agro-biodiversity initiative.
Agriculture has long overshadowed the fisheries in Cambodia. By increasing both the quantity and quality of fisheries-related data, however, this project gave greater prominence to the role of fish for food security and economic well being in the communes. In so doing, it helped create more appreciation for all the components in an agro-system.