Increasing Infrastructure to Increase Quality of Life
Jolene Iseler's essay for Youth World Food Prize covers the agricultural and infrastructure challenges in Cambodia.
July 5, 2017 - Author: Jolene Iseler
Tucked away in the Eastern Hemisphere and nestled between Thailand and Vietnam lies a small country about the size of Oklahoma known as Cambodia. It has a population of approximately 15 million people, and its capital is Phnom Penh ( "The World Factbook: CAMBODIA."). Just like its neighbors, Cambodia mainly grows rice for food and to export. Its climate is typical for a country in the tropics of Asia, with a rainy season from May to October and a dry season from November to April (Weather in Cambodia).
Cambodia’s history is long and bloody, but it currently is not occupied by any hostile forces. In 1953, Cambodia was granted independence from France ("The World Factbook: CAMBODIA." During the 1970s, Cambodia was ruled by the Khmer Rouge, which was led mainly by Pol Pot. The Khmer Rouge was responsible for approximately 1.7 million Cambodian deaths and destroying much of Cambodia's natural resources and infrastructure. Once Vietnamese forces drove the Khmer Rouge out of the country, a Communist government was set up (“Cambodia profile - Timeline.”). Currently, Cambodia has a parliamentary constitutional monarchy whose chief of state is King Norodom Sihamoni ("The World Factbook: CAMBODIA.").
A typical family in Cambodia would consist of 4.6 members ("Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey 2014."). This family would eat meals of rice or noodles with fish and vegetables, and some fruit occasionally.
The education in Cambodia is divided into a 6+3+3 system, with six years of primary education from grades 1-6, and six years of secondary education from grades 7-12. Cambodia’s education system was completely destroyed during the Khmer Rouge’s rule. One may think that the education system is back on its feet, but it still faces corruption and low funding ("The Education System in Cambodia.").
Cambodia’s health care system is not accessible to people living in rural/remote areas. One reason healthcare is not accessible is that doctors are reluctant to move to rural areas due to “geographical and physical barriers” meaning that the land is either too rugged or underdeveloped to travel on. Another reason healthcare is not accessible is because of the lack of facilities to store vaccines. Its healthcare system, just like its education system, was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge ("Health Care in Cambodia."). According to CIA World Factbook, there are 0.17 physicians per 100 people ("The World Factbook: CAMBODIA.").
A typical Cambodian’s diet would consist of mainly rice or noodles served with fish and vegetables with fruit as a supplement. Its rice is less milled than the rice of other countries and thus contains more vitamins and minerals ( "Cambodia - Diet.").
Farming in Cambodia takes up about 50% of the workforce in Cambodia(“The World Factbook: CAMBODIA.”). Most of the Cambodian farmers only hold farms of 1-2 hectares. Both small-scale and large-scale farmers grow rice, rubber, cassava, and maize. Animals raised in Cambodia include pigs, chickens, and beef cattle ("Cambodia country fact sheet on food and agriculture policy trends."). Since the main crop grown in Cambodia is rice, the majority of farmland would be rice paddies.
Some common industries in the country include tourism, garment making, fishing, textile making, and rubber processing. These industries, along with several others, make up 19.9% of the labor force ("The World Factbook: CAMBODIA.").
Agriculture in Cambodia is faced with multiple barriers to improvement, but perhaps the easiest to address is its infrastructure. As mentioned before, Cambodia’s infrastructure was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge in the 70’s. Cambodia was left with damaged roads and a limited train system (“Cambodia - Infrastructure, power, and communications.”). This lack of infrastructure has held Cambodia back from being a major rice exporting nation. Lack of infrastructure not only holds back large-scale farms, but it also holds back small-scale farmers that only sell locally. Without quality roads, it is difficult for these small-scale farmers to bring their crops to market or for people to access markets.
Lack of infrastructure not only limits large-scale rice exportation, but it also can restrict the tourism industry. Tourism is a growing industry in the Cambodian economy, with growth from about 500,000 tourists in 2000 to 2,500,000 tourists in 2011 ("Cambodia's Tourism Industry Growing."). In order to continue this growth, Cambodia must improve and maintain its infrastructure. Basic infrastructure is necessary to the tourism industry because, without it, there would be no way for tourists to access the country.
Currently, Cambodia’s infrastructure Currently, it has 16 airports, 642 km of railways, and 44,709 km of roadways, 3,607 of which are paved ("The World Factbook: CAMBODIA."). However, this is not sufficient to become a major rice exporting nation. For comparison, its neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam, each have around 50 airports, 5000 km of railways, and 185,000 km of roadways (“The World Factbook: THAILAND."; "The World Factbook: VIETNAM.”). Thailand and Vietnam’s developed infrastructure has allowed them to be major rice exporters. In 2016-2017, Thailand exported $4.5 billion worth of rice and Vietnam exported $1.6 billion worth of rice, compared to Cambodia which exported $335.1 million worth of rice ("Rice Exports by Country."). Cambodia’s infrastructure is definitely not up to its neighbors level of development and is not suitable for large-scale rice production.
By improving Cambodia’s infrastructure, the amount of food available to families that buy food at markets would hypothetically increase. If small-scale farmers were to have access to improved roadways and railways, it would be easier and more efficient to bring their produce to markets where it can be sold. With Cambodia’s current infrastructure, it is difficult for farmers to bring their crops to a market where it can be purchased.
The most difficult challenge facing the improvement of infrastructure is Cambodia’s corrupt government. Cambodia’s current prime minister has been in power for 32 years ("Cambodia profile - Leaders."). According to Chun Siev, a refugee from Cambodia, this prime minister, along with many other government officials, pocket taxes and donation money intended for other uses. Another challenge the corrupt government poses is that it does not support small farmers. One example of this is what Siev described as the government buying up plots of land to create a garment factory. Farmers unwilling to sell their land may be boxed in, rendering their farmland useless ( Siev, Chun.).
Another factor that will affect the development of infrastructure is Cambodia’s climate. Cambodia has a monsoon season and a dry season, as stated before. During the monsoon season, Cambodia experiences powerful winds and heavy rains. This violent weather could hinder the building of roads or railways. It is important for building companies to accumulate all of the necessary funds before they start building to prevent unfinished construction sites sitting unprotected during monsoon season.
The baseline reason that Cambodia cannot build or maintain its infrastructure is that it lacks capital. According to eria.org, Cambodia does not meet the benchmark measurement of the percent of GDP used in road investment (‘Infrastructure Development in Cambodia'). To gain the capital necessary to build and maintain roads, a possible solution would be to collect a tax from vehicle registrations. This tax would not be sufficient to fund this entire project, but when combined with other funds, it could help. Another possible source of funding would be to implement several toll booths on major highways to generate revenue. However, this solution must be viewed with caution because some low-income farmers may not be able to afford the toll, and thus not be able to bring their produce to the market. Cambodia’s government must continue to use its donated funds and its investment funds wisely in order to build and improve Cambodia’s roads.
Before Cambodia begins to improve its infrastructure, it must consider the impact that building roads will have on the environment and its people. Since Cambodia has an incredibly diverse river ecosystem and rainforest ecosystem, it must take some sort of action to limit emissions coming from roads. This could include banning certain high-emission vehicles from the roads or providing higher quality gasoline at gas stations. Also, roads and railways must not pose a threat to already shrinking rainforest by going through it. Cambodia must also consider its people when building roads. With new roads comes the addition of increased noise levels. To combat this, Cambodia’s government should implement regulations that reduce the speed of traffic and thereby reduce the noise level, but this should only be implemented in residential areas during night hours.
The need is obvious. Updating the roads and railways of Cambodia are viable solutions to helping rice farmers get their product out of the field and to the market. Improving Cambodia’s infrastructure can help farmers prosper like their neighbors and grow food to feed their country and the world.
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