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Cambodian Women Empowered in Farming Sector

A Cambodian farmer harvests rice in a paddy on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Dec. 11, 2015. The national government said it is directing more support to women farmers.

Cambodian authorities and analysts are highlighting the role that Cambodian women play in the country's important agricultural sector, especially as the nation’s economic conditions continue to force many men to seek work overseas.

Some 75 percent of Cambodia’s women are employed in agriculture, according to the World Bank.

Ty Ratana, a program coordinator at nongovernmental organization Life With Dignity, said that when women engage more with the agricultural sector, it curbs the need for migration, reduces household debt and increases productivity.

"If we look closely, women contribute a lot in the agricultural sector," Ratana said. "When their husbands go overseas to find work, the farming responsibility falls on them."

Improving rural women’s circumstances

In late 2015, the Cambodian government set out policies embedding gender in the agricultural sector, with the aim of improving the circumstances of women in rural areas, as well as pushing more women to engage in the sector.

FILE - Cambodian farmer Suon Yom, 45, clears tubes before loading them with palm juice at Prey Pong-Ro village near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Jan. 2, 2015.
FILE - Cambodian farmer Suon Yom, 45, clears tubes before loading them with palm juice at Prey Pong-Ro village near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Jan. 2, 2015.

Mom Thany, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, acknowledged women’s important role in the agricultural sector, from producing and processing produce to selling it at market.

However, Thany said, while the government and NGOs would provide support, women farmers should try harder to improve themselves and be more courageous in raising issues in the community.

"Firstly, they need to learn new farming techniques, how to adapt to climate change, and so on," Thany said. "They also need to be open to knowledge and help share knowledge with other women in their community. This means that women should help themselves first."

Forum for farmers

The government, in cooperation with NGOs, recently organized the first National Champion Woman Farmer forum, an event in which 100 outstanding farmers were selected from 24 cities and provinces to participate in discussions about the issues affecting women in rural areas.

Dem Sreylim, 29, a farmer from Battambang province, said the agricultural sector could not function without women, who manage output, find markets for goods and conduct negotiations.

"They are important partners in farming," she said. "They help provide income for the stability of their family’s livelihood. They can be a good model for the next generation as well as for other women in the community."

Leang Sangeam, another farmer from Preah Vihear province, said women’s participation in farming could improve household earnings so that family members would not have to take the risks associated with traveling abroad for work.

"We don’t want women to loiter around with nothing to do," Sangeam said. "… If they can farm and work together well, there’s no need to migrate to find work overseas. I don’t want to see people having to leave behind their children to be looked after while they migrate to work overseas."

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Khmer service.