To anyone who has ever visited Cambodia, it would come as no surprise that fish and rice are staple items in most dishes. The notion of fish as food may seem intuitive—of course it’s important, it’s everywhere! Fish can be seen drying in the sun, being smoked over coals, as well as fermented fish being pounded into a paste, known as prahoc. Live fish are brought to the market to sell, and occasionally, you might even see the odd ‘walking catfish’ escapee making a break for it down the busy market street. However, the contribution of small-scale fisheries to household food security is often underappreciated. From an economic standpoint, the viability of fisheries is based on fish being viewed as a commodity alone. WorldFish, an international, non-profit research organization, explores the multi-dimensional role of fish and, particularly, how fisheries can aid in poverty alleviation.

Four years ago, WorldFish launched a large-scale study in Cambodia to quantify the welfare value of fish to diversified farming systems in rural, fishing-dependent villages. Fish is well known to be an important resource to rural communities, but how important? And how does this compare to other livelihood activities? With special attention to the contribution of fisheries to household wealth (net income and assets), the study also extends to include the following welfare indicators: nutrition, health, labour, and resilience. Resilience, as an indicator, examines the role fish and fishing activities play in response to economic shocks, such as unexpected medical expenses or crop loss. Increasing fishing activity and relying more heavily on eating fish are common strategies for families coping with economic shocks. Fisheries were assessed relative to other resource-dependent activities, such as crop farming, livestock rearing, as well as collecting floodplain and terrestrial resources. The target population was fishing villages located in agro-ecological areas of Cambodia’s three largest floodplains, namely the Tonle Sap great lake and the upper and lower Mekong River. The study also examines crosscutting themes of gender, fishing dependency, and household wealth status.

Assessed by its monetary value alone, fishing does not feature as a profitable livelihood. Ultimately, the welfare study highlights the role of fish in food security. Not only is fish the primary source of protein for people living in rural Cambodia, but it also an accessible food for poor and vulnerable households. Poor families rely on fishing first for food production and second for income generation.

My role, as Fisheries Valuation Intern, is to synthesize the final results of the study and produce a summary report highlighting its key findings. This publication, supported by infographics and posters, will be used to share the results with national decision-makers and development agencies.

To learn more about the project, please visit here.

-Victoria Rogers