The Japanese government, using its Official Development Assistance (ODA), initiated a three-year irrigation infrastructure rehabilitation project to the west of Tonle Sap lake in 2019.
The project was undertaken to replace ageing infrastructure built during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979) that were not functioning properly due to flaws in their design and construction, while water volumes were also affected by unpredictable weather.
Such irrigation infrastructure is important in regulating a consistent supply of water to the areas surrounding the Tonle Sap lake, which are known for the cultivation of rice and remain a key lifeline for farming communities.
The second phase of the rehabilitation work targeting six districts in three impoverished provinces located to the west of the ecologically rich freshwater lake began in February 2019, with the installation of all key equipment completed in June last year.
As the infrastructure was upgraded, the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology took the lead in managing water resources in these areas by supporting the irrigation development projects and maintaining existing irrigation systems, as well as improving water management among farmers.
The ministry is also responsible for providing guidance on improving agricultural production to raise the livelihoods of farmers in the areas around the irrigation systems and their communities.
Prum Kanthel – deputy director of the Technical Services Centre for Irrigation and Meteorology at the Ministry of Water Resources – said the project will span three years.
In the first and second years, villagers will be taught improved farming methods, while irrigation management techniques will be the main focus in the third, added Kanthel, who is also the chief of Farmer Water User Communities (FWUC) unit under CP-P11 CP-P23.
The projects will help produce higher yields and lessen the need for the pumping of water.
Farming communities in Leang Pung village in Battambang province and Wat Chrey village in Pursat province are beginning to reap the benefits of the Japanese government assistance.
The project in Leang Pung village covers 1,969 hectares, with irrigation systems in seven villages in three communes.
Kran Samean, the chief of the local FWUC, said that before the irrigation system had been upgraded, water could not be stored, leading to serious shortages.
The improved infrastructure provides better drainage during rainy season and prevents flooding, while stored water can be supplied to areas experiencing shortages during dry season.
Roads have been constructed by the irrigation channels to improve transportation.
Six months after the rehabilitation of the irrigation systems, farmers have almost doubled their paddy production from the previous 1.5 tonnes.
Paddy cultivation can now be carried out twice a year compared to the single planting done previously, with farmers now optimistic of being able to grow three crops a year.
“The irrigation system must be maintained by the villagers, and we want to work together to manage it properly. We have formed a team among villagers to upkeep the irrigation system.
“I want to educate people on the importance of taking care of it. This is the model to be used by FWUC,” said Samean.
Another area to benefit from the Japanese project is Wat Chrey village in Pursat province, with an irrigation system covering 1,227 hectares.
Leaders from 10 villages in two communes have established a FWUC to improve management.
“After the completion of the irrigation system, yields have risen to four to six tonnes per hectare from the previous three to four tonnes.
“We now can harvest paddy three times a year and grow vegetables as well,” said Meas Sok, the FWUC head.
FWUCs plays a vital role in water management and in the maintenance of the irrigation systems.
They are also responsible for supplying water to villagers during dry periods.
The Ministry of Water Resources is managing the irrigation systems at present, but once the project is completed in March this year, local FWUC will be responsible for the rehabilitated infrastructure.
The FWUCs will need to consult with the ministry on repairing large-scale assets, like water pumps, should they break down, but daily maintenance will be the responsibility of their members.
Everyone using the irrigation systems therefore have a duty to ensure they remain in optimum condition.
Hay Bunthoeun, deputy director of the Technical Services Centre for Irrigation and Meteorology at the Ministry of Water Resources – who is in charge of the project – said the irrigation system in Wat Chrey village is Japanese designed.
The vicinity around the irrigation system is also being developed to transform the area into a local attraction.
The installation of street lights, the building of benches and the planting of flowers are in progress to transform the area, said Bunthoeun, who is also the chief of FWUC unit.
In both provinces, there are high hopes in the local communities, with the Japanese-funded projects set to bring huge improvements to people’s livelihoods and environment.
With support of FWUCs, sustainable agricultural practices and poverty reduction can be achieved, contributing to strong rural economic growth.