Food Security in Rural Cambodia and Fishing in the Mekong in the Light of Declining Fish Stocks

Date01 March 2016
Published date01 March 2016
World Food Policy - Volume 2, Issue 2/Volume 3, Issue 1, Fall 2015/Spring 2016
Fish is without doubt the second
most important food next to rice in
Cambodia. As much as 75% to 79%
of the annual consumption of animal
protein is supplied by sh and as many
as 39% of Cambodian households have
at least one member engaged in shing
(Ahmed et al. 1998; Israel et al. 2007).
According to Baran (2005), Cambodia is
the most intensive inland shery in the
world with ~20 kg of sh per capita caught
annually. e majority of Cambodian
shers are engaged in small- to medium-
scale sheries which supply the largest
part of the annual catch volume (Van
Zalinge et al. 2000). Along with the
importance of sh, agriculture remains
the most signicant source of income in
rural Cambodia. In this context shing
can be viewed as a means of diversication
to reduce risk or mitigate the impact of
crop failure (Baran 2005; Smith, Nguyen
Khoa, and Lorenzen 2005). Besides its
cultural importance and inuence on
Fishing in the Mekong River is of utmost importance for rural livelihoods in
parts of Cambodia. As a result of ecosystem changes, sh stocks are expected
to decline. Using data on 600 rural households collected in two waves in 2013
and 2014 in the province of Stung Treng, we assess the current situation of
food security in relation to shing. To proxy food security, we consider energy
and protein intakes as well as Food Security Indexes. Quantitative results show
that shing households had a more nutritious diet in the past week, are more
engaged in subsistence activities and had lower additional food expenditure.
Furthermore, shing is eective in reducing seasonal food insecurity for
households in the lowest income quartile. In the light of declining sh stocks
these ndings underscore the need for shing households to adjust their
income earning activities to the expected changes. We call for policymakers to
account for the most sh-dependent groups of the population when designing
or adjusting development policies for the area that could potentially aect sh
Keywords: Cambodia, Fishing, Mekong River, Nutrition, Food Security
Rebecca HartjeA, Dorothee BühlerA & Ulrike GroteA
Food Security in Rural Cambodia and Fishing in the
Mekong in the Light of Declining Fish Stocks
A Institute for Environmental Economics and World Trade, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany.
doi: 10.18278/wfp.
Food Security in Rural Cambodia and Fishing in the Mekong in the Light of Declining Fish Stocks
people’s subjective well-being (Bush 2004;
Marschke and Berkes 2006), it plays an
essential role in ensuring food security in
many rural households not only through
sh consumption but also through cash
income from selling sh. More than 50%
of the small-scale shers’ catch is sold
(Hori et al. 2006; Navy and Bhattarai
2009). Fish is an ideal food to improve
food security in developing countries
such as Cambodia because, despite access
regulations, it is easily accessible even
for poor households and it has a high
density of proteins and micronutrients
(Kawarazuka and Béné 2010; 2011).
Although the livelihood
outcomes2 of many rural Cambodians
depend on small-scale capture sheries,
the output from aquaculture still remains
low (Hortle, Lieng, and Valbo-Jorgensen
2004; Hortle 2007; Navy and Bhattarai
2009). At the same time, aquaculture is
undertaken by only a limited number of
households in the area (Bush 2004). Aer
the end of political unrest in the 1990s
Cambodia’s shing output increased.
ere is an academic debate whether
sh stocks are currently declining (
Hortle, Lieng, and Valbo-Jorgensen 2004;
Baran, Jantunen, and Chong 2007). Most
current empirical evidence points at a
negative development of sh stocks in the
Mekong River, especially in important
migratory species which contribute
signicantly to the catch in the study site
of this article (Roberts and Baird 1995;
Baran and Myschowoda 2009; Orr et al.
2012). However, even if sh stocks were
currently not declining, reduction in the
near future seems to be certain (Baran
and Myschowoda 2008). Declining
shing margins are already observed
because costs increase and output per
shing trip decreases (Navy and Bhattarai
2009). ere is a number of reasons for
the reduction of sh stocks, among them
are the construction of hydroelectric
dams in the upstream countries of the
Mekong River, habitat loss, overshing
due to improved technology, increasing
population, and illegal shing practices
(Hortle, Lieng, and Valbo-Jorgensen
2004; Hori et al. 2006; Baran, Jantunen,
and Chong 2007; Navy and Bhattarai
2009). e active management of sh
resources and enforcement of shing
regulations is important to sustain the
extraordinary productivity of Cambodian
sheries (Degen and uok 1998).
However, these measures may prove to
be useless if the construction of further
dams for hydropower as well as for water
regulation and irrigation leads to articial
changes in water levels and barring of
sh-spawning grounds resulting in a
reduction of shing output (Hortle,
Lieng, and Valbo-Jorgensen 2004; Ziv et
al. 2012).
Part of the narrative of decreasing
sh stocks in the Mekong river is the
fear that the decline will lead to reduced
food security (Arthur and Friend 2011).
1 e concept of livelihoods is extensive and refers to more than what is the focus of this article. We refer
to the term of livelihood to point at the importance of shing among the wide portfolio of livelihood
activities undertaken by the rural households to earn a living. While in theory livelihood outcomes in-
clude various results of these activities for a household, we focus on food security as it is the main point
of concern in this article.

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