about the author
Polly Egerton is a Programme Officer in the Western Area Office, Siem Reap, Cambodia
WFP Cambodia’s Food for Assets (FFA) programme helps poor, food-insecure households to cope with potential disaster by providing off-season labour opportunities to develop or rehabilitate community assets, in return for much-needed food. WFP’s Polly Egerton visited one such project recently.
Balang is an impoverished commune with poor soils and erratic weather, resulting in low agricultural productivity and recurring periods of food insecurity, especially during the August to November ‘lean season’.
Sok Khoen, a 51-year-old mother of 11 children, lives in Balang. Her family owns 2 hectares of rice paddy, which due to poor soil fertility and drought, is insufficient for the needs of her large household.
To make ends meet, she weaves baskets, for which she earns US$0.75 a day. Her husband works as a carpenter, but only when work is available, and makes US$2.50 on a good day.
“Six of my daughters are still in school, one stays at home to take care of the animals and two of my daughters work, but still we simply do not have enough food to eat,” says Khoen.
Her household consumes a minimum of six kilogrammes of rice a day at a cost of US$2.70. Even with their combined effort, Khoen’s family struggles to make enough money to meet their household needs.
For many poor families like Khoen’s, the most difficult time of the year is from August to November, during which food reserves from the previous harvest run low and people work long hours to replant for the next harvest. WFP’s FFA programme – implemented together with the Government of Cambodia – provides labour opportunities to poor and food-insecure families who receive food as payment. At the same time, the work builds or rehabilitates rural assets such as roads, dykes and canals to improve agricultural output or improve access to schools, markets and other basic services.
In Balang, WFP in partnership with its local partner NGO Community Translation Organization, constructed a 2-kilometre canal through its FFA programme in 2011. The canal linked rice fields to a nearby reservoir, which enabled farmers to irrigate their land more regularly and thus produce dry season rice crops. Khoen first heard of the FFA programme from the village chief and was very enthusiastic to participate.
“I helped build this canal,” she says, beaming with pride. “ As it was built near my land, I can now easily control how and when to irrigate my rice fields even when there is no rain.”
For the two weeks that Khoen and her family worked on the canal, they received 300 kg of rice – sufficient to feed her household for two months. “WFP gave us rice before the lean season which lifted a big burden from my shoulders, knowing that all my children will eat well,” says Khoen.