BECAUSE PAST CIVIL WARS, POLITICAL UNREST, AND GENOCIDE SET THE STAGE FOR SIGNIFICANT RURAL POVERTY IN CAMBODIA TODAY
There are several reasons why Cambodia is such a poor country, some with their roots in past events, and some due to present-day issues. Collectively, these influences have left one in five Cambodians living in poverty, according to The World Bank (2014). As recently as 2011, 41% of the population lived on less than $2 per day, and 72% lived on less than $3 per day. The vast majority of those are rural villagers.
Cambodia is still recovering from the political instability and genocide brought on by the Khmer Rouge’s reign between 1975 and 1979. The subsequent eleven years of occupation by Vietnam left the country in relative turmoil, and life in Cambodia stayed tumultuous and uncertain until 1998-99, when Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge died, and civil war in Cambodia ended.
Meanwhile, Cambodia’s recovery from these three decades of war, internal conflict, and the genocide of nearly two million people has been difficult. During the last twenty years, Cambodia has made some progress in building its nation and economy back up. However, these efforts have been hampered by a lack of health, education, and transportation systems and infrastructure, continuing political corruption, and the fact that so many of the country’s highly-skilled workers and academics were killed by the Khmer Rouge (such that the majority of remaining Cambodians were trained to be farmers).
Today, the impact of these setbacks is that close to five million Cambodians live in poverty (of approximately 15 million in total population), and 90% of them are in rural areas. Most of these rural villagers depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Yet, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, at least 12% of poor people in Cambodia are landless. The rural farmers that do have land primarily practice small-scale agriculture, where poor soils, inadequate water supplies, and a lack of knowledge about best management practices often keep their families living at subsistence levels.
The plight of Cambodia’s rural villager is what inspired Trailblazer Foundation’s co-founders, Chris Coats and Scott Coats, to focus on Siem Reap province. Although the national government has made notable improvements in providing health, education, and economic services and opportunities in urban areas, it is coming up short in rural Cambodia. To help fill that gap, between 30 and 40 percent of the Cambodian government's budget depends on foreign donor aid.
Meanwhile, Trailblazer Foundation and other non-government organizations (NGOs) play an important role in addressing this lack of funding, by bringing in financial (and technical) support that goes directly to the rural communities. Since its inception twelve years ago, Trailblazer has worked with more than 50 villages, and counting, in Siem Reap province.