Rural Cambodians are primarily subsistence farmers who grow rice for nutrition and sell off any surplus for a meager income. Many farmers cannot afford vegetables and meat on a regular basis and are thus malnourished. However, nutritious wild fish species are abundant throughout the whole country, which is dotted with ponds and rivers. In the rainy season, the fish inhabit the flooded rice fields which farmers tend, making them easy to catch. In an effort to increase access to this valuable resource, TCO has partnered with the WorldFish Center to create Community Fish Refuges (CFRs). CFRs are deep ponds which provide a haven for local fish to survive the dry season so they will be plentiful once the rains arrive.
The Rice Field Fisheries Enhancement Project was conducted between October 2012 and March 2016, involving the construction of dozens of CFRs across the region. TCO was responsible for the implementation and monitoring of twelve CFRs within its principle operating zone. The objectives of the project were twofold: to study the effects and benefits of constructing a CFR on the local fisheries and to help communities adopt CFRs in accordance with the Cambodian Fisheries Administration to improve nutrition. To this end, TCO provided three important outputs:
- TCO and WorldFish Center would develop a categorization framework for rice field fisheries based on environmental and management factors which would be used to group the local fisheries.
- TCO would choose twelve villages with rice field fisheries to construct CFRs in. The CFRs were built, the communities would be taught best practice management strategies, and biological, consumption, and livelihood data would be collected on the CFRs.
- TCO would collaborate with WorldFish Center to design CFR use guidelines based on the results and disseminate them to all relevant parties.
Now that all CFRs have been constructed and all data has been collected, the WorldFish Center is in the process of analyzing the results. A publication thoroughly describing the guidelines for optimal CFR management and use will be issued in the near future. However, anecdotal evidence from beneficiaries in the communities suggests that CFRs have been very beneficial to their nutrition.