Mean Thorn, a woman in the Cambodian village of Somrith, works harvesting rice. She is a member of a community rice bank organized by the Community Health and Agricultural Development program of the Methodist Mission in Cambodia. Photo: Paul Jeffrey
By Susan Kim*
In Cambodia, about 80 percent of the population are farmers with most depending on rice farming to feed their families and make a living. Farmers there are especially vulnerable to climate change, and they have seen increasing crop failures because of changing weather patterns. Since 2015, rural Cambodians have been severely affected by the long drought in the Mekong Region (which also include Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam). The resulting low river levels have allowed seawater to penetrate inland and this increased salinity is changing soil chemistry and negatively affecting crop yields and quality. In addition, deforestation in the country has displaced many farmers by affecting water sources. The situation has become dire: families are facing malnutrition, extreme poverty, and a cycle of debt.
As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22, pray for Cambodian farmers. Thanks to a United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) partner, Cambodian farmers are demonstrating how sustainable farming brings hope for a better future and enough food to feed their families.
The Community Health and Agricultural Development (CHAD) Program, a ministry of the Methodist Church of Cambodia and an UMCOR partner, is offering climate-oriented food security technical training that focuses on how to adapt to a changing climate pattern.
What are farmers learning from CHAD? Sotico Pagulayan, the Food Security and Livelihood Advisor/Climate Change Specialist for the CHAD program, helps to teach the farmers. “The CHAD program interventions in agriculture and health are enabling target communities to produce and access food to meet their basic requirements,” he explains.
Pagulayan, who came to work with CHAD from the Philippines, envisions the program helping generations to come. “Grounded on the principles of stewardship, CHAD’s low external input approach to agriculture (fertilizers, pesticides, and weed control methods) is increasing food production and protecting the environment from the harmful effects of chemicals that are costly and can damage the land and water.”
The project also promotes access to safe water through home filtration systems and wells, where possible, promoting good hygiene, nutrition, and food safety behaviors, while also improving access to latrines. This is accomplished through a savings model—community members form savings and loans groups to meet their own goals, such as improved water and sanitation, and better food, agriculture, or education. Food insecurity and water are linked because of the drought, which is affecting not only productive water but also water for households, impacting people’s health and economic potential. The training also has a strong emphasis on community organizing, that is, enabling people to develop their collective capacity to learn, solve problems, assess their situation, and know their weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as their strengths and assets.
Caring for creation
Farmers in Cambodia are not only learning technical skills but also exploring their relationship to God and to earth’s natural resources, said Pagulayan — something we could all do in observance of Earth Day.
“I believe that the moment we are restored in our relationship with God, we begin to understand our call and vocation as stewards and managers of God’s creation,” Pagulayan continued. “This process of restoration will mean continuously renewing our minds and leaving our ‘default lives’ as we follow the teachings and examples of Christ as to how we should live out our mandate and call toward caring for God’s creation and conserving it.”
CHAD’s holistic approach provides a comprehensive means of addressing poverty and other social issues — and this brings what Pagulayan calls “lasting transformation” to communities.
“Central to CHAD’s development paradigm is viewing individuals, families, and communities as people created in God’s image,” he said. “CHAD’s participatory and inclusive approach in organizing and empowering the communities is helping people recognize their true selves as productive and creative beings who have something to contribute to their community’s development process.”
UMCOR has been partnering with CHAD to bring this paradigm of transformative development to the lives of countless rural Cambodians since 2015. Through UMCOR’s integrated grant-making and partnership model, communities gain access to safe water and adequate sanitation, improve hygiene and nutrition behaviors, and receive agriculture training for better food production.
Be part of a mission-driven effort. Make a gift to World Hunger Poverty Advance #982920 or UMCOR Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Program Advance #3020600.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.