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Life, Fish and Mangroves

Melissa Marschke

I. Desiring Local Resource Governance

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1Twenty years of war excluded Cambodia’s natural resources—forests, coastal and inland fisheries, waterways and minerals—from the acute resource depletion associated with agricultural expansion and economic growth throughout much of Southeast Asia in the 1970s and 1980s (Le Billon 2000). Cambodia was subject to major bombing during the Vietnam War (1959–1975), experienced the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime (1975–1979) that left an estimated one million Cambodians dead, followed by the Vietnamese liberation from the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and a subsequent trade embargo enforced by the West (1980s). These events helped to ensure that Cambodia’s natural resources remained relatively unexploited during the 1970s and 1980s (Tyner 2008). Had Cambodia’s geopolitical history been different, deforestation and overfishing would likely have begun at an earlier point. As it was, as soon as it was viable to do so, resource entrepreneurs targeted the forestry sector (Le Billon 2000) and increased trade in aquatic species (Degan et al. 2000).

2Deforestation practices began in heavily forested areas, those that remained as Khmer Rouge army strongholds and those that were secured by the military. The Cambodian government permitted the military to access forest areas during the late 1980s and into the 1990s in exchange for its allegiance and as a way to diminish the strength of the Khmer Rouge opposition forces (Le Billon 2002). “With this permission, the army, working through networks of businesspeople, forestry officials, and provincial authorities sold timber for personal gain and to raise funds for the civil war” (Un and So 2009: 128). Within certain regions of Cambodia, particularly in areas that were further from state penetration, there have been serious money-making opportunities from natural resources both for business entrepreneurs and, in some cases, local villagers. High levels of resource extraction began with deforestation and overfishing but have since moved to include other natural resources including land-claiming, oil and gas exploration and mineral extraction activities (Le Billon 2000; Un and So 2009; Cock 2010).

3As resource extraction (or perhaps exploitation is a better term) practices have continued, Cambodia’s natural resource base has declined. Over the past fifteen years, nearly 45 percent of Cambodia’s land has been purchased by private interests (Global Witness 2009) and Cambodia now faces one of the highest deforestation rates in the world. The last global forest cover survey by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that Cambodia had lost 29 percent of its primary tropical forest between 2000 and 2005 (FAO 2008); other estimates suggest that Cambodia’s primary forest cover has gone from 70 percent in 1970 to 3.1 percent in 2005 (Global Witness 2007). Even if these numbers are too high, all indicators suggest that significant deforestation has taken place in Cambodia in recent years. There is even less precise information for Cambodia’s fisheries although overfishing (Salayo et al. 2008), declining shrimp stocks (FAO 2009) and smaller catch sizes are reported throughout the Tonle Sap and the coast (Bush 2008; PMCR 2008). This trend is in line with the general depletion of coastal stocks found throughout the Gulf of Thailand, where ressources have been fished down to between 5 and 30 percent of their unexploited levels (Salayo et al. 2008).

4Cambodia’s population remains predominately rural—around 80 percent of Cambodians live in rural areas—and resource-dependent (World Bank 2009; NIS 2008). In spite of shifting migration patterns, rural people rely on agriculture, small home businesses and/or a mix of natural resource activities to sustain their livelihoods (Diepart 2010). In the short term, many people will continue to stay in the countryside since there are not enough jobs to absorb migrant labour even with Cambodia’s five-hundred-plus factories employing some 300,000 workers (in 2009) (Chandler 2010). Resource extraction activities do offer employment opportunities (i.e., for rural residents and business entrepreneurs) and can generate substantial economic growth. Households, therefore, engage in a range of resource-based livelihood activities, including small-scale fishing or charcoal production and more technical business enterprises (i.e., operating machinery for sand dredging, electronic equipment for larger fishing boats), and may also engage in other forms of wage labour (Marschke, forthcoming).

5Cambodia has experienced economic growth averaging 7 percent per annum since the mid-1990s (Un and So 2009), with agriculture (i.e., rice, timber, fish and rubber), trade and manufacturing playing a major role in this growth. Poverty rates have also decreased, from 34.8 percent in 2004 to 30.1 percent in 2007, although this period of falling poverty has also been associated with rising levels of inequality (World Bank 2009). While some households benefit from resource extraction opportunities, it is likely that poorer households do not (cf. Resurreccion 2006; Sneddon 2007). Recognizing this situation, the Cambodian state has taken steps toward creating a policy environment that encourages local forms of natural resource protection and management (Van Acker 2010). A wide range of policies have been drafted and passed since the late 1990s. These policies and programs are seen to be timely and potentially important for securing and sustaining rural live-lihoods given the overall situation of resource dependence coupled with persistent resource declines (Van Acker 2010).

6This being said, there are no studies that trace how rural people have been involved in resource extraction in the past fifteen years and how these types of opportunities have shifted. Moreover, it is not clear if newly developed policies actually help to ensure resource access or sustain rural livelihoods. This is a gap that this book seeks to fill.

7To do so, this chapter provides an overview of decentralization processes and specific policy reforms designed to give local people a voice in key decisions related to natural resources in and around villages. I begin with a discussion about the pros and cons of involving local people in resource governance. This discussion offers insights into the prevalence, in both the scholarly and donor communities, of justifying and promoting the involvement of local people in forms of community-based management. From here I look at the forces shaping local resource governance in Cambodia, including the interests of the donor community, the Cambodian government including the Fisheries Administration, and, to a certain extent, local villages.


8Most public policy is delivered in some sort of hierarchy. Decentralization processes, therefore, are about “reversing the concentration of administration at a single centre” and delegating power to subnational territories (Smith 1985: 1). There are now a significant number of books and articles that discuss the positive effects of such local governance. A strand within the public administration literature, for example, suggests that life should be better under decentralized, democratic rule (Ayres 2001; Blunt and Turner 2005; Turner 2006). The idea is that empowered and resourced local governments are better positioned to respond effectively to the specific needs of a subnational territory’s population. In theory, local governments can address the particular needs of their jurisdiction and be more efficient in service delivery, in the belief that closeness with local residents will ensure greater accountability (Rondinelli 1981; Smith 1985).

9This is in line with the development thinking of donors and multilateral lending agencies that now fund a plethora of programs and projects that include decentralization as part of their goals (Andersson and Ostrom 2008). The arguments for decentralization reforms go beyond those based on economic and administrative efficiency, although such arguments remain pervasive (and persuasive); decentralization is also associated with the idea of progress in public accountability, environmental sustainability and empowerment of poor and vulnerable groups (Béné et al. 2009). Villagers are encouraged to be involved in planning for, and in parallel, carrying out their own development. As an example of how pervasive this thinking has become, one need only examine prominent development policies like the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers or the Millennium Development Goals: both emphasize including local people within national planning processes and ensuring local needs are met vis-à-vis national plans (Chambers 2004). In Southeast Asia, decentralized governance models have been widely promoted over the past decade (Turner 2006).

10Specific arguments for decentralized resource governance include helping decision-makers to notice significant environmental changes, and that such involvement can mobilize affected local interests to address environmental change. Because local conditions and ecosystems vary widely, decentralization is also argued to provide a way to implement policy more flexibly to ensure effectiveness and to foster adaptation to such change (Tyler 2009). Users who live within a resource system will often develop relatively accurate mental models of how their biophysical system operates, since their harvesting efforts depend on these mental models (Andersson and Ostrom 2008). Feedback is also an advantage for local governance regimes since direct, rapid feedback about how the resource system responds to harvesting or climate variation is easily provided. Fishers, for example, are often able to identify changes in the size of species caught and in species distribution over a significant period of time (Marschke and Berkes 2006). Finally, “because local users have to bear the cost of monitoring in a decentralized system, they are apt to craft rules and make infractions highly obvious so monitoring costs are lower” (Andersson and Ostrom 2008: 75). Resource governance intersects the literature on public administration (good governance and democracy), as well political economy, development and resource management (Larson and Soto 2008).

11In many respects, the emphasis on natural resource decentralization is a reaction to earlier efforts to centralize the governance of natural resources. In the 1970s and 1980s a widely shared presumption was that the most effective way to manage natural resources was at a national level, since it was then believed that only a strong central government was capable of constraining citizens’ demand for resources (Andersson and Ostrom 2008). There was a serious attempt to “control nature in order to harvest its products, reduce its threats and establish highly predictable outcomes for the short-term benefit of humanity” (Holling and Meffe 1996: 329). This was known as the era of top-down, “command and control” resource management. This approach to resource management often resulted in unforeseen consequences such as collapsing resources, social and economic conflict, and the loss of biodiversity (Holling and Meffe 1996). Managers did not incorporate politics or relationships into their thinking. The collapse of the Canadian cod fishery, where scientists privileged their maximum sustainable yield calculations over local observations of the pending decline, serves as an example of the potential ineffectiveness of this approach (Berkes 2010c). Moreover, this centralized management often privileged the interests of the resource industry (Berkes 2010b).

12Arguments for processes or tools that promote decentralized resource governance drew on commons scholarship, following from the extensive research done by Elinor Ostrom (cf. Ostrom 1990) and others (cf. McCay and Acheson 1987; Slager and Ostrom 1992; Cox 2008) to illustrate the potential of collective rights. There are numerous cases of commons governance, with research demonstrating how community forestry or fisheries can work both for natural resource conservation and, in certain cases, to produce local economic benefits (cf. Barsimantov et al. 2011 for a review). The emphasis on rules of access, exclusion and subtractability, and the identification of design principles or enabling conditions for the management of common pool resources are major contributions in terms of how to enact and support commons governance (Ostrom 1990). Commons research has shown how community groups are capable of managing resources given appropriate incentives, although most examples of common pool governance tend to be small-scale and single-case. Such management may happen without government support, in cases of high capacity or relative isolation, although it is recognized more and more that government involvement is an essential component of commons management (Khumsri et al. 2009). Theories for commons governance have continued to evolve (cf. Armitage et al. 2009), including in the area of co-management (e.g., Pinkerton 1989; Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2007; Clement 2010).

13Co-management involves some configuration of the state, resource users and civil society (Pinkerton 1989). Common across definitions of co-management are the notions of shared responsibility and authority for decision-making in the management of natural resources (Armitage et al. 2009). Co-management arrangements vary across settings including the subject of management, the existing institutional arrangements and the way in which co-management is implemented or introduced (e.g., Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2007). For example, within fisheries co-management arrangements could include a single resource, such as a catfish stock or sea grass, or multiple resources, such as those found within a marine protected area. Co-management offers a governance approach that can be potentially viable under a variety of conditions, and enables a more flexible, reflexive approach toward resource governance than did past, top-down, “command and control” approaches (Arthur et al. 2011).

14From a policy and practice perspective, this type of approach for resource governance has gained popularity over the past decade, referred to by different names including co-management, community-based management, adaptive co-management or community fisheries/forestry/watershed management and, more recently, adaptive governance, multi-stakeholder governance or transformative governance (cf. Armitage et al. 2009; Ostrom 2009; Berkes 2010a; Gelcich et al. 2010). While each of these approaches emphasizes different aspects of resource governance partnerships, each acknowledges the importance of local involvement. Besides, numerous scholars have demonstrated how the users of many resources can develop effective governance mechanisms that increase the likelihood of sustainability (Ostrom et al. 2002; Berkes and Folke 1998; Berkes 2009), and the privileging of this type of approach within academia and the donor community speaks to its potential.

15What is happening within the resource sector is seen within social policy more generally, linked to a global decentralization agenda. Although decentralization processes initially took place in Western countries, such as Denmark and Canada, these ideas spread rapidly to the global South (Béné et al. 2009), likely influenced by the donor agenda and the growing need for accountability in the donor home countries. Most countries in the global South have some type of policy that includes the participation of end-users in many of their social policies for health, education and the environment (Béné et al. 2009), which involve some form of multi-stakeholder collaboration.

16Even so, local resource governance is not always successful and can lead to a tragedy of the commons situation (Hardin 1968). Self-organizing can result in a loss of short-term economic gains (Ostrom 2009) or may be too costly for local users to implement (Meinzen-Dick 2007), and local groups may not be able to reduce their dependency on a resource. Selecting appropriate rules for resource management is not easy: some groups will select rules that do not work well together and will consequently generate failure (Berkes 2007). In other cases there may be a lack of leadership that is necessary to create a change in existing practices (Marschke and Sinclair 2009). Other scholars still argue that “the track record of co-management is weak in poverty reduction and empowerment of the marginalized” (Berkes 2009: 169), and that decentralized governance systems may be dominated by local elites who create rules for their own advancement (Platteau 2004). Finally, conflicts among user groups may happen in decentralized systems, with conflicts being difficult to manage when there is limited external buy-in or support for conflict-resolution mechanisms (Alston et al. 1999).

17Resource governance processes may also stagnate. For instance, where local ecological systems are characterized by considerable variance and complexity, experimentation can produce unexpected results leading users (or government managers) to adhere to systems that have worked well in the past. The issue here is that resource systems do not remain static, and users need to innovate continuously to ensure the best rules are in place to lead to better outcomes (Andersson and Ostrom 2008). The policy community cannot always handle such flexibility, since rules may need to be continuously revisited and updated (Arthur et al. 2011). Complexity may be difficult for users to handle, especially where there is limited access to scientific information. Even when stakeholders work well together, it is a challenge to ensure that local knowledge and scientific knowledge are understood by all actors. Yet scientific information serves as a complement to place-based information, and this can be particularly pertinent when it comes to assessing the health and viability of a given resource (Ostrom 2009).

18As such, one can appreciate the advantages and disadvantages of decentralized resource governance arrangements. Decentralization is a political and economic process that implies, fundamentally, a redistribution of power and resources. Not everything should necessarily be decentralized, however, and a balance needs to be struck within every context. The academic community is starting to move toward theorizing and promoting multi-governance solutions, since there is never a unitary state or a homogeneous community (Berkes 2009; Ostrom 2009). What this means for resource governance in practice is less clear. No doubt the pendulum has swung from a strongly centralist perspective toward governing resources in the 1970s and 1980s to a strongly decentralist perspective in the 1990s and 2000s, and is possibly recalibrating toward some middle ground perspective as I write. Ultimately there are inherent imperfections in all human governance arrangements for dealing with complex resource problems (Andersson and Ostrom 2008). This is worth keeping in mind as we consider the forces that have shaped the shift toward decentralized resource governance in Cambodia.


19Not only have various literatures over the past twenty years placed a strong emphasis on promoting local involvement in the governance of diverse social-ecological systems (cf. public administration, resource management), governance arrangements have also been on the agenda of multilateral and bilateral donors during this time. There has been a convergence of various bodies of thinking that emphasize the need to include local people (Andersson and Ostrom 2008). This push toward decentralization is also seen within the Cambodian context: decentralization has been prioritized as a mechanism by which to facilitate good governance (Godfrey et al. 2000; Hubbard 2005; Slocomb 2006). In the World Bank’s publication Cambodia at the Crossroads: Strengthening Accountability to Reduce Poverty, decentralization is promoted as “shortening the route of accountability bringing government closer to the people” (2004: 17). Donor agencies have spent time and money on pilot projects that illustrate the potential of decentralization in terms of good governance and local empowerment. From exposure to and involvement in such pilot testing, the Cambodian government has passed several pieces of legislation with a strong decentralization mandate, particularly at the municipal level (Turner 2006). This is where donors now focus a significant amount of effort and funding (Knowles Morrison 2010).

20Proponents suggest that these new modes of governance are nothing short of radical, transforming Khmer society from adhering to highly centralized, hierarchical forms of governance to supporting local governance and the rule of law (EIC 2005). Decentralization is a major governance reform, in the sense that this is a mechanism that is designed to bring citizens, local groups and organizations into the policy and decision-making process (Berkes et al. 2010a). The introduction of local-level democratic elections in Cambodia is a real accomplishment. Critics, meanwhile, suggest that the Cambodian government has adopted a public transcript of state transformation, largely dictated by donor experts (Le Billon 2000) or that nepotism, corruption and top-down rule remain central features of the current regime (Slocomb 2006; Hughes 2008). As such, some scholars question the extent to which democratic decentralization is really occurring (cf. Hughes 2008; Chandler 2010).

21All the same, a significant amount of policy has been passed. Table I illustrates a variety of policies that now (2010) support decentralized resource governance in Cambodia.

22As Table I illustrates, there are a suite of policies that support decentralized resource governance. The Law on Commune Administration, passed in 2001, sent a strong signal for the need to support local governance through creating municipal elections and a platform through which local citizens are meant to be able to express their demands and dissatisfaction. Specific policies followed in the resource governance arena, enabling citizens to enter into co-management arrangements with technical departments such as the Forestry Administration, the Fisheries Administration and the Ministry of Environment. Hence, forms of “community” or “co” management processes were established in the 2000s. Many such linkages are between state departments that enter into a contract with a specific village or group of villages to govern their natural resources, with much of the day-to-day management activity being left in the hands of villagers. National Poverty Reduction Plans and Strategic Development plans also emphasize local governance of natural resources; these are the documents that donors rely on to guide them in their choices relating to aid programming and delivery in Cambodia. From a policy perspective, there is a serious amount of policy and legislation that supports local democratization and participation.

table i: Cambodia’s Policy Framework for Resource Governance

table i: Cambodia’s Policy Framework for Resource Governance

Adapted from: CBNRM LI 2009.

23In Cambodia, as is likely true elsewhere, there are nuances in terms of what decentralization really means. Some policy devolves power to local branches of the same ministry of the central state; commune (or municipal) councils reporting to the national Ministry of Interior are an example of this. This is referred to as administrative decentralization (Larson and Soto 2008). The Ministry of Interior has mandated the commune council to be responsible for many things at a municipal level, including resource planning, management and land allocation. However, decentralization of natural resource governance can also take other forms. For instance, the central government can formally cede power to institutions and actors at lower levels (non-government actors), which is often referred to as democratic decentralization (Berkes 2010a). The Fisheries and Forestry Administration and the Ministry of Environment each have policies that support forms of democratic decentralization: some power is ceded to locally elected resource management committees, although each central state ministry retains the ultimate decision-making power. This is not exactly what scholars are arguing for when it comes to democratic decentralization. Regardless of the exact nuances involved in Cambodia’s decentralization processes, such policies appear to be the only way that local people can have a say in the control and management of natural resources in and around their villages.

24In the Cambodian context, with its hierarchical, authoritarian roots, this effort is definitely encouraging a process different from what has taken place over the years. On the one hand, Cambodian society continues to rely on patron-client relations (Legerwood and Vijghen 2002), while, on the other, also being heavily influenced by donor agendas of good governance (Slocomb 2006). This begs the question why different actors have bought into this agenda of promoting good governance and local governance, particularly given how different it is from the strongly centralized governance regimes that the state has generally promoted and followed (Slocomb 2006). The following section examines the interest in decentralization from three often intertwined perspectives: (a) national interests, generally; (b) fisheries interests, specifically; and (c) other actors promoting the need for local voice in the governance of natural resources in and around villages. This analysis illustrates some of the reasons why government actors, and others, have created decentralized policies and, at the same time, why the uptake of certain policies will remain a challenge for some time to come.

National Interests Promoting Decentralization

25Turner (2006: 260) comments that Cambodia’s “impetus for decentralization came from relative stability rather than crisis.” This is different than in other democratizing Southeast Asian countries. For example, the Philippines (1986), Thailand (1992) and Indonesia (1998) saw authoritarian states challenged by new parties, comprising elite alliances with newly empowered economic classes and/or social movements. By contrast, Cambodia’s resistance parties entered into a multi-party governance arena, disempowered by the dissolution of their administrative structures and the closure of border refugee camps (Hughes 2003). This hints at the “uniqueness of the exogenously promoted Cambodian democratization project” (Hughes 2001: 301).

26Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People Party (CPP) has identified decentralization as a priority for its government, and there is an active donor effort to support this (funds from the World Bank, United Nations Development Program [UNDP], the Danish International Development Agency [DANIDA], among others). The first phase of Cambodia’s decentralization program was the institution of elections for commune chiefs and councils, held in 2002 and then again in 2007. The ruling CPP party, for example, now holds power in all but thirty of Cambodia’s 1,621 commune-level authorities (Hughes 2009). Moreover, it was these CPP-dominated commune councils that “appointed or reappointed Cambodia’s 13,000 village chiefs in a new system that cements the party’s dominance to the lowest levels of administration” in 2006 (Hughes 2009: 207). One result of the decentralization project appears to be political consolidation. More bluntly put, decentralization strategies have likely served to strengthen the main parties’ monopoly of the administrative apparatus (Hughes 2009).

27The next phase of the decentralization project may reproduce this control at district and provincial levels (Hughes 2009). The Organic Law was passed in 2008, and this piece of legislation is expected to involve a significant devolution of power from the centre to the provincial and district levels further to improve subnational democratic development, the delivery of basic services (health, education, roads, water, sanitation, etc.) and the state’s regulatory functions (land, forestry and fisheries). Moreover, this policy may exacerbate existing challenges between ministries with different mandates. Already decentralization policies are widely promoted both within the Ministry of Interior and across other ministries, and there may be multiple committees working on resource-related issues within a village or a commune, since the elected commune councils have a mandated role in resource management activities, as do the specific committees elected at a village level to address fisheries, forestry or protected areas issues. This causes tension, duplication and confusion (Marschke and Berkes 2005). This is also an issue between technical departments that see resource management issues as the domain of centralized state agencies (i.e., fisheries, forestry and land management) and the Ministry of Interior, which argues that it is tasked to deal with all local governance issues. Greater collaboration is necessary if decentralization is to work in practice.

28While the introduction of democratic elections at the commune level may represent a major gain for democratization in Cambodia, and there has been large voter turnout for these commune elections (Turner 2006), questions do remain. An Asia Foundation survey (2003) found that most Cambodians vote to fulfill their civic duty rather than to make inputs to policy. This may change. Voter turnout, over time, appears to be down (Hughes 2009). Another study suggests that citizens may embrace democracy while also supporting the military and rule by strong leaders (Carlson and Turner 2008). Perhaps the bigger issue is that the process focuses on a highly restricted range of political parties among which the dominant political party has control in terms of resources (Hughes 2006; Turner 2006). It is possible that the Cambodian government has taken on decentralization for pragmatic reasons rather than the largely ideologically driven interests of donors in the establishment of strong forms of popular participation and political pluralism (Blunt and Turner 2005). What is likely happening is that some government bureaucrats see decentralization as a way to extend control to the grassroots level, others see decentralization as a threat to their central control, and others still buy into the decentralization agenda that is promoted by donors believing that people need to have greater say and control of their lives.

Decentralization within the Fisheries Sector

29Much of Cambodia’s approach to fisheries management has been rather hands-off, other than to ensure a consistent source of revenue for the state (cf. Bush 2008; Arthur et al. 2011). For specific aquatic species, the management approach was based on policy and legislation that placed restrictions on gear through licences and prohibitions, combined with establishing blanket closed seasons that broadly correspond with breeding and spawning seasons (Arthur et al. 2011). Enforcement of such policies has been highly variable, and in most cases ineffective, causing tensions between state agents and local fishers. Within this system there appears to be significant space for political influence to determine access and control over resources (Sneddon 2007). Thus, in the past ten to fifteen years there has been a growing recognition that state-led approaches, represented in their simplest form as a combination of conservation objectives with policing approaches, have failed in either protecting fishery resources or in generating a shared interest in fisheries management among fishers and the state (Naasuchon and Charles 2010; Arthur et al. 2011).

30The late 1990s was not the worst time to reconsider how to administer this resource. Significant fieldwork in the area of community forestry had been promoted since the mid-1990s, and there were early signs of success (Un and So 2009). The timing was also right in terms of promoting local involvement in the management of a resource within another resource sector, namely fisheries, particularly since fishers were beginning to mention stock declines and conflicts over access to the fishery were flaring up (Evans 2002). Thus, forms of local-government partnership (i.e., fisheries co-management) became attractive to a number of actors.

31Prime Minister Hun Sen initiated a reform of Cambodia’s fisheries sector in 2000, when the central government scaled back the extent of individual fishing lots by releasing 56 percent of Cambodia’s commercially zoned fishing area (around 5,000 ha) and placed a nationwide call to establish community fisheries (Sneddon 2007; Evans 2002). This administrative reform led to significant changes, not only in terms of institutional changes such as the creation of a Community Fisheries Office or the promotion of community fisheries in Cambodia’s Millennium Development Goals but also changes at the village level too, enabling local committees to form and work on local fisheries governance. A handful of community fisheries committees existed in the 1990s, whereas by 2010 there were 468 community fisheries sites (433 inland, 35 coastal) (NSDP 2010). At this point only 173 sites have been officially registered, even though the Community Fisheries Sub-decree was passed in 2005 (to be recognized, communities need to work with fisheries staff to create maps, rules and regulations for a specific area) (CBNRM LI 2009; NSDP 2010). Regardless, the idea of village involvement in fisheries governance has caught on.

32Consider the following quote from Cambodia’s prime minster in 2007 with reference to the role of villagers in Cambodia’s fisheries.

We must strengthen the established communities to be at a high standard rather than to increase the quantity and continue to protect the conservation area and to constantly prevent illegal fishing by cooperating with relevant stakeholders country wide, especially to eliminate the illegal fishing equipments with strict and unforgivingness.... this will lead our country to that of mein tik, mein trie (having water, having fish) again (Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, April 9, 2007).

33As the prime minister’s speech suggests, community fisheries and aquaculture development are at the core of Cambodia’s current fishing policy, summed up in the 2005 Community Fisheries Sub-decree, which gives a right to villagers to manage their fishery, and the 2006 Fisheries Law, which provides an overarching framework for fisheries governance including specific fisheries management activities at a local level. Within these policies, the Fisheries Administration is meant to take a strong role in preventing illegal fishing activities. The prime minister is advocating for the strengthening of community-based groups for fisheries management. This approach to resource governance is a cornerstone of Cambodia’s fisheries policy. Even with the number of community fisheries sites (formal and informal), the strength of this reform is somewhat tenuous in the sense that it is not clear how many actors have really bought into it. Although in line with other sectoral reforms that emphasize decentralized governance, this reform emerged as a directive from Hun Sen, Cambodia’s leader. That is, changes in the fisheries sector were not a result of policy dialogues within the Fisheries Administration or between state officials and fishers (Sokhem and Sunada 2006). Some Fisheries Administration officials do not endorse the community emphasis found within this policy shift. On the other hand, once this reform was set in motion, significant donor, NGO (non-governmental organization) and government effort was placed in policy dialogue. Between 2001 and 2005, the Community Fisheries Sub-decree was subjected to extensive revision, beginning in 2001 and then entering another series of consultations in 2003 before final approval in 2005 (Marschke 2005). Fishers and local fisheries management committees were called upon to attend policy dialogues or to host study tours of senior government officials learning about what community fisheries might entail (PMCR 2008). Getting the policy right was seen as a first step to supporting rural fishers, and much of the donor effort went in this direction.

Donors Supporting Local Involvement

34Foreign aid is justified as an integral component for development under incomplete market conditions with limited investment (Ear 2007). Over half of Cambodia’s national budget is funded by foreign sources (Hubbard 2005); between 1993 and 2003, five billion dollars of overseas development assistance accounted for 13 percent of Cambodia’s GDP (Ear 2007). There are more than thirty major donors, along with hundreds of NGOs, working in Cambodia (Ear 2007). For 2009, the Royal Government of Cambodia mobilized approximately one billion dollars in Overseas Development Aid (ODA), which was the highest in the last ten years (​PM/​primeminister.htm). Many donors have placed their aid efforts at the national level, working to support the creation of policies designed to ensure that mechanisms are in place to enhance democratic governance and to alleviate poverty. These policies are all organized around similar design principles that support local-level governance and ensure state-local partnerships.

35Donor agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), the German International Development Agency (GTZ, now GIZ) and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) all began their work on community-based resource management in the 1990s (Marschke 2005). Some projects focused on fisheries, some on forestry and some on both. Initial community-based management approaches were experimental: community members, NGOs and/or government facilitators worked on understanding what resource management could look like on a village-by-village basis. In these areas, village-level institutions were created in a policy vacuum, with maps and management plans recognized informally through appropriate signatures (from village headpersons to the provincial governor) and in some cases by technical departments at the provincial or national level (Marschke 2005). Pilot projects tended to address a mix of resource issues, from the illegal cutting of trees, to stopping the use of explosives in fishing, to addressing water supply issues.

36Initial community-based management or co-management pilots did appear to be successful. Reasons for their success included intensive donor support, a long-term commitment to an approach (at least five years), working in relatively isolated regions of the country (sometimes being the only project in an area, meaning that the area was not oversaturated with “development options”) and perhaps the newness of the approach—everyone was keen for it to work (Ear 2007). Local institutions and provincial governments were often extensively engaged by project teams to gain their support for specific activities. Undoubtedly these experiences of the late 1990s and early 2000s contributed to the reform of Cambodia’s fisheries sector and greatly influenced the design of local institutions and programs (Evans 2002; Marschke 2008). A series of actors, particularly government staff who worked closely on such pilots, became change agents within their own departments, really advocating within government for this type of approach and, in some cases, continuing to work on rolling out programs to ensure that a greater number of municipalities could be involved (Knowles Morrison 2010).

37Villagers get involved in resource management activities for various reasons, too. A newly elected resource management committee, for example, may enable actors to find a new patron (Legerwood and Vijghen 2002) and serve as a way to alter village power relations. This may also serve as a mechanism to ensure that those who have been historically excluded from natural resources near their villages (vis-à-vis fishing lots, forest concessions) can now gain access. A committee may also be organized as a way to garner resources to stop encroachment from outsiders onto local resources. There may be strong leaders who are interested in protecting resources near the village, or villagers may feel that it makes sense to work on these issues. It may also be that the area has experienced significant declines, and an opportunity through a technical department or through an NGO pilot project enables the establishment of a community-based natural resource management site (Marschke and Sinclair 2009). Or, it may be that community members are interested in remaining in rural areas and recognize that part of their livelihood is linked to natural resources. Although Cambodian communities are no longer particularly isolated, and household members are now moving in and out of the village, rural livelihoods remain linked to healthy ecosystems.

38Snapshots of what community involvement in resource management may entail do exist. A 2009 edited volume of case studies, titled Emerging Trends, Challenges and Innovations: Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) in Cambodia, highlights cases of successful local resource management in Cambodia. For example, while initial resource management initiatives emphasized resource protection, this volume of cases demonstrates how people can move beyond conservation to manage and harvest their resources, such as honey bees and pole cultivation (CBNRM LI 2009). Cases also deconstruct ideas around common property, participation and who gains from an involvement in resource management. However, none of these cases provides any longitudinal perspective to demonstrate how resource governance processes may unfold over time. What are the ebbs and flows of this type of work? Can it realistically be sustained in a context such as Cambodia, particularly when donors pull back and the government remains largely responsible for supporting this type of effort?


39Supporting local involvement in resource governance (fisheries and other natural resources) is an approach that holds appeal within the resource governance, scientific and research communities (Armitage et al. 2009) and arises as a response to the complexity and diversity of the systems, uncertainties about the effectiveness of current management arrangements, the diverse range of stakeholders and the often unexpected out-comes from previous policies and practices. Policy processes supporting decentralized resource management emerged for multiple reasons: donor interests with public participation and empowerment, state attention to forms of political consolidation and/or grassroots participation, the need for technical departments to share the responsibility for resource management, and a curiosity in resource management from a local perspective (or, at the very least, an interest to work with an NGO at the local level). Such support is also tied to agendas of natural resource conservation, as well as wider goals of poverty alleviation and sustainable development and resonates with the regional agenda of democracy, decentralization and devolution.

40Initial pilot testing was successful enough to serve as a model from which government authorities and donors could design their decentralization policies. Forms of community-based natural resource management or “co” management promoted within fisheries, forestry and environment agencies demonstrate the intersection of decentralization processes across multiple sectors, particularly that of public administration and that of resource governance. This results in a policy commitment to community and co-management of natural resources (fisheries, forestry, etc.), endorsed and promoted by the state, intergovernmental organizations, local NGOs and academic practitioners. Some programs emphasize a strong governmental presence and others advocate for mostly community involvement. In practice, this presents some challenges as the less prescriptive nature of the approach means that the terms “co-management” and “community-based management” can be unclear, and their application vague (Arthur et al. 2011).

41Moreover, these policy reforms are occurring within an authoritarian, hierarchical power structure where social stratification remains an important cultural value (Ebihara 1968; Marston 1997; Gellman 2010). In concrete terms, people continue to pay respect and are loyal to those with a higher political rank and economic status. At the same time, these societal values are interacting with evolving political and institutional development: notions of fairness, justice and local empowerment are entering into people’s ways of thinking (Ojendal and Sedara 2006). This results in a “hybridization,” whereby participatory democracy is overlapping with persistent patronage structures (Ojendal and Sedara 2006). In the resource sector, for instance, many of the Cambodian government’s formal and informal policies are about exploiting timber and fish, or converting forests for agriculture production and converting fishing grounds into exclusive “fishing lots” (Sunderlin 2006; Ratner 2006). Meanwhile, as I have illustrated in this chapter, there are a series of recently designed policies to encourage decision-making and resource governance at a local level. The Cambodian context serves as an excellent example of how different world views intersect, at some points blending together and at other points clashing. Before turning to an in-depth examination of how these resource governance processes unfold in the coastal areas of southwestern Cambodia, Chapter 2 explores fisheries resources and specific fisheries governance challenges in greater detail.

© Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa | University of Ottawa Press, 2012

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