Working Papers   142

The Political Economy of Land-Water Resource Governance in the Context of Food Security in Cambodia

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Water is central for a variety of livelihoods, development, economic growth, and food production. It is also very important in the large deltas of South and Southeast Asia. Yet, water is turning into a scare resource and global climate change is making its availability more unpredictable. Commercial interests and infrastructure development are also competing for water resources, sometimes at the expense of local smallholders.

This report, which is a desk study combined with stakeholder interviews, aims to map out the issues and the previously unknown challenges to efficient water and land management for poverty alleviation and food security. It also serves as a basis for an empirical case study on the same topic. The report illuminates the political economy of land-water resources in the floodplains around the Tonle Sap Lake which constitutes the upper part of the Mekong River Delta and shares seasonal fluctuations and livelihood patterns.

The report identifies key challenges for land-water integrity and multi-functionality in food security, nutrition and income impacts for different local producers. The versatile delta landscape and its livelihoods are a complex ecosystem; the driving factors include seasonal water flow variations, the construction of upper Mekong dams, climate change, and the minimal regulations of local resource governance. This evidently makes the governance challenge both immense and urgent. This report maps out opportunities from national to local levels for promoting more systematic, productive and inclusive land-water management. The roles of formal and informal actors within political spaces, their influence on policy and practice, and opportunities to influence these actors are of particular interest.

In pursuing the above, the report applies a political economy approach, where the role of the state, its policies and resource allocation are in focus. This also includes the presence of politically and commercially vested interests and how civil society is involved in the general strife for food security and poverty alleviation. The political economy approach constitutes a holistic analysis of how a society is governed and who possesses and utilises which power in order to pursue their interests. At the core of the political economy approach is therefore the illumination of power (and powerlessness) through analysis of actors or a group of actors and their particular interests. The empirical realms in this report focus on contemporary resource management, its institutions and actors.

The conclusions are as follows:

  • The conclusions are as follows:The policies and legal frameworks are tentatively progressive, but still sectoral and sometimes fragmented. Institutional structures and agency interests in horizontal coordination and vertical implementation are considerably weaker than the laws and policies themselves.
  • While concerned ministries have achieved a lot, they have not managed to effectively collaborate and work across sectors and ministries. They continue to treat landscapes in a segmented manner. Many policies fall short because there are a lack of adequate resources and local incentives to implement and follow-up on the ground. To systematically monitor the implementation of policies, studying their true weaknesses, feeding back to the concerned ministries and amending the policies according to their existing weaknesses, would further the efficacy of the system.
  • The decentralisation reform programme at the sub-national level is one of the most promising governance reforms in post-war Cambodia. However, in its current version, it is not sufficient, because the scale of the problems at stake are typically greater than the commune jurisdiction.
  • To complete the halfway reform of a “unified administration” at the district level, integrating agriculture, environment and water mandates may be the most important reform for the long-term future. This is a hypothetical scenario since the commune councils may not be as accountable to their local constituency as they were pre-2017.
  • Overall, increased agricultural output, green revolution, mechanisation, and efficien market access are favoured in many policies and plans. Yet, fisheries, especially small- scale ones, are partially neglected in spite of the huge value, poverty alleviation abilities, and nutritional quality.
The policy recommendations include:

  • The national government system would benefit from an establishment of mandatory cross-ministerial meetings on a regular basis, facilitated by existing/new coordination structures leading to monitorable cross-sector and cross-agency actions towards more integrated water and land management.
  • A systematic empirical monitoring of the rollout of policies would be very valuable since our analysis revealed that the weakest links in the policy work are the implementation, the upholding of the quality of interventions, and the safeguarding of the sustainability of already established policies.
  • To further support the IWRM implementation, a planning process based on hydrological units (basins and sub-basins), resource inventories, development priorities for key social indicators (e.g., poverty, nutrition and gender), and arising trade-offs needs to be established.
  • The recent decision to integrate water, agriculture and environment at the district level needs to be given full support, bringing in fisheries to the mandate.
  • The rules for il/legal fisheries need to be clarified and the absence of efficient monitoring of fishing practices needs to be addressed.
  • The government has recently promoted a partnership between public, private and farmer agents to enhance agricultural production and productivity for better food security. To push this further is a worthwhile opportunity.

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