Working Papers   125

The Impacts of Climate Change on Agriculture and Water Resources in Cambodia: From Local Communities’ Perspectives

Author(s): NONG Monin

Published: 01-Mar-2021
English PDF (270)


In 2019, 61 percent of the population living in rural areas, 76 percent of whom rely on agriculture as the main source of income and livelihood, sustainable rural and agricultural development is paramount to the Cambodian economy. National Strategic Development Plan 2019–2023 forms the basis of the national approach for strengthening the agriculture sector to generate jobs, ensure food and nutrition security, expand agricultural exports, reduce poverty, improve rural livelihoods and revive rural areas towards achieving sustainable and inclusive development and climate change resilience. 

The shock of the Covid-19 pandemic has coincided with other shocks and trends such as the risk of economic crisis and financial collapse, the US-China trade war, disruption of supply chains, and impact on the poor due to lack of alternative or additional livelihood opportunities and income and the absence of social safety nets. The Covid-19 outbreak has shed new light on agriculture as a relatively more resilient sector and the imperative of ensuring food security (World Bank 2020). 

Agriculture and water are among the high priority sectors for achieving the targets of the Cambodia Sustainable Development Goals, Cambodia Climate Change Strategic Plan 2014– 2023 and Cambodia’s Nationally Determined Contributions (intended reductions in greenhouse gas emissions) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The impacts of climate change on these two sectors vary depending on location and the levels of exposure and sensitivity and adaptive capacity

The study set out to identify groups of people who are vulnerable (both site and context-specific) to climate change, and their capacity and practices for responding to and coping with climate hazards such as flood, drought and windstorm across the four agro-ecological zones. The study looks at how climate change affects the agriculture and water sectors and the livelihoods dependent on them, highlights cost-effective and technically appropriate climate change responses, and suggests best practices to suit different local settings in Cambodia.

Among all climate hazards, the study found that prolonged droughts from 2013 to the present (2020) caused the most severe impacts. Across all four agro-ecological zones, the rural communities dependent on agriculture have high levels of vulnerability and those dependent on water resources have medium levels of vulnerability. Agriculture and water resources in the Tonle Sap, Mekong flood plain and coastal areas were found to be moderately vulnerable to floods. Agriculture in the Tonle Sap, Mekong floodplain and coastal areas is moderately vulnerable to windstorms and water resources in all communities are less vulnerable (flash flood damage locally). Local community adaptive capacity levels for both agriculture and water resources are assessed at low and medium. 

High vulnerability to drought can be attributed to local communities’ low adaptive capacities, influenced by such factors as poverty (most rural residents are still living just above the poverty line), poor infrastructure, lack of social safety nets (lack of resilience), low understanding of the causes and effects of climate change, and inadequate hazard predictions and warnings even though droughts are becoming increasingly frequent. 

How local households and communities deal with climate risks mainly depends on their level of reliance on natural resources and traditional ad hoc (i.e., unplanned adaptation actions), which will not be enough to mitigate climate change. Information is not provided in an easy-to-understand format suitable for people with low literacy skills or without technological means. 

The study proposes three measures for strengthening local community resilience to climate change:

  • Improve access to financial and technical supports (to be responsive and sustainable) so that local communities can enhance their capacity to adapt and cope with extreme events.
  • Distribute climate change responses in irrigated and climate-resilient agriculture among local people and authorities geographically (most vulnerable locations) and fairly (based on actual needs without political consideration or bias).
  • Engage stakeholders from different levels of government, from central to subnational administration including commune, village and community authorities, in a highly integrated approach to build climate resilience through local community actions.

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