In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, exploration by Chinese experts in Kampong Thum Province disclosed commercially exploitable deposits of iron ore amounting to about 5.2 million tons. Western sources indicated possible reserves of high-grade iron ore, ranging from 2.5 million to 4.8 million tons, in the northern part of the country. Chinese explorations also revealed manganese ore reserves, estimated at about 120,000 tons, in Kampong Thum Province. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Deposits of phosphate, limestone, and clay of exploitable quality and quantity have also been reported. A few thousand tons of phosphate are extracted annually in Kampot Province and are processed locally or at a small plant in Batdambang Province. In addition, salt and coal also may be present in Cambodia's geological strata. Rubies, sapphires, and zircons have been mined since at least the late 1800s, mostly at Ba Kev, Stoeng Treng Province, and at Pailin, Batdambang Province. Limited gold and silver deposits have been reported in several parts of the country.

Corruption and the Exploitation of Natural Resources

Global Witness reported: “ Cambodia is rich in timber, minerals and petroleum and over the past 15 years, the Government has leased 45 percent of the country’s land to private investors. What happened to these natural resources and where has all the money gone? Since 1995 Global Witness has exposed how Cambodia’s political and business leaders have exploited the country’s natural resources for personal profit and to shore up their own positions of power. Instead of harnessing these state assets to kick-start sustainable economic growth, their mismanagement has fuelled conflict, corruption and human rights abuses. Meanwhile Cambodia’s international donors have turned a blind eye and continued to finance essential state services such as infrastructure, healthcare and education.[Source: Global Witness]

According to the New York Times: “With its tiny economy, weak government institutions, widespread poverty and crippling corruption, Cambodia seems ill-suited to absorb oil and mineral wealth. Onshore, mining companies have found deposits of a variety of minerals, primarily bauxite and gold, that could add to the country's riches. Meanwhile, unrestrained mining exploration has seen thousands forcibly evicted from their land in the north, and has damaged six of the country's 23 protected wildlife areas.

Gems in Cambodia

The former Khmer Rouge-controlled areas in northwest Cambodia around Pailin is a source of gems. Some people, including former Khmer Rouge and Cambodia army soldiers, brave mines and booby traps and unexploded shells to excavate dirt from old mines and sieve buckets of earth in muddy rivers in the search for gems.

One former soldier told Reuters, “Hunting for stones is difficult, but is better than being a soldier. I can make to 1,000 baht ($23) on a good day...It’s all about luck. Even if I don’t find anything today, there is always tomorrow.”

These days there is little left to find. Describing one prospector, Suy Se of AFP wrote: “Up to his waist in water, Lang Tith scrapes silt into a makeshift sieve, hoping that after hours of work he might be able to find a few shards of ruby or sapphire to sell for money to buy rice."I have been digging in this hole for two days and I haven't found anything yet," Lang Tith says, peering up into a hot afternoon sun from his narrow tunnel carved out of the side of a vast, flooded crater left by Thai excavators. He hopes to find a gem large enough to fetch 25 or 50 US dollars with the local merchants. But so far he has come up only with fragments of dull stone worth not even one dollar. [Source: Suy Se, AFP, March 27, 2006]

Gem Miners Go Bust in Former Khmer Rouge Boomtown

Reporting from Pailin,Suy Se of AFP wrote: “This city at the edge of Cambodia's former frontier and the sharp hills surrounding it once seemingly spilled over with gems, traded by the Khmer Rouge whose thirst for gun money turned Pailin into a boomtown for anyone willing to turn the earth. Years after the communist rebels and Thai mining companies stripped Pailin clean of its once-famous precious stones, a few still toil at the bottom of muddy holes with dreams of striking it rich. Pailin, a rambling town of squat, dusty buildings, close to the Thai border has lost it garrison feel, with a few newly constructed homes of brick and shiny tile giving it an almost quaint, prosperous appearance. But the ragged, thatched shacks lining the few roads in and out of Pailin are a reminder of the poverty that has become increasingly acute in recent years. Small red signs dotting the edges of forests and fields warn of landmines and underscore Pailin's troubled past. [Source: Suy Se, AFP, March 27, 2006]

Lang Tith, 36, came to this former Khmer Rouge stronghold on the Thai border in 1997 while the country was still convulsed by civil war and few dared to enter the rebel-held areas. "At that time there were a lot of gems," he says. He became a gem merchant himself and married a local woman, but had no experience in the gem trade and soon began losing money to his more savvy competitors. "Then my wife and I got divorced. I couldn't support my family," he says quietly.

He went back to mining, working alongside Thai companies contracted by the Khmer Rouge to feverishly empty the ground of gems to fund their fighting. And then came the end of war in 1998 and Pailin was suddenly overwhelmed by prospectors, drifters and carpetbaggers all seeking their fortune from the gems that seemed to simply sit on top of the earth.Stories abounded that when it rained gems would wash down the side of Yat mountain on the outskirts of Pailin and the area swarmed so badly with scavengers that the government was forced to make prospecting there illegal."In the past you could dig anywhere in Pailin," says Ly Chhon, who like most in Pailin complains bitterly that the large Thai mining operations destroyed the trade long ago.

With the lawlessness of the war years came large Thai mining operations, which gouged huge holes in the ground with their heavy machinery and took away millions of dollars of precious stones to be sold in Thai markets or overseas. "Now everything is finished — no more gems. Our lives depend on farming instead, but the farming is not always good for us," Ly Chhon says, sitting in a narrow shop off a dusty street in Pailin town with two other men, mechanically cutting small rubies on a spinning grinding wheel. None of his stones come from Pailin, he says, joking that they probably come from Thailand.

Around Pailin a few dozen gem shops open listlessly to the road, with an occasional solitary owner slumping lazily over a glass display case waiting for the chance customer — another small-time Cambodian dealer from another province or the occasional tourist.Dealer Sok Cheng, who has been in the business for seven years, says that gem prices have nearly doubled to around 45 dollars a carat, adding: "If the former Khmer Rouge had not allowed Thai mining companies to mine during the war time, gems in Pailin would never have finished".

The large mining companies, and the jobs, have all moved east into Cambodia's Ratanakkiri province bordering Vietnam. Over the years in Pailin everything of value has been scraped off the top of the earth — mostly timber and bamboo — and the ground littered with landmines. Without the gems, Pailin has nothing, says Y Hoeun, director of the city's department of mines and energy. "Gem diggers are very poor now — they make no money," he says.

Agriculture in Cambodia

About 70 percent of Cambodia’s labor force is in agriculture (compared to 2.5 percent in the U.S.). Most Khmers are rural peasants with small landholding. They grow wet rice for subsistence and sometimes for sale. Those with access to enough water raise fruit and vegetables for sale.

There is little mechanized agriculture in Cambodia. Much of the work is down with relatively basic tools such as hand-held sickles, hoes and metal-tippled wooden plows pulled by draft animals. The soils tend to be sandy and not very fertile. Irrigation is not widely used. Most farmers are dependent on rainfall. In places where irrigation is used, water is brought to the fields with diesel-powered pumps and primitive human powered water wheels.

Many farmers have side jobs such as working at commercial farms or doing temporary menial labor in the cities. Some make palm sugar or moonshine or rice beer. Without proper land titles, many farmers have had their land taken away by corrupt bureaucrats, rich businessmen and military officers.

Arable land (land good for agriculture) in Cambodia: 13 percent (compared to 1 percent in Saudi Arabia, 20 percent in the United States, and 32 percent in France).While the population has double since the 1960s, the amount of arable land has declined by 25 percent. Flooding, monsoons, droughts, war, unrest, poor management and damage to the irrigation systems in the Khmer Rouge years have all hurt Cambodia agriculture.

In some areas the soil is quite fertile. Significant increases both in terms of cultivated area and yield have been achieved. A wealthy class has begun to emerge among farmers. South Korea and Vietnam have been investing in Cambodia’s agricultural sector.

Agriculture in the 1980s in Cambodia

Agriculture, accounting for 90 percent of GDP in 1985 and employing approximately 80 percent of the work force, is the traditional mainstay of the economy. Rice, the staple food, continued to be the principal commodity in this sector. Rice production, a vital economic indicator in Cambodia's agrarian society, frequently fell far short of targets, causing severe food shortages in 1979, 1981, 1984, and 1987. The plan's 1987 target for the total area to be devoted to rice cultivation was 1.77 million hectares, but the actual area under cultivation in 1987 amounted to only 1.15 million hectares. After 1979 and through the late 1980s, the agricultural sector performed poorly. Adverse weather conditions, insufficient numbers of farm implements and of draft animals, inexperienced and incompetent personnel, security problems, and government collectivization policies all contributed to low productivity. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

In 1987 statistics on rice production were sparse, and they varied depending upon sources. Cambodian government figures were generally lower than those provided by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for the period from 1979 to 1985. Political and technical factors account for the discrepancies. Data collection in the war-torn nation is difficult because of the lack of trained personnel. Moreover, representatives of international and of foreign relief organizations are not permitted to travel beyond Phnom Penh, except with special permission, because of security and logistics problems. In addition, international and Cambodian sources use different benchmarks in calculating rice production. FAO computes the harvest by calendar year; Cambodian officials and private observers base their calculations on the harvest season, which runs from November to February and thus extends over two calendar years. Last of all, a substantial statistical difference exists between milled rice and paddy (unmilled rice) production, compounding problems in compiling accurate estimates. In terms of weight, milled rice averages only 62 percent of the original unmilled paddy. Estimates sometimes refer to these two kinds of rice interchangeably. *

Despite statistical discrepancies, there is consensus that annual unmilled rice production during the 1979 to 1987 period did not reach the 1966 level of 2.5 million tons. Nevertheless, since 1979, Cambodian rice production has increased gradually (except during the disastrous 1984 to 1985 season), and the nation in the late 1980s had just begun to achieve a precarious self-sufficiency, if estimates were borne out. *

Agriculture Under the Khmer Rouge , See History, Labor

Collectivization and Solidarity Groups After the Khmer Rouge

Collectivization of the agricultural sector under the Heng Samrin regime included the formation of solidarity groups. As small aggregates of people living in the same locality, known to one another, and able to a certain extent to profit collectively from their work, they were an improvement over the dehumanized, forcedlabor camps and communal life of the Pol Pot era. The organization of individuals and families into solidarity groups also made sense in the environment of resources-poor, postwar Cambodia. People working together in this way were able to offset somewhat the shortages of manpower, draft animals, and farm implements. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

In 1986 more than 97 percent of the rural population belonged to the country's more than 100,000 solidarity groups. Unlike the large communes of the Khmer Rouge, the solidarity groups were relatively small. They consisted initially of between twenty and fifty families and were later reduced to between seven and fifteen families. The groups were a form of "peasants' labor association," the members of which continued to be owners of the land and of the fruits of their labor. According to a Soviet analyst, the solidarity groups "organically united" three forms of property — the land, which remained state property; the collectively owned farm implements and the harvest; and the individual peasant's holding, each the private property of a peasant family. *

In theory, each solidarity group received between ten and fifteen hectares of common land, depending upon the region and land availability. This land had to be cultivated collectively, and the harvest had to be divided among member families according to the amount of work each family had contributed as determined by a work point system. In dividing the harvest, allowance was made first for those who were unable to contribute their labor, such as the elderly and the sick, as well as nurses, teachers, and administrators. Some of the harvest was set aside as seed for the following season, and the rest was distributed to the workers. Those who performed heavy tasks and who consequently earned more work points received a greater share of the harvest than those who worked on light tasks. Women without husbands, however, received enough to live on even if they did little work and earned few work points. Work points also were awarded, beyond personal labor, to individuals or to families who tended group-owned livestock or who lent their own animals or tools for solidarity group use. *

Each member family of a solidarity group was entitled to a private plot of between 1,500 and 2,000 square meters (depending upon the availability of land) in addition to land it held in common with other members. Individual shares of the group harvest and of the produce from private plots were the exclusive property of the producers, who were free to consume store, barter, or sell them. *

Types of Solidarity Groups

The solidarity groups evolved into three categories, each distinct in its level of collectivization and in its provisions for land tenure. The first category represented the highest level of collective labor. Member families of each solidarity group in this category undertook all tasks from plowing to harvesting. Privately owned farm implements and draft animals continued to be individual personal property, and the owners received remuneration for making them available to the solidarity group during the planting and the harvesting seasons. Each group also had collectively owned farm implements, acquired through state subsidy. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

The second category was described as "a transitional form from individual to collective form" at the KPRP National Conference in November 1984. This category of group was different from the first because it distributed land to member families at the beginning of the season according to family size. In this second category, group members worked collectively only on heavy tasks, such as plowing paddy fields and transplanting rice seedlings. Otherwise, each family was responsible for the cultivation of its own land allotment and continued to be owner of its farm implements and animals, which could be traded by private agreement among members. Some groups owned a common pool of rice seeds, contributed by member families, and of farm implements, contributed by the state. The size of the pool indicated the level of the group's collectivization. The larger the pool, the greater the collective work. In groups that did not have a common pool of rice and tools, productive labor was directed primarily to meeting the family's needs, and the relationship between the agricultural producers and the market or state organizations was very weak. *

The third category was classified as the family economy. As in the second category, the group allocated land to families at the beginning of the season, and farm implements continued to be their private property. In this third category, however, the family cultivated its own assigned lot, owned the entire harvest, and sold its surplus directly to state purchasing organizations. In the solidarity groups of this category, there was no collective effort, except in administrative and sociocultural matters. *

The government credited the solidarity group system with rehabilitating the agricultural sector and increasing food production. The system's contribution to socialism, however, was less visible and significant. According to Chhea Song, deputy minister of agriculture, a mere 10 percent of the solidarity groups really worked collectively in the mid-1980s (seven years after solidarity groups had come into operation). Seventy percent of the solidarity groups performed only some tasks in common, such as preparing the fields and planting seeds. Finally, 20 percent of the agricultural workers farmed their land as individuals and participated in the category of the family economy. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

Crops in Cambodia

Major crops for domestic consumption: rice and cassava. Crops raised in kitchen gardens and gathered from trees include beans cucumbers, sweet potatoes, mangos, bananas, coconuts, sugar palms, pepper, chilies. basil,

Major crops for export: rubber, kapok, pepper, cashews, fruit, tobacco, beans

Before war broke out in 1970, rice was Cambodia's No. 1 export earner. In 1996 Cambodia had to import 200,000 tons of rice even thought it had plenty of fertile in part because so many fields are impregnated with mines.

Before war broke out in 1970, rubber was Cambodia's No. 2 export earner after rice. Much of it was raised on former French plantations. Cambodia's rubber industry is being resurrected. Old low-yield trees are being replaced with young trees. Cambodia produced about 40,000 tons of rubber a year I the early 1990s. It produced more in the 1960s.

The main secondary crops in the late 1980s were maize, cassava, sweet potatoes, groundnuts, soybeans, sesame seeds, dry beans, and rubber. According to Phnom Penh, the country produced 92,000 tons of corn (maize), as well as 100,000 tons of cassava, about 34,000 tons of sweet potatoes, and 37,000 tons of dry beans in 1986. In 1987 local officials urged residents of the different agricultural regions of the country to step up the cultivation of subsidiary food crops, particularly of starchy crops, to make up for the rice deficit caused by a severe drought. Other commercial crops included sugarcane, cotton, and tobacco. Among these secondary crops, the First Plan emphasized the production of jute, which was to reach the target of 15,000 tons in 1990. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

Rice Production and Cultivation

Rice has traditionally been the main crop. It is raised mainly in the rainy season. In many places fields are left fallow the rest of the year. In some places two or even three crop can be produced. Seedlings have traditionally been planted by hand. Little fertilizer is used.

Rice has traditionally been raised in rainwater or flood water and not so much in irrigated areas. When water levels rose high, “floating rice” was sewn. See Khmer Agriculture

Cambodia's cultivated rice land can be divided into three areas. The first and richest (producing more than one ton of rice per hectare) covers the area of the Tonle Sap Basin and the provinces of Batdambang, Kampong Thum, Kampong Cham, Kandal, Prey Veng, and Svay Rieng. The second area, which yields an average of four-fifths of a ton of rice per hectare, consists of Kampot and Kaoh Kong provinces along the Gulf of Thailand, and some less fertile areas of the central provinces. The third area, with rice yields of less than three-fifths of a ton per hectare, is comprised of the highlands and the mountainous provinces of Preah Vihear, Stoeng Treng, Rotanokiri (Ratanakiri), and Mondol kiri (MondolKiri). [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

Cambodia has two rice crops each year, a monsoon-season crop (long-cycle) and a dry-season crop. The major monsoon crop is planted in late May through July, when the first rains of the monsoon season begin to inundate and soften the land. Rice shoots are transplanted from late June through September. The main harvest is usually gathered six months later, in December. The dry-season crop is smaller, and it takes less time to grow (three months from planting to harvest). It is planted in November in areas that have trapped or retained part of the monsoon rains, and it is harvested in January or February. The dry-season crop seldom exceeds 15 percent of the total annual production. *

In addition to these two regular crops, peasants plant floating rice in April and in May in the areas around the Tonle Sap (Great Lake), which floods and expands its banks in September or early October. Before the flooding occurs, the seed is spread on the ground without any preparation of the soil, and the floating rice is harvested nine months later, when the stems have grown to three or four meters in response to the peak of the flood (the floating rice has the property of adjusting its rate of growth to the rise of the flood waters so that its grain heads remain above water). It has a low yield, probably less than half that of most other rice types, but it can be grown inexpensively on land for which there is no other use. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

The per-hectare rice yield in Cambodia is among the lowest in Asia. The average yield for the wet crop was about 0.95 ton of unmilled rice per hectare in the 1980s. The dry-season crop yield is traditionally higher — 1.8 tons of unmilled rice per hectare. New rice varieties (IR36 and IR42) have much higher yields — between five and six tons of unmilled rice per hectare under good conditions. Unlike local strains, however, these varieties require a fair amount of urea and phosphate fertilizer (25,000 tons for 5,000 tons of seed), which the government could not afford to import in the late 1980s. *

Cambodia Peppers and a Japanese Entrepreneur

From medieval times up to the 1960s, the "Cambodian Black Pepper" was considered the most delicious in the world. However, production of "Cambodian Black Pepper" decreased sharply and halted due to the outbreak of the civil war in the 1970s. Since 1997 Japanese entrepreneur Hironobu Kurata has been successfully been growing and harvesting organic pepper on a farm located at the foot of the Cardamon Mountains.[Source: Kurata peper]

Maya Kaneko of Kyodo wrote: “A Japanese entrepreneur has been striving to market Cambodian peppers globally to reclaim the country's status as one of the world's major pepper producers up until the 1960s. Hironobu Kurata, 36, a former aid group worker who supported refugees returning to the country to take part in the 1993 U.N.-sponsored elections, now operates a 1-hectare pepper field in Koh Kong Province near the Thai border and sells products in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, mainly targeting foreign tourists. [Source: Maya Kaneko, Kyodo, March 26, 2006]

In an attempt to explore the Japanese market, Kurata participated in a government-backed trade fair in Tokyo last month to introduce his organic black, white and dusky-red fully ripe peppers. The products were vacuum-packed and decorative bags for wrapping were also available. “I wanted to start a business in Cambodia so that people who rely on foreign aid fir their living can support themselves financially,” Kurata said on his establishment if the pepper farm in 1997. “Up until the 1960s, Cambodia ranked as the world ‘s third to sixth largest pepper producer, churning out thousands of tons and selling the product domestically and abroad, But the industry was devastated during the long civil war.”

In launching his business, Kurata received advice from a local leader who formerly worked as a Cambodian pepper produce. His grandson now works at the Kurata farm. Kurata said, “With poor hygiene situation in Cambodia, we go to pains to deliver peppers free of bugs, mold and impurities to customers abroad. But we can boast of the organically growing method and hope that high-end supermarkets in Japan will handle our products.” As of the mid 2000s, the peppers were popular with Japanese tourists to Cambodia and were served at five-star hotels in Siem Reap.

According to globetrotting gourmet: Cambodia’s Kampot pepper rates among the world’s best, but Koh Kong is challenging the stakes. Japanese firm Kurata grows the biggest, brightest red-ripened pepper, each painstakingly sorted by Cambodian’s workers in his Phnom Penh shop. On our visit, staff were pickling fresh green corns in palm vinegar. Local market price is about $15 a kilo, but here expect to pay a cool $100. Cognescetti will head to Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island, where they grow that country’s best pepper, and at a far cheaper price. [Source:globetrotting gourmet]

Rubber in Cambodia

Before war broke out in 1970, rubber was Cambodia's No. 2 export earner after rice and was regarded as Cambodia’s principal commercial crop. Much of it was raised on former French plantations. Cambodia's rubber industry is being resurrected. Old low-yield trees are being replaced with young trees. Cambodia produced about 40,000 tons of rubber a year I the early 1990s. It produced more in the 1960s. The price for rubber produced in Cambodia dropped from $1,600 a ton in 1996 to $500 a ton in 1999.

In the 1980s, rubber was an important primary commodity and one of the country's few sources of foreign exchange. Rubber plantations were damaged extensively during the war (as much as 20,000 hectares was destroyed), and recovery was very slow. In 1986 rubber production totaled about 24,500 tons (from an area of 36,000 hectares, mostly in Kampong Cham Province), far below the 1969 prewar output of 50,000 tons (produced from an area of 50,000 hectares). The government began exporting rubber and rubber products in 1985. A major customer was the Soviet Union, which imported slightly more than 10,000 tons of Cambodian natural rubber annually in 1985 and in 1986. In the late 1980s, Vietnam helped Cambodia restore rubber-processing plants. The First Plan made rubber the second economic priority, with production targeted at 50,000 tons — from an expanded cultivated area of 50,000 hectares — by 1990. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

As of the mid-2000s Cambodia exported 40,000 tons of rubber, a relatively small amount compared the leading rubber exporters: Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. At that time the Japanese diplomat Hideo Yamada wrote: “Cambodia does not have direct access to the world rubber market and lacks modern processing technologies and expertise. In terms of quality it lags behind other natural-runner-producing countries, and Cambodian branded products would not be acceptable in the world rubber market. If Cambodia wishes to see Made-In-Cambodia brands traded in the world rubber market, it will have to improve quality to a level that meets world market requirements...Due to a lack of funds, rubber plants in Cambodia operate using cheap equipment and incomplete waste treatment facilities.“

Japanese aid groups have been involved in Cambodia, trying to make the rubber industry there sustainable and able to produce rubber that is good enough quality to to meet world market standards. Japan has introduced advanced technology and high-efficiency equipment as well as experts and skilled production-line staff to meet these ends. Yamada wrote: “Under our development plan , we will also expand production volume and the acreage of rubber trees...Our project is designed to be environmentally-friendly as it is will improve working conditions and prevent air pollution.

Due to lack of funds rubber plants in Cambodia operate using cheap equipment and incomplete waste-water treatment facilities. A Japanese-sponsored project is working to make Cambodia rubber production more environmental friendly and improve working conditions and prevent air pollution. If pilot programs are successful the concept will be introduced to other plants, including state-owned ones, all over the country.

Cambodia's Rubber Exports up 17 in 2012

In January 2013, Xinhua reported: “Cambodia recorded a 17 percent rise in rubber latex exports in 2012; however, the revenues from the exports went down by 21 percent due to declining rubber prices in the international market, government's statistics showed. The country exported 54,530 tons of rubber latex in 2012, up 17 percent from 46,730 tons in a year earlier, said the statistics from Camcontrol, or the Cambodia Import-Export Inspection and Fraud Repression Directorate General, which regulates imports and exports in the Kingdom. [Source: Xinhua, January 18, 2013]

The nation earned total revenues of $158 million from the exports last year, down 21 percent from $201 million in a year earlier. The best quality rubber latex is sold at about $3,310 a ton on Friday, down 9 percent compared to $3,648 a ton at this time last year, according to the International Rubber Price List.

Cambodia's rubber latex has been exported to Malaysia, Vietnam, and China. To date, the country has 257,670 hectares of rubber plantations, most of them are young crops, which have not yet yielded, according to the statistics of the Agriculture Ministry's Rubber Department. The ministry foresees that Cambodia could produce about 300,000 tons of rubber latex in 2020.

Livestock in Cambodia

Cattle and water buffalo have traditionally been used more for plowing than a source of meat. They are raised on farms and in the forest and savannah. Pigs are often raised for export to Vietnam. Chickens and ducks are also raised. Dogs and cat are often found around villages. Animal husbandry has been an essential part of Cambodian economic life, but a part that farmers have carried on mostly as a sideline. Traditionally, draft animals — water buffalo and oxen — have played a crucial role in the preparation of rice fields for cultivation. In 1979 the decreasing number of draft animals hampered agricultural expansion. In 1967 there were 1.2 million head of draft animals; in 1979 there were only 768,000. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]

In 1987 Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People's Armed Forces, the Vietnamese army newspaper) reported a considerable growth in the raising of draft animals in Cambodia. Between 1979 and 1987, the number of cattle and water buffalo tripled, raising the total to 2.2 million head in 1987. In the same year, there were 1.3 million hogs and 10 million domestic fowl. *

Fishing in Cambodia

Fish catch: 50,000 to 125,000 tons in the 1960s.

Fishing is done in rivers, Tonle Sap, lakes and ponds, flooded rice paddies with poles, scoops or traps. Some people have fish farm in ponds. Some also fish in the marshes and in the sea. Some Cambodians catch fish with their bare hands or attract them with pieces of breadand then kill them with a stone. Giant cone-shaped bag nets are used where the Tonle Sap narrows. They can catch a ton of fish an hour. Sixty three of these nets are spread sided by side.

The fish usually spawn in the rainy season when the rivers flood and the water spreads into swampy forests. The best fish catches were in 1980 after the Khmer Rouge was driven from power. The Khmer Rouge had banned fishing and fish farming. In recent years overfishing, illegal fishing and reduced rains has greatly reduced to the catch. Reduced rains have meant less flooding and less spawning.

Cambodia's preferred source of protein is freshwater fish, caught mainly from the Tonle Sap and from the Tonle Sap, the Mekong, and the Basak rivers. Cambodians eat it fresh, salted, smoked, or made into fish sauce and paste. A fishing program, developed with Western assistance, was very successful in that it more than quadrupled the output of inland freshwater fish in three years, from 15,000 tons in 1979 to 68,700 tons in 1982, a peak year. After leveling off, output declined somewhat, dipping to 62,000 tons in 1986. The 1986 total was less than half the prewar figure of some 125,000 tons a year. Saltwater fishing was less developed, and the output was insignificant — less than 10 percent of the total catch. According to the First Plan, fisheries were projected to increase their annual output to 130,000 metric tons by 1990. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

Moonlight gourmai—small eight-millimeter-long fish caught in Tonle Sap and the Mekong River—are used to make praho. They are caught in giant 90-meter-long, tent-shaped bags that are set up along migration routes of the fish. Fisherman on floating platforms lift the hula-hoop-like opening of the bags from the water and pour the fish into their boats. Sometimes fish can be netted at a rate of a half a ton an hour. Illegally caught fish are sometimes electrocuted with wires hooked up to car batteries.

See Mekong River

Fishing in the Tonle Sap

There are 300 species of fish living in Tonle Sap. These include black fish that breed and spawn when the lake is full and stick round when the lake empties, living in ponds, and sometimes in hollows of unique underwater plants. Migratory whitefish, mostly catfish, enter the lake during the wet season and migrate to the sea or the upper reaches of the Mekong River to spawn. They are caught in great numbers as they enter and leave the lake.

The months of flooding encourages the growth of huge fish stocks and other aquatic life, that become extremely easy to catch once the waters begin to reside. Fishing families string nets and bamboo traps across the lake's mouth and the numerous fish can almost be plucked from the water. The Tonle Sap Lake's level drops so fast that it catches out many of its inhabitants, and its not unlikely to see fisherman picking their catch from the trees.

When the Tonle Sap fills with water it also fills with quick-spawning and -growing fish. During the height of the dry season Tonle Sap becomes one of the easiest lakes in the world to catch fish in, as all the fish that grew and spawned in the wet season get squeezed into shallow pools from the drained lake. The fish are then trapped in bamboo weirs and nets that are strung across channels.

By some estimates fish caught from Tonle Sap provide Cambodians with 60 percent of their protein. Most of the fish caught are small five- to eight-millimeter-long moonlight gourmai which are capable of leaping as high as six feet into the air and are chopped and mashed into fermented fish paste. During the fishing season, Tonle Sap is filled with nets and small boats. One a good day a fisherman may can catch 500 pounds of small fish. Prawns are also drawn from the lake and water is used in crocodile farms.


“Prahok” (pungent, fermented fish paste) is a staple of the Cambodian diet. Eaten at practicably every meal, it is usually made from moonlight gourmai—small eight-millimeter-long fish caught in Tonle Sap and the Mekong River—that have been chopped and mashed. The smell can be quite strong and overpowering to people who are not used to it.

Cambodians love the stuff. One farmer told the New York Times, “When I smell prahok I am happy and my heart aches with hunger.” The average Cambodian eats about 50 pounds (23 kilograms) of the fish paste a year. That’s quite a lot. Itt is hard to imagine an American eating that much ketchup or any other condiment.

For many poor Cambodians prahok is their primary source of protein. Normally 15,000 to 20,000 tons of fish are made into prahok every year. Slightly fatty fish prahok is best. Overly fatty prahok can be bitter and spoil quickly. Sometimes fish are illegally caught through electrocution with wires hooked up to car batteries.

One Cambodian man told the New York Times “Sometimes you just wrap it in banana leaves and grill it until it is black....Ah good smell, ahhh, delicious—I am hungry. I want some now. It is also eaten plain with plates of raw cabbage eggplant, cucumbers of long beans or smeared o the top of unripe green banana.

Making Prahok

The fish used to make prahok is sold for about 8 cents a kilogram to phahok makers, many of whom are Muslim Chams, who earn about 40 cents a day. They sell their prahok for about 60 cents a kilogram.

Describing how prahok is made, Ek Madra of Reuters wrote, "The clack of knives, hitting chopping blocks, fills the reeking air. Clusters of women and children sit beside piles of fish, cutting off heads one by one...Men and women stand on rickety, stilted platforms built out over the river, stomping barefoot on baskets of beheaded fish. Every few minutes they stop to rinse the baskets of fish pulp through the water. Fish oil is collected on the surface of the water as a white scum and is scooped off for later use. The prahok is then salted and stored in big stone jars to ferment for several months."

The stompers hold onto wooden poles for balance. Their job is to squeeze out fish fat referred to as fish cheese. There are machine that do the squeezing but most Cambodians prefer stomped prahok.

One stomper told the New York Times, “Up and down, up and down. Then dip into water to wash out the fat and the guts. Stomp and rinse. Stomp and rinse. We do it the way our parents taught us.” Professional stompers can make $1 a day. One said, “I have my own method, bending my feet to push the fat out. But for that I have to wear sandals so the bones don’t cut me. Most people don’t wear sandals and have to stomp carefully.”

Timber in Cambodia

Timber is one of Cambodia's most lucrative products and an important exportable resource. In the last 20 years half of Cambodia's once vast hardwood forests have disappeared. Environmentalist argue that if logging is not stopped the entire country could deforested in five years.

Much of the timber comes from the northwest where the government and the Khmer Rouge used to fight over possession of the most profitable stands of forest. "The continuing conflict allows a state of total anarchy to persist up there," an environmentalist told the Economist in the 1990s. "The anarchy means that this sort of thing can go unhindered. Its very convenient for everyone."

Loggers typically target only three or four high quality trees per hectare and leave the rest of the forest relatively intact. More severe damage is usually caused by squatters and farmers who move in after them.

In the 1980s it was estimated that forests covered approximately 70 percent of the country. A survey in the 1960s disclosed that Cambodia had more than 13 million hectares of forests that contained many species of tropical growth and trees but not teak or other valuable sources of hardwood. Some destruction of the forest environment undoubtedly occurred in the war that followed in the 1970s, but its extent has not been determined. Most of the heavy fighting took place in areas uncovered by dense tropical jungle. As of late 1987, forest resources had not yet been fully exploited because of poor security in the countryside and a lack of electrical and mechanical equipment, such as power tools and lumber trucks. Nevertheless, the Cambodian government reportedly has discussed with Vietnam the possibility of coordinated reforestation programs. Timber and firewood are the main forest products. Timber is considered one of the four economic initiatives of the government's First Plan. Timber production was projected to reach a peak of 200,000 cubic meters in 1990. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

Even though the government says that it will halt the timber trade, it does nothing. Royalties provide the government with $11 million a year in 2000. It was $30 million before the military got involved in the mid 1990s.

see Deforestation

Foreign Timber Companies

Having exploited the easy to harvest timber in their home countries, Indonesian and Malaysian timber companies are now cutting down virgin rain forests in Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Cameroon, Gabon, Guyana, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru.

Kuala Lumpur-based Grand Atlantic Timber International is Cambodia’s leading timber company. It was once charged with taking out more wood that it was allowed and built roads where it wasn’t supposed to. The matter went to court but the company got off relatively easily, simply paying a penalty for the 777 trees felled while building the road.

Thai lumber companies are the main buyers of Cambodian timber. A scandal in June 1994, over the exporting of timber from Cambodia's forests cleared by the military, almost caused the government to collapse. The scandal broke after the Prime Minister of Thailand was given a letter by Cambodia's two Prime Ministers that stated that timber could only be exported though the Defense Ministry. This would give the Defense Ministry—which already consumed half the national budget—an additional $150 million a year, three times the amount the government spends on development, education and health put together.

See the Military

Green Field Cambodia has a deal with the Hashiya Co. of Japan to produce 100,000 pairs of wooden chopsticks a day from bamboo, rubber trees, palm trees and acacias, and export them to Japan. The five-hectare facility that produces the chopsticks is in Kompong Speu, about 120 kilometers west of Phnom Penh.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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