Cambodia After Khmer Rouge


The repercussions in Cambodia after Khmer Rouge include government chaos, extreme poverty (which is still an issue) and the brutal loss of a generation. Still rebuilding its economy and agricultural workforce, the country is making significant progress through educational projects, housing developments and modern technology designed for rice farmers.

A Brief History of Khmer Rouge

After Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975, its leader, communist admirer Pol Pot, launched his plan to reform Cambodia into a utopian agrarian state. This utopian society would be comprised of farmers forced to produce incredible amounts of rice, an ideal never accomplished because of its impossibility. Pol Pot’s regime began its takeover with an Exodus of the cities and a purge of all intellectuals, sometimes even killing civilians for wearing glasses. Destroying temples, burning books and banning music and free press, the leaders of Khmer Rouge rampaged on for four years, killing around 2 million civilians.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) recognized this as genocide in November 2018, giving sentences to several leaders involved, but has recently ceased all trials connected to the Cambodian genocide. Leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were found guilty of playing lead roles in crimes against humanity. They had expressed hope that the world would “let bygones be bygones” and forget their role in the purge. They claimed to have been previously unaware of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. Whether they claim guilt or innocence, the former leaders were still housed in holding cells during the trial.

A Decrease in Extreme Poverty

Poverty lessened in Cambodia after Khmer Rouge was overthrown, but rural poverty is still extreme; consequently, the number of people living in slums has also increased. In 2016, with a national population of more than 15 million, only 13 percent had reliable access to electricity daily. However, Cambodia’s reliance on its neighbor Vietnam for electricity has declined thanks to increases in Hydropower.

Overall poverty rates had fallen from 1993, when total poverty hovered at 47 percent, to roughly 30 percent by 2007. As of 2007, the quality of living conditions and asset ownership had also risen. Standards in rural areas move much more slowly than urban areas such as Phnom Phen, and part of the fight to galvanize economic growth lies with technology and agricultural development.

With 17.7 percent still living in extreme poverty, organizations like Habitat for Humanity work to provide clean water facilities and homes with essential services. USAID also released a project in planning with the Cambodian government for the country to achieve middle-income status by 2030. Stating its goals as “building a democratic, rule-based society, with equitable rights and opportunities for the population in economic, political, cultural and other spheres.” The National Strategic Development Plan includes healthcare, education, fundamental human rights and an economic-enabling environment.

Rice Farm Projects

Agriculture is a huge part of Cambodia’s infrastructure: two-thirds of the country is farmland, and agricultural jobs make up 45 percent of the workforce as of 2014. A partnership between IFAD and the government enacted countrywide projects that build up the agriculture sector. During the last two decades in Cambodia since Khmer Rouge, IFAD has offered opportunities to improve the livelihoods of rural Cambodians with support in agriculture, finance access and infrastructure. In fact, one project showed the “beneficiaries had on average 17 percent higher yield for rice than comparable non-project households.” IFAD’s network has helped More than 1.2 million poor and rural households have been reached since 1996.

The Project for Agriculture Development and Economic Empowerment (PADEE) contributed to Saang district, Kandal province. In 2013, PADEE started a revolving fund, providing training and loans to farmers who needed support. Trained in aquaculture and vegetable production and backed with loans to support their farms, the farmers now have large crops of chili, eggplants and yams which sustain their income. Future improvements for the projects include partnering further with indigenous people’s organizations and small land-holder farms.

Another branch of the project, titled e-PADEE, introduces modern technology to aid agriculture in Cambodia. Backed by the government in a national initiative, e-PADEE focuses on rice production and the hundred million households with rice paddies. This digitally connected system that allows farmers to use technology to receive accurate technical advice on their seeds, fertilizers, and pest and disease management techniques” through an app on their phones has helped over 1,600 farmers as of 2016.

In 2017, Cambodian rice was voted one of the top 3 in the world, and this success shows what can be gained from international involvement. The fact that Cambodia placed in the top three is a testament to how far the economy and agriculture has come. There is still much ground to be broken. Even though the positive points of Cambodia’s growing infrastructure can not erase the pain of past grievances or the loss of a generation, they do show a more promising future for Cambodia after Khmer Rouge.

Hannah Peterson

Photo: Flickr


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