Disaster resilience

Key objectives in the development of newly settled communities are disaster resilience and self reliance. New settlements can be plagued with issues of mines, poor infrastructure, malaria, low soil fertility and pests and diseases. With a changing climate, floods and droughts are becoming increasingly common. Also the widespread use of poor agricultural practices such as burning rice fields and little incorporation of organic matter result in degraded soil structure and loss of nutrients.

Ockenden Cambodia works with small farmers to develop disaster resilient and sustainable systems. They work with communities and villages to develop organic agriculture, drip irrigation systems, agroforestry, permaculture principles, floating and bale gardens and much more.  Seed money is provided to get projects off the ground, including cow and rice banks, which provide initial funds to buy seed, cows and pigs.   However, it is important that these projects can demonstrate economic sustainability, which is a bottom line where self-reliance is concerned.  Pilot projects are monitored and their success rates reported on.

Ockenden's work has brought sustained improvements in the livelihoods of flood-affected families, developing capacity-building and disaster resilient strategies.

Below is a story of a family of nine members with ‘no paddy field’, barely surviving in an annually flood affected zone.   One option has been illegal migration to Thailand and all the risks that entails.  But now this family has new hope – a new way of cultivation, right before & after the floods. Within 3 months they had an assured source of food for consumption and sale and soon will be able to buy their own paddy.

Disaster resilience:
The story of Seng Samoeut and her family in lowland 
Banteay Meanchey 

Seng Samoeut, 51 and her husband, Phal Sophon, 48, have 7 members in the household to feed. This includes two children, three small grand children, one disabled sister and one nephew. They all live in Kompong Krosaing, village, Phnom Leab commune, Preah Net Preah district, Banteay Meanchey province which is a lowland area of the province.

"My family used to depend on wet season rice cultivation (long-term-floating rice) as the main source of household staple food supply for many years ago. But over the last past five years, my family and the rest farmers in the community have realised that the cultivation of rainy season rice has not reliable or produced sufficient food to supply their respective households anymore. Unprecedented/sudden severe floods in these recent years have occurred repeatedly, causing damages particularly to the rice and other livelihood sources. Due to repeated crop failures and family economic problems, my husband and I decided to sell all 5 ha of rice land to pay off a debt and support the daily family living during that hard time. We have so far remained only a housing plot (size: 30m X 40m).

My family had big worries to find money to buy enough rice for a large family of nine which had only two income makers. We needed to buy over 100 kg of milled rice per month for household consumption which was a very difficult task for the heads of the household. I then migrated to find seasonal agriculture related and other available labours in Thailand to make money for complementing on food supply at home, leaving my husband to do fishing, day to day labours, looking after the rest family members and animals at the village.

As living cost in Thailand was on the rise, I could not afford to send money home to support the family anymore and decided to return home and stay to make a living together with my husband.

Experiencing the severe floods for the past five years particularly the worst flood happened in 2011 which destroyed all crops, all rice farmers in my community have almost abandoned the wet season floating rice cultivation and chosen to do short term rice cultivation (before heavy rains come and right after flood water receding) as a new livelihood option. They got an average yield of 2 tons of rice per hectare within a-3-month cycle with minimum risks of losing.

In 2012, through a village committee, my family was one of several other vulnerable households in my community selected to join a project run by Ockenden’s “Post Flood Livelihood Restoration Programme”. We received 200kg of short term rice seed and some vegetable seeds from the project. My close relatives who, had large rice land in the village, allowed my family to cultivate on 1.5 ha of their land and we agreed to give them one bag of rice seed (100 kg) per hectare per production cycle as our return of gratitude to them. My husband and I postponed all other businesses and concentrated only on dry season rice cultivation for the first time in life. We started the first cycle in May 2012 after the floodwaters receded and harvested in August 2012. During this first cycle, we received rice yield just enough for family consumption and could also afford to keep seed for the next cycle. Life had not improved yet but practical experiences we obtained from the cultivation gave us hope and encouragement to continue.

My husband and I had come up with a strong commitment that we had to work harder to prepare all available means and manage our resources well in advance in order to cope with any possible worst flood. In the beginning of 2013, we built a higher ground area (size: 4m x6m) in front of our home for keeping rice seed, animal, other household assets and growing vegetables during flood seasons. In the same year (2013), my family was able to cultivate the short term rice in two consecutive production cycles. The first cycle started from Jan to March 2013 and we got 20 bags of rice (1bag of rice =100kg). The second cycle started from May to August 2013 and my family once again received 30 bags of rice; therefore, we got 50 bags of rice in total from the two production cycles. We’re so happy and firstly contributed 60 kg of rice seed to the village committee to reserve 30kg of rice seed in a community emergency relief package, and to use the rest 30 kg as a beneficiary contribution in constructing a small canal in the village.

Then we managed to pay off all expenses for the two cycles and after that my family still now have rice seed of 2,500 kg in stock at the moment and we are able to secure food for the family from this flooding period up to the next production season. We can also afford to keep enough rice seed for cultivating in the next year’s season. We have gained experiences and have confidence in cultivating the dry season rice.

After the floodwaters recede late this year (Nov-Dec 2013), my family will start cultivation of short term rice in the beginning of Jan, 2014 and we are going to expand the cultivation activities up to 7 hectares on unused rice land of my relatives. We have now prepared everything ready. But the only problems that my family and the rest farmers in the community have faced so far are the lack of techniques to cope with harmful insects and small irrigation distribution canals to boost the dry season rice production".