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AVI POLICY BRIEF ISSUE: 2020, No. 09

Place-Based People-Centred Rural Development: A Model for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth and Rural Resilience Against Covid-19

ISSUE 2020
No 09
Release 01 May 2020
By KEO Piseth*, PhD

Introduction

The Covid-19 pandemic, which started early this year, has affected almost every spectrum of societies throughout the world. Ordinary people, government and private institutions, businesses, religious communities, and cultural organisations have all been adversely affected. In their responses to the pandemic, numerous countries have put in place various measures including the introducing of the state of emergency, lockdown, social distancing and the encouraging of citizens to stay at home. The global war against the pandemic has just started, so how the world is like after Covid-19 is unpredictable.

In Cambodia, the Covid-19 pandemic has adversely affected its economy and society. Textile manufacturing, tourism, construction, trade, and businesses, which are the key pillars of the national economy, have all been affected, which has caused the annual economic growth rate to plummet to below zero in 2020. Tens of thousands of people are losing jobs and income. These trends would continue into the near future although the government has been mobilising available resources and putting in place measures to control the pandemic and to mitigate the social and economic risks stemming from it.

As Covid-19 is shaking Cambodia’s urban economy, many migrant workers are returning home to their rural villages after they have been laid off from jobs. With family and community supports available to most villagers, rural villages are safe havens protecting their dwellers from external shocks and crises such as the Covic-19 pandemic. Villagers can turn to their family members, relatives, neighbours or fellow villagers for supports when they face food shortage or fall sick. In addition, with relatively more abundant land and natural resources available than cities, rural areas offer villagers a sense of security in terms of finding food to feed their families. In many parts of the country, villagers own pieces of agricultural land for food production, and they can catch aquatic animals like fish, crabs and snails from paddy fields, ponds, rivers, and natural waterways. They can also go to nearby forests to collect plants, herbs, honey, and other types of non-timber forest products to meet their family’s consumption needs.

As Covid-19 is shaking Cambodia’s urban economy, many migrant workers are returning home to their rural villages after they have been laid off from jobs. With family and community supports available to most villagers, rural villages are safe havens protecting their dwellers from external shocks and crises such as the Covic-19 pandemic. Villagers can turn to their family members, relatives, neighbours or fellow villagers for supports when they face food shortage or fall sick. In addition, with relatively more abundant land and natural resources available than cities, rural areas offer villagers a sense of security in terms of finding food to feed their families. In many parts of the country, villagers own pieces of agricultural land for food production, and they can catch aquatic animals like fish, crabs and snails from paddy fields, ponds, rivers, and natural waterways. They can also go to nearby forests to collect plants, herbs, honey, and other types of non-timber forest products to meet their family’s consumption needs.

The article argues that rural areas have huge potentials not only for sustainable and inclusive growth but also for keeping Cambodian rural society resilient from the impacts of Covid-19 and other external shocks. The rural potentials can be boosted by the implementation of place- based people-centred rural development approach, which rests on the TECHO conceptual framework.

The article argues that rural areas have huge potentials not only for sustainable and inclusive growth but also for keeping Cambodian rural society resilient from the impacts of Covid-19 and other external shocks. The rural potentials can be boosted by the implementation of place- based people-centred rural development approach, which rests on the TECHO conceptual framework.

After the Introduction, the second section of the article provides contextual backgrounds of the relationship between communities, resources, and livelihoods in rural settings. It is then followed by the section on ‘place-based people-centred rural development approach’, which is exemplified by the TECHO conceptual framework. The fourth section explains how the PBPC model can help Cambodia as a whole and its rural communities in particular cope with the impacts from Covid-19. It can also help revitalise Cambodia’s society and economy in the post- Covid-19 era. The article concludes with some useful recommendations for transforming rural areas as an engine for sustainable and inclusive growth and for enhancing Cambodia’s resilience.

Rural Communities, Resources and Livelihoods

Cambodian rural population accounts for 75 per cent of the country’s roughly 15 million people. They live in close-knit communities, where most of the members know one another. Family bonds, reciprocity, and community supports are strong. Each villager can turn to fellow villagers when there is a need for urgent supports, for examples, in cases of food shortage, crop failure, or a family member falling sick. As for the Covid-19 pandemic, migrant workers feel more secured when they return to their rural villages than staying alone in urban areas where supports are limited and services have to be paid for.

Cambodia’s most significant sources of natural resources are the Tonle Sap Great Lake, the largest natural lake in Southeast Asia, and the Mekong River, both of which form a huge water basin and floodplain stretching more than 43 per cent of the country’s total land area. A conservation study estimated that in average a Cambodian person consumed 33 kilograms of fish products per year. Some studies suggest an even higher reliance on fisheries with a quoted figure of 56 kilograms per person per year in areas with minimal fishing activities and up to 123 kilograms of fish consumption in areas with intensive fishing activities. 3 Both of these massive bodies of water also contribute to Cambodia’s export of fish products to regional and global markets.

The above water bodies supply not only food to the majority of the population in the adjacent areas but also water for irrigation and agriculture during dry season. With abundant land in rural areas, agricultural sector plays crucial roles in generating employment, economic growth, food security, and poverty reduction. Agriculture shared around 22 per cent of Cambodia Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and employed 30.09 per cent of the population in 2019. 4 It contributed to poverty reduction from 18.9 per cent to 9.4 per cent in 2012 and 2017 respectively. In 2019, Cambodia exported 620,106 tonnes of rice, along with tonnes of other crops including mangos, cashew nuts, and bananas. 

The above water bodies supply not only food to the majority of the population in the adjacent areas but also water for irrigation and agriculture during dry season. With abundant land in rural areas, agricultural sector plays crucial roles in generating employment, economic growth, food security, and poverty reduction. Agriculture shared around 22 per cent of Cambodia Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and employed 30.09 per cent of the population in 2019. 4 It contributed to poverty reduction from 18.9 per cent to 9.4 per cent in 2012 and 2017 respectively. In 2019, Cambodia exported 620,106 tonnes of rice, along with tonnes of other crops including mangos, cashew nuts, and bananas.

Besides relying on their farmlands, a large number of people living in rural areas depend on natural resources for subsistence and livelihoods. Most villagers go to nearby forests to collect non-timber forest products (honey, rasin, mushroom, herbs, and root plants). They also catch fish from nearby natural water bodies. In addition, they make rice-wine and raise livestock and poultry for family’s consumption and income generation. The rich natural resources of rural areas provide secured sources of food and income for villagers when external shocks, for instance, Covid-19 or an economic crisis happens.

In addition, Cambodia’s rural areas offer a broad range of benefits and services including land, water, food, raw materials, and other ecosystem services for socio-economic development, urbanisation, fisheries, forestry, animal raising, ecological recreation, tourism and creative industrial development, culture preservation, and biological and environmental protection.

However, Cambodia’s rural areas generally remain undeveloped or under-developed. Their potentials have not been utilised to its maximum. Despite having abundant land, the agriculture sector is still under-developed. There are huge potentials for Cambodia to plant a variety of crops to supply domestic markets, which at present depend largely on imports from neighbouring countries, and to export to international markets. There have been some improvements in the growing of rice, cashew nuts, banana, and a few other crops in recent years, but a lot more needs to be done. Agriculture development has been hindered by numerous factors including water shortage, lack of investment in research and development in good-quality seeds, inadequate advanced farming techniques, inefficient use of agriculture inputs, lack of diversification among others. 6 Similarly, although it is a resource-rich country, Cambodia has been slow in the development of Small-Medium Enterprises (SME), which play pivotal roles in generating economic growth and local employment. The improvement of processing and packaging of raw materials, for instance, can significantly add values to the products.

Having identified the potential areas for rural development, the next section focuses on place- based people-centred rural development approach, which is exemplified by an innovative conceptual design called the TECHO 100 Model Villages.

Place-Based People-Centred Rural Development

PBPC rural development model aims to make maximised utilisation of local resources for development and its focus is on local people. PB here refers to a development strategy that utilises endogenous potentials to allow local places to grow by drawing on available natural, physical, financial, and human capitals. This strategy is adaptive to socio-cultural and environmental contexts. It applies a holistic and integrated approach, which involves multi- sectors and cross-disciplines. PC in this model means putting people at the centre of the development to ensure that everyone inclusively receives the fruits of the development outcomes. To achieve the objectives, bottom-up approach and multi-stakeholder partnership are applied.

PBPC uses culture as a core foundation by following the TECHO concept (Technology, Education, Cooperation, Humanity, and Ownership) as guiding principles.

A detailed explanation of TECHO is in the below paragraphs. ‘Technology’ consisting of both modern and indigenous technologies drives the development of villages making them become growth centres. A technological upgrading process shall begin by taking stock of the existing reservoirs of knowledge, ideas, and skills, while at the same time embracing innovation and new technological discovery. To support community innovation in social entrepreneurship, agricultural innovation and productivity improvement, the promotion of technological development and exchanges will be a crucial element. In the process, there will be a collection, compilation, and dissemination of both practical indigenous and new technologies by means of training and agricultural extension services among villages and rural communities in an open communication and with a sustained momentum for cooperation and collaboration through inter- and intra-agency engagements among stakeholders and local communities.

Next, ‘Education’ gives the priority to training, technology and skill transfer to equip people with necessary tools to improve their productivities (land, labour, and capital), employability, quality and standard of goods and services, competitiveness, and innovativeness. Educational programmes incorporated in this project will enable villagers and entrepreneurs operating their agribusiness, tourism-related businesses, and micro and family businesses to meet market demands. In addition, education and training programmes are designed to contribute positively to the realisation of people-public-private partnership. In addition, there will be a platform to encourage local community members to build and share knowledge through social innovation, which is the development of novel solutions to social problems. Knowledge and findings gained from the project will be shared with national government agencies, research institutes, and development practitioners.

Furthermore, ‘Cooperation’ centres on community building by fostering coordination and expanding relationships between and among communities and villages. Community building through trust, namely between rural and urban communities, aims to facilitate exchanges of goods and services and to promote transportation that provides economic means for people in addition to supporting local tourism development. In addition to cooperation by means of physical connectivity through roads, railroads, air transports, and waterways, digital connectivity using high-speed internet connection and digital technologies will facilitate the reduction of digital divide and will empower rural communities to get a wider coverage of information, particularly about agricultural techniques and marketing strategies.

Moreover, ‘Humanity’ puts people at the centre of village development strategies. Therefore, their happiness, rights and dignity are the top priorities for the achievement of medium- and long-term development goals. In addition, the project pays attentions to the underlying forces of sustainable development through social, cultural, and interfaith harmony, peace, well-being, equity, equality, and social justice.

Last, ‘Ownership’ emphasises originality of ideas and development approaches based on the contextualisation of local characteristics and system. On top of this is the recognition of ownership of the village development projects and the outcomes of the projects by local communities and local authorities. The village development will be jointly planned and implemented by the communities. More importantly, local knowledge, local solutions and local ownership are the project guiding principles to be based on and adhered to. Championship and leadership in new thinking and originality of the development approach pioneered by local Cambodians will be promoted to inspire and encourage development from within.

For the actual interventions, the project activities vary depending on different potentials and different contexts. The broad components for project interventions can be categorised into Tourism Development; Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry Production; Cultural Preservation and Environmental Protection; Specialised Human Resource Development; and Digital Governance.

Contributions of PBPC to Sustainable and Inclusive Development and Rural Resilience

There are numerous ways in which PBPC can contribute to the sustainable and inclusive development and rural resilience in Cambodia. Starting with the economic dimension, rural areas, with their numerous potential economic activities, can act as the centres for food production and supply, innovative Small-Medium Entrepreneurship, culture and ecology tourism, and high-tech industries. They are all important for generating local employment, income, and rural economy. Moreover, they can help slow down outmigration from rural areas and lay a strong foundation for national economic growth to achieve Cambodia’s long-term vision of becoming an upper-middle-income and high-income country by 2030 and 2050 respectively.

Second, on social dimension, PBPC contributes to supporting villagers’ happiness and well- being. Villagers’ gaining of sufficient income from their land or having jobs in their villages or nearby villages will allow them to stay close to their families. Thus, they can provide necessary care and support to their family’s members. Their children can go to school and enjoy their childhood with their parents. One of the current main problems with outmigration is that elder people and young children are left behind in villages without receiving sufficient support. Old parents find it hard to turn to other villagers all the time for regular support. In some cases, young children have to drop school at very young age in order to support themselves and their grandparents. Without education, those children are most likely to fall into chronic and intergenerational poverty.

Third, on environmental dimension, PBPC can ensure the sustainable development of rural areas because it is driven by ecologically and environmentally-friendly principles that aim to keep the air clean and nature preserved along with the promotion of man-made green spaces. Clean air, non-polluted water, and green spaces are essential for keeping villagers stay healthy and live long. Forest provides food and resources for development, and it plays an important role in ecological processes providing water supply and balancing the extreme weather conditions. PBPC encompasses numerous core environmentally friendly activities including forest protection and rehabilitation, fish sanctuary protection, green villages, high-tech incineration, and sewage waste management system.

Fourth, on cultural heritage, PBPC offers relatively better intervention approach to preserve both tangible and intangible cultural heritages, which are significant for Cambodian pride, nation-building and economic development. With limited government budget, community- based preservation programs with supportsfrom relevant government institutions, international organisations, and private agencies need to be introduced to preserve the country’s rich cultural heritage.

Finally, on human resource development, PBPC enhances physical infrastructure construction and digital connectivity through Public-Private-People-Partnership, which will lay a strong foundation for rural sustainable and inclusive development and resilience. When external shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic happen, PBPC can help keep rural economic activities resilient and robust, and it can help mitigate the pandemic’s impacts on the urban and national economy. Rural areas can still supply food to urban areas, which generally face with shortages of food supply. In addition, in response to Covid-19, rural areas are spacious and low-populated with the population density of only 27 people in plateau and mountainous areas, compared with the national population density of roughly 86 persons per square kilometres. 7 Therefore, the prevention and control of the disease is a lot easier than in urban areas if there is a clear mechanism in place. Quarantine, self-isolation, and social distancing measures can be effectively enforced, as the community is close-knit. Besides, information sharing about the disease and those being infected can be shared rapidly and widely among the villagers. Community support can also be mobilised to help those in needs. Moreover, better development of rural health infrastructure can help ease the burden on the urban health infrastructure. Furthermore, better development in rural areas can help solve some of the problems in cities including waste management issues, environmental pollution, disease infection, traffic jam, and housing price bubbles.

Conclusion

Rural areas have significant economic, socio-cultural, and environmental values for Cambodia and its people. Resources in the areas have not, however, been utilised to their maximum potentials. With the proposed ‘place-based people-centred rural development’ model using culture as a core foundation and TECHO as the guiding principles, the article argues that Cambodia’s abundant rural resources can be better utilised, and villages can be better developed. Local people are able to generate more income from agriculture, fisheries, forestry, tourism, and small-medium enterprises in their villages. They can enjoy working and living in peace and harmony with their families and fellow villagers. In addition, with more available jobs and development in villages, the inequality gaps among villagers and between rural and urban areas are also significantly reduced. Moreover, the ecologically and environmentally principles of the PBPC allow people to enjoy clean air, non-polluted water, and green spaces. These are essential for the sustainability of rural development. Additionally, the living culture and heritages, which are sources of pride and national development, are also promoted and preserved through the implementation of PBPC. 

Finally, with human resource development, physical infrastructure building, and digital system networks in place, rural economy will enjoy strong growth. It can produce sufficient amount of food to meet urban consumption needs, and it can absorb the impacts from the external shocks on urban areas. Urban workers can look for jobs in rural areas if they lose jobs in cities. As in the case of Covid-19, there would be less burden on urban health system if the health system in rural areas is also strong. Low population and large space in rural areas make the prevention and control of infected diseases a lot easier if rural health infrastructure is better developed and proper mechanisms are put in place. Information sharing about the impacts and the prevention measures are more effective and responsive in close-knit communities in rural areas. Furthermore, better developed rural areas can help solve urban problems including traffic congestion, sewage and solid waste management, housing price bubbles, infected disease, and other problems.

The opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of the Asian Vision Institute.

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