Cambodia: Ensuring Sustainability in Climate Change Adaptation Projects


17 August 2015

Sustainability of a project means ensuring that the project’s goals, activities and benefits continue even after the official completion of the project. Sustainability is central for all development projects, but it is particularly important for climate change adaptation projects. The reason is twofold.

First, the nature of adaptation projects is to teach people to flexibly deal with the impact of climate change, a task that requires sustained effort over a long period of time. Second, adaptation projects, just like other climate-change projects, are mostly donor funded over a limited timeframe. What will happen after funding ends is, therefore, critical.

In Cambodia, adaptation projects account for 70 percent of all climate-change projects, most of which will be completed by 2020. While the project objectives may be met during the project period, the critical question is how much of the project’s learning and legacy will remain after the funding is expended.

Last month, I led a team of researchers to conduct a field visit at a project funded by the Adaptation Fund called “Enhancing Climate Change Resilience of Rural Communities in Protected Areas of Cambodia.” Implemented by UNEP and Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment, this project aims to increase food supply and reduce soil erosion in five communities.

With the budget of $4.9 million, the project is expected to be completed in 2017. So far the project has planted 140,000 forest trees and 60,000 fruit bearing trees, while providing crop seeds, rice seedling, livestock and water containers to the target families. 

Training on animal husbandry, trees, seedling, effective use of fertilizer, savings groups, forest protection law and climate change awareness were also conducted for the community members.

According to interviews with 73 residents of eight villages within three community-protected areas (Chiork Beungprey, Chom Thlork, Skor Mreach), most of the beneficiaries appreciated the project, saying it has helped to improve their livelihood. 

“They gave us the vegetable seeds. After I grew them, now I have vegetables to eat and I can sell some to my neighbors to get some money,” said one resident of Brasat Andet village. 

Because of the training, village residents are now more aware of the impact of climate change. They have learned to adapt to the changing climate by changing rice varieties and planting techniques. Their attitude toward the forest has also changed. 

“Now they love the forest more. They are willing to protect the forest by patrolling and keeping each other informed about any illegal tree cutting,” said the chief of Chi Ork village.

Despite the positive impact, the project also faces a number of challenges. One of the major concerns is lack of sustainability. Very few of the villages have plans for what to do after the project ends. “I’m not sure what to do after I use up the crop seedlings. I don’t have money to buy new seedlings,” said one resident of Brasat Andet village. For long-term sustainability, the ministry should work with the community to develop a community plan to ensure that the project does not stop when the funding dries up. 

Sustainability means providing long-term solutions to community needs that the beneficiaries can maintain after grant funding ends. For this to happen, the project must effectively address the community’s problems and actively engage its members to motivate them to take ownership and leadership. 

A systematic capacity building program is also necessary to strengthen beneficiaries’ ability to continue implementing the project’s activities. A plan should be put in place to transfer knowledge to new beneficiaries. Collaboration with local agencies and organizations should be encouraged to supply the needed expertise.

Sustained human and financial resources should be mobilized locally. A local funding source must be secured to support a project’s long-term operation, maintenance and repair. 

Active local community leaders should be identified. Community members should be involved in the selection of technology and equipment and be trained to run and maintain it on their own. 

Sustainability plan should be integrated in the project design from the beginning to ensure long term success and impact.

(Mr. Pheakdey is the founder of Enrich Institute, a licensed, independent, non-partisan, NGO based in Phnom Penh.)