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SMEC's Tonle Sap Poverty Reduction and Smallholder Development, Cambodia

Highly Commended for the Creating Resilient & Sustainable Communities Award



The Tonle Sap Poverty Reduction and Smallholder Development Project (TSSD) has supported over 650,000 households, enabling vulnerable farming communities in seven provinces to enhance agriculture techniques and access new technology, markets, and rural finance. 

TSSD commenced implementation in 2010 with a completion date of February 2018. Due to the success of the project the program was extended for an additional five years through the provision of additional financing (TSSD-AF).  TSSD has been co-financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Government of Finland (GoF) and the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC). The additional financing portion of the project amounted to an additional $66 million USD investment. 


The initial phase of the TSSD was implemented across five provinces on the eastern side of Tonle Sap lake, namely Banteay Meanchey (BMC), Siem Reap (SRP), Kampong Thom (KPT), Kampong Cham (KPC) and Tbuong Khmum (TKM). Under TSSD-AF the coverage area was expanded to include two extra provinces - Battambang (BTB) and Prey Veng (PVG). The project has been implemented through two Executing Agencies, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and the National Commission for Democratic Development Secretariat (NCDDS).


Consultants Role


SMEC was appointed as the Project Implementation Consultant (PIC) in 2010 and again in 2018 to oversee the Additional Financing phase. The contracted scope of works from the Additional Financing concluded in December 2022. The core team comprised of 8 team members in the following roles: 


During the 1st phase of the project the PIC team also participated in the design and supervision of small-scale infrastructure sub-projects supported by three rural engineers.




The project implementation work supported two key initiatives described in more detail below.

Commune Development through block grants

This output focussed on improving rural productive infrastructure and livelihoods whilst enhancing capacity in disaster risk management.  

Increased livelihoods support was provided to groups of poorer households. Almost 2,000 Livelihood Improvement Groups (LIG’s) were formed with over 45,000 membership households in the selected target villages. Approximately 74% of members are women. 

Group Revolving Funds have been established for each of these LIGs, enabling grants of $240 per household. Through these funds, successive short duration loan cycles over a period of several years have been provided to the members for investment in livelihood improvement activities. The success of this approach is evident from the that fact that the survival rate of the LIGs exceeds 98%. 

Communities have received support for the establishment of chick hatcheries, an important element of the livelihood improvement activities.  This included improved methods for small-scale native chicken raising and the introduction vaccination programs. The result is that chicken raising has become less risk prone - making small hold chicken hatcheries a popular (and profitable) enterprise for women. 

To ensure that the LIGs received long-term support, the project team helped to establish the Farmers Livelihood Improvement Association (FLIA) to affiliate with the LIGs. FLIA now represents the largest farmers organisation in Cambodia. 

Funds were also allocated to infrastructure subprojects, which rehabilitated over 850 km of rural roads and irrigation systems to irrigate over 11,000 hectares of land for dry season production.  The rehabilitation of rural roads using sealed surfaces ensured greater durability and longer life and enhanced the transport of agricultural products to market. The rehabilitation of irrigation systems ensured that the area of dry season cropping could be increased for rice production, but also for the planting of diversified crops during the off season, both of which enhanced resilience.


Creating an enabling environment for increased agricultural productivity


The second key objective was to create an enabling environment for increased agricultural productivity, diversification, and climate resilience.

Since 2018, two agriculture stations have been rehabilitated and 38 rice seed producer groups created to improve the mechanisms for rice seed production. To date, over 9,000 tons of certified rice seeds have been produced, with a greater focus in recent years on climate-resilient varieties that are in high demand. Over 2,500 on-farm demonstrations have been carried out to train farmers on a range of crops, livestock and aquaculture enterprises.

Agriculture stations now operate as semi-autonomous financial entities with clearly defined business plans. They retain revenue from the sale of registered and certified rice seed, and they have become recognised as a reliable source of seed supply to rice millers, farmers, and government entities.

To support the implementation and management of the project, additional staff have been recruited at commune level. SMEC provided staff with training in agricultural technical skills and the use of electronic equipment to enable them to support the communes more effectively.

Mobile devices are helping farmers quickly share information and build a broader awareness of improved practices, enabling them to improve their efficiency. Commune extension workers in every commune were equipped with mobile devices (tablets) pre-loaded with a wide range of agricultural extension materials and with access to on-line educational resources made available through the MAFF extension department. Further training has been provided to enable the extension workers to create their own videos for sharing their experiences of working with farmers and linking with others through social media networks.

To promote the wider adoption of improved production technologies and enhance productivity almost 2,000 on-farm demonstrations have been established for rice and a range of non-rice crops that have been used for field-based training of farmers including LIG members.

To enhance routes to market, there have been 448 Market Improvement Groups (MIGs) established with total membership of 18,000. The MIGs focus on four commodities - rice, vegetables, chicken & fish/frog and are supported by market facilitators who have established relationships with Agribusiness Enterprises (ABEs) and Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The total sales of all commodities through the MIGs during 2022 was just under $3 million. 




To date over 630,000 households have benefitted from the program. After the first phase of the project, annual months of food shortage were reduced from three months in 2008 to less than one month by 2020.  The project has attracted considerable attention from the ADB with two visits arranged for members of the ADB Board of Directors during each phase of the project.

The project has assisted the Cambodian government in: 

  • The creation of new rural infrastructure to improve agricultural production, market access and quality of life 

  • Expanding the network of LIGs under self-financing management by the Farmer’s Livelihood Improvement Association (FLIA)

  • Enhancing agricultural support services, including research, extension and information delivery services supporting increased agricultural productivity and strengthened value chains for smallholder farmers

  • Strengthening agricultural support services, through a network of core staff trained to provide education and agricultural extension services to support increased agricultural productivity by smallholder farmers

  • Meaningful private sector engagement for value chain strengthening, establishment of a network of MIGs and the introduction of brokerage services to improve value chain efficiencies



  • Overall project: Agricultural productivity increased, climate and disaster resilience strengthened, and access to markets improved in 270 communes in seven provinces in the Tonle Sap Basin.

  • The success that has been achieved is now being used to design a further and much larger investment by ADB to expand this approach through a new project that also focusses on strengthening cross border trading in agricultural commodities with neighbouring countries.  

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