“Livelihood Experiences and Uncertain Future of a Mekong River fishman in Sambor district, Kratie province, Cambodia”

by Suon Siny


Mr. Horm Sokhorn (36 years old) and his wife, Chanthorn, are living in Samphin village on Rogneav Island, Sambor district. His family and his sister’s family living together with his old mother in one house. Like other villagers on the island, their livelihood, such as fishing and farming, is closely associated with the Mekong River eco-system.

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Mr. Horm Sokhorn’s family and their house

Current economic activities: This couple has a row boat with motor for fishing. They grow sugarcane around 1000 hills in residential land and a small plot of vegetable (eggplant, tomato, cucumber, wax gourd, brassica) along the river bank from October to February for home consumption and cash income. On one hectare of Chamcar land, they grows cassava, banana and sesame. He grows rice every year on 1.5 hectare. This couple also raise 7 buffalos and 10 hens with many dozens of chicks.

received_573011889523836Sokhorn spends two hours a day and 28 to 29 days per month in the Mekong River for fishing. It takes him one hour to lay out his fishing gear at 5:00 PM, he then leaves the gears to collect fish for 11 to 12 hours, and returns at 4:00 or 5:00 AM. It takes him another hour to then collect his fish. His fishing gear includes gillnet, castnet, hook-long-line and Lorp. During the day, he spends time with Chanthorn to do farming as mentioned above. Besides domestic work (cooking, cleaning and taking care of old mother), Chanthorn also do share the work with Sokhorn in farming. This couple is proud of living from the river.

Sokhorn said that “We have no worry about food… after coming back from farms, I just get into the water and fishing”.

Sokhorn (with seven other fishermen in Sambor district) cooperated with Northeastern Rural Development organization (NRD) and Scientific Capacity Development Initiative (Sci-Cap) to record his daily fish catch for the year 2015. According to his record in 2015, he caught one kilogram of fish per day, with peaks up to 7.75 kg per day. On average, 4.5 days per month he does not catch any fish and returns home empty handed.

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Reflecting on this result and comparing it to the previous years, Sokhorn observed that his fish catch this year is the lowest ever since he started his life as fisherman. Sokhorn were asked to recall the amount of fish that he caught in the past. During the last several years, he was able to catch 10KG of big fish and 20KG of small fish on average per day. During the last few years, the catch has decreased to about 2KG of big fish and 6KG of small fish on average. This year, his fish catch has even decreased more steeply.

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“This year, his fish catch has even decreased more steeply”

Sokhorn has observed three main factors that have affected his livelihood. First, this year is a bad year of rainfall (little rain and long drought). Second, changing water flow in the Mekong River up and down quickly. Third is low water level in the Mekong River.

Beside bad impact on his fish catch, his agriculture production including rice, cassava and other crops are also negatively impacted by little rain this year. For instance, he harvested 3,000KG of paddy in 2014, whereas this year he harvested only 400KG.

Sokhorn told about the irregular Mekong River water flow in August 2014. The water level was unexpectedly and quickly increasing during 15 days and flooded his house.

He said “I luckily could move my livestock on time even at night to avoid a loss, but some others in my village could not. They lost their cows to the water flow”.

He continued “I watched television and learnt that irregular water flow was actually caused by the Don Shahong Dam construction in upstream. Now, I am afraid of that […], we don’t know when it happens and we can’t prepare for that”.

received_573010712857287.jpegHis experience witnesses impressive changes that are probably due to a combination of climate change and changes due to man-made interventions on the Mekong River stream. Sokhorn feels shocked and is pessimistic about the future of his family.

He has informally learned about Sambor Dam project since 2005 when a Chinese company came to drill boreholes to collect soil samples. Sokhorn learnt about case of Don Shahong through Radio and Television that Hydro-power plants have been constructed even without consent from the affected people.

He added that “People are like back-legs of an elephant and government is like front-legs. If the front legs move, back legs will be forcibly moved too”.

He mentioned that “we have no way to refuse but just to follow the decision from the government. When such case is happening, life might become worse as we will be moved to another place that we don’t know what to do to earn a living”.

He continued “here, we live depending on water, livestock also needs water. Besides farming, I do fishing, I have enough food to eat without falling into debt trap”.

Therefore, Mr. Sokhorn would strongly urge the government to think of affected communities before making such big decision which will strongly affect their lives.

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