Building a new life on new land
Living in uncertainty on a small land belonged to a farmer in Reaksmey Sameakki commune of Aoral district in Kampong Speu province since 2002, Mr. Mao Vanna and his family, who migrated from Takeo province because of owning no land, encountered countless sufferings in their lives.
Mr. Vanna, 41 and his wife Sim Leng, lived from hand to mouth for over 10 years. During this hardship situation, the landless couple struggled days and nights to sell their labor in the village for transplanting rice from August to September and harvesting from November to December every year and some other jobs to support their six children. Their total irregular income of $6 per day was not enough to support their family.
Mr. Vanna described his distress he faced over the past years. “Some days, we have no rice to eat. We eat manioc tubers instead. When our children were sick, we didn’t have money to buy medicines,” Mr. Vann said.
Because of the poverty, in 2006 Mr. Vanna decided to have his oldest son, aged 15, enter the priesthood at a pagoda in the village. “We work very hard without a day of rest. We never feel good. We thought about the future of our children. How will they depend on when they grow up?” he said.
The couple’s concern was growing when talking about owning even a small piece of land. Mr. Vanna had no prospect to move of out poverty, he said.
In late 2008, LWF Cambodia, which was now transformed into LWD, piloted Community Empowerment through Access to Land Project (CETAL), part of the Government’s Social Land Concession Project. Funded by Japan Social Development Fund through World Bank, the CETAL covers two locations—Kampong Speu’s Aoral and Phnom Sruoch districts and Kampong Chhnang’s Sameakki Meanchey district.
The time has come. In June 2012, four hundred landless and land-poor families, including Mr. Vanna’s family, from 9 villages of Krang Dei Vay commune in Phnom Sruoch district and 5 villages of Reaksmei Sameakki commune in Aroal district of Kampong Speu were granted access to settle in on the new land in Reaksmei Sameakki. The goal of the project is to support the government in its efforts to provide social concession land for poor families and empower them to improve sustainable livelihoods.
Mr. Vanna’s family was the first settler on the new land. “When I was informed that I got the land, I was so excited that I even could not sleep all over the night,” said Ms. Leng, adding that she and her husband immediately came to clear brushes. And with the support from her neighbors who also got the land from the project, Mr. Vanna could build a temporary wooden house to live within a week.
Life on the new land started. Ms. Leng described her feeling on the first night of her stay at the new habitat. “We sleep soundly at the first night,” she said. “Every night before going to bed, I always discuss with my husband what to grow on the farm land and on part of the residential land.”
The total area of the concession land granted by the government is 1,120 hectares. Each family got 1.5 hectare of agricultural land and a plot of land, sized 30m by 40m for residence.
Mr. Vanna soon turned the remaining land around his house into a vegetable garden. He grew corns, rice, pumpkins, cucumbers, string beans, sponge gourds, and many other veggies. He also planted ten coconut trees, bananas, ten mango saplings, ten soursop trees, ten papayas, five jackfruit trees, four beds of cassavas, and five beds of sweet potatoes.
A few months later, Mr. Vanna’s home garden started to yield. “We not only have enough vegetables to eat, but also can sell,” he said, adding that the daily income from selling his produce ranged from $1.5 to $7.5.
“Previously, we lacked food to eat 20 days each month, but now we lacked only three days,” he said. “According to my self-assessment, my living standard has improved some slight extent.”
In November, his pumpkins yielded 900kg. Within a period of 3 months, he earned about $200 from selling the pumpkins. He planned to grow ten beds of radish and three beds of morning glory after pumpkins. With a strong hope on the new land, Mr. Vanna spent some of his earnings buying a male piglet and six ducklings to raise.
For his agricultural land, he also planned to grow cassavas, mangos and jackfruits on half hectare of the total land size and the rest for rice, corns and beans as soon as the land was cleared.
“Here, it is a good place to live. The soil is very rich in organic matter,” he said, adding that the only major challenge for all new settlers was the lack of water both for drinking and irrigation.
“I do hope that my family’s lives will be better within the next five years. We will have enough rice to eat,” he said. “I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to donors and LWD. If I do not have this land, my livelihood will become worst and worst,” he said.
To start up their new lives, LWD provided each family with a farming kit which consisted of an ax, a bush machete, a kettle, a rake, a pair of watering buckets, a hoe, and a 60-litre water container.
The next development phase included (i) supporting parts of house construction materials, including 18 sheets of zincs, bricks and some nails per family; (ii) construction of 13 deep wells, 2 community ponds, a health post, a school building of 5 classrooms, 20 km of soil road with 4 culverts; and (iii) support for housing land and farmland border demarcation.