The Dams and The Bees
Ms Chhin Pisey looks across the Sesan River in Northern Cambodia to the other side of her village. Photo: SarahJane/Oxfam
MyVillage and Oxfam
Non-governmental organisation MyVillage (MVi) encourages networking between indigenous villages to establish platforms for information sharing and discussion about issues facing their communities. Oxfam has supported MVi’s work with fisheries and understanding the impacts of the Lower Sesan Two Dam. In Stung Treng Province construction of this hydropower dam will significantly affect the traditional subsistence livelihoods of communities where MVi has previously worked with small businesses and women’s groups to improve gender equality. Oxfam visited the MVi Honey processing project in Ksachthmey village where the conversation took a turn from the improvements in gender equality to the concerns about the impacts of the dam.
Ancestors’ rules with modern consequences
Only men can collect honey in Ksachthmey village, Northern Cambodia, to ensure their marriages aren’t divided like the flow of the Sesan River divides the village.
Sat in a stilt-raised wooden room with large open windows providing a view of the river and the stagnant heat outside, Mr Thang Khikim, who is head of the village Honey Buying Committee, explains why they follow their ancestors’ rules of honey production.
“We are breaking the bees’ family; if we go with our wives it will break our family too.”
A conversation with Ms Chhin Pisey, who is a member of the village honey processing group, suggests the increased training about women’s rights and domestic violence is a modern influence contributing to the strong matrimonial relationships in the village.
This village has been collecting honey for generations and the concept of sustainability in natural resources isn’t new.
However including women in the honey processing social enterprise initiated by Oxfam’s partner My Village is a novel model.
Only one female from the village has joined this meeting and with other women watching from outside, it is clear equality in this project has taken some time to introduce.
“It is normal in the honey processing community that the committee is supposed to be men and the female are just selected so they can call it a women’s group,” Ms Pisey said.
MVi Team Leader, Mr Kry Solany, said the objective of working with women’s groups is to promote participation in social activities and women’s voices in community decision making.
“The key message is that women and men in the community have an equal role and responsibility and are equal in decision making on natural resource management,” Mr Solany said.
Strengthening women’s rights in Ksachthmey Village
Ms Pisey received training from MVi about domestic violence and women’s rights and has since worked with the local authority’s committee for women to provide that training back to the community.
“Before [the training] I don’t even dare to attend the meetings with other people.
“I don’t even have the confidence to talk to the other people, especially the groups of people that have many men.
“But now I have some more confidence to talk and to relay the message to the other women in the community,” Ms Pisey said.
She now runs monthly meetings to talk about gender-based violence in the village and said she has seen a drop in domestic violence cases.
A project to protect the forest and community livelihood
The honey processing project was established to better the livelihoods of the poorest in the community and provide training on new techniques that protect the trees and forest during the collection process.
Building community knowledge about the impact of harming natural resources for short-term gains provided a concrete example of the importance of protecting the forest at a time when economic land concession is rapidly clearing the surrounding trees.
For a community that relies on natural resources it provided further knowledge about protecting the forest so they could raise their concerns about forest clearing to local authorities and NGOs.
“The trees have been cut down so it is hard to find the bees from the forest and I worry that later my children won’t have trees for building a house,” Mr Khikim said.
As men travel further from home to access the previously abundant forest products it is leaving women at home to fend for the house, the children and the livestock.
Turbulence in traditional family roles as male members travel further for income
Ms Pisey said the men must travel further to earn an income because everyone is getting sick and they need money for health care.
“There are many more strains of disease that we have never had before in the village.
“Maybe this is because of climate change; it is hot because all the trees have been cut down.
“People are getting sick every day and there is no money and access to health,” she said.
This village is located in the Stung Treng province that has recently made international headlines because of the construction and impacts of the hydropower dam, Lower Sesan Two (LS2).
Ms Pisey said the women are concerned that the dam construction will cause the village to flood while the men are away and they will have nowhere to go.
“I worry a lot, I worry about everything, I worry that the water level is not stable like before.
“Maybe because of the dam construction and climate change and there is not much fish like before.
“A lot of people depend so much on fish but the fish have gone.
“I worry that what if this village is flooded and we have to relocate?
“We are not sure what kind of place it would be and whether the land that we go to will be ok for farming.”
This village is not considered part of the LS2 catchment area that is being relocated, but with neighboring communities receiving compensation there is a vehement concern that the reports are inaccurate.
Mr Khikim believes that in the rainy season the village will flood and as they have no road, they won’t be able to access health services.
“I believe that the government is accountable for these problems as the government is like our parents.
“How can they allow the company to build the dam,” Ms Pisey said.
The community has been informed they will receive electricity at half price for five years but the village leaders said they are struggling to believe this is true.
When asked if power is worth the change in natural resources the answer is a very firm resounding “no” from the community members at the meeting.
“I am not happy because it’s not worthwhile with what we will lose.
“I am happy with life right now,” Ms Pisey said.
Mr Khikim offered thanks to MVi for establishing the community based honey processing project because of the platform it created for them to connect with other villages in the province to express concerns about the joint issues.
“If MVi didn’t come in the first place then other NGOs wouldn’t notice us either,” he said.
Written by Sarah Bell, Communications Intern, Oxfam