Fragmented water management threatens Cambodia's Mekong delta food security: AMD Initiative pushes integrated approach

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Cambodia’s Mekong Delta faces a food security crisis due to climate change, population growth, and fragmented water and land management. This disjointed approach hinders production of nutritious food and harms fishing communities. This fragmentation is evident at the village and commune levels, affecting irrigation infrastructure, Community Fisheries (CFis), Community Fish Refuges (CFRs), Community Based eco-tourisms (CBEs) and Agricultural Cooperatives (ACs), with each being overseen by separate and unconnected entities.

To achieve a sustainable food system, the CGIAR Initiative on Asian Mega-Deltas (AMD) recommend a shift towards a more balanced approach that prioritizes not just rice, but also nutrient-rich options like fish. This would involve efficient resource allocation, fairer access to food production, and environmentally friendly practices.

Integrated approach to food security and nutrition

A planning process that extends across sectors and sub-national administrative levels is essential to guarantee that water and land resource utilization contributes to diversity, resilience, and sustainability in food production. This inclusive planning process should also function within hydrological units, such as basins and sub-basins.

Achieving both horizontal and vertical integration in resource planning requires institutional innovation to support decentralized governance not only within sectors but also crucially across sectors including water, agriculture, fisheries, and environmental management at the district to village levels. This innovation is pivotal for coordinating across local water-land management institutions and ensuring the adequate representation of fisheries.

In order to facilitate this integrated approach, AMD has worked with government agencies, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF), Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology (MOWRAM), and Ministry of Rural Development (MRD), along with local authorities in Cambodia’s Mekong Delta.

AMD held provincial workshops in the targeted Mekong Delta provinces of Prey Veng, Takeo, and Kampong Thom, followed by a national workshop. These workshops served as a platform to share research findings and engage with various stakeholders, including government agencies, community committees, research and development partners, regarding AMD’s contributions to food system governance and food security in Cambodia.

Through these dialogues, AMD highlighted the need to integrate a decentralized sectoral management system for water, agriculture, irrigation, fisheries, and natural resources. AMD also called for the inclusion of communities, such as farmer water user communities (FWUCs), CFis, CFRs, and agriculture cooperatives (ACs).

Policy actions towards integration

Under AMD, a policy brief titled Toward an Integrated Approach to Food Security and Nutrition in Cambodia was published. The brief was written by Dr. Chanrith Ngin of the Cambodia Development Resource Institute, with inputs from Dr. Sanjiv De Silva from the International Water Management Institute and Dr. Mak Sithirith, and Sok Sao from WorldFish Cambodia.

To strengthen Cambodia’s food production system’s nutrition, sustainability, and climate resilience, the brief recommended a multifaceted approach. This includes diversifying diets beyond just rice, adopting a more unified water and land management strategy, and incorporating fisheries into existing district-level water, agriculture, and environment management. This would streamline resource use planning, reduce conflicts, and promote collaboration among stakeholders.

Additionally, pilot programs involving local government, community organizations, and agricultural groups are suggested to facilitate integrated water management and address water-related disputes. Finally, funding from local development plans should be used to implement these integrated water management strategies.

Recently, the Ministers of MAFF, MRD, and MOWRAM issued a statement to promote the collaborations among them. Promoting food system governance, the ministries saw the need to work together to provide water to agriculture development and integrate their works at the communities.

With this development, AMD is currently piloting the integrated decentralized food system governance at the district level. The pilot is expected to promote the integrated decentralization of different sectors at the district level to manage agriculture, natural resources, and environment. Providing a multi-stakeholder platform, a functional Technical Working Group (TWG) will be established at the district level, bridging vertically across villages and Commune Councils and horizontally across water, agriculture (including fisheries), and environment sectors.

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