Floating on Water: Sustainable and Inclusive Fisheries on the Tonle Sap Lake

An entire village floats on the water. People's homes rest on planks of wood that gently sway with the small waves that come from nearby speedboats. Most people have a small rowboat docked outside their home, others around me are paddling in these rowboats - usually with food and other supplies on board.

It amazes me that an entire community can sustain itself on and with the surrounding water. The floating village is located on the Great Lake Tonle Sap. This lake is surprisingly the largest body of fresh water in South East Asia. With over 3 million inhabitants around and on the lake, many of them rely on the water to eat and live.

The last project I visited in Cambodia was a special project because it taught me how many different members of the villages on the surrounding the lake are trying to preserve the water.

Children paddling at sunset
Floating village in Kampong Chhnang
Pet dog outside of a home in the floating village

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO): Sustainable and Inclusive Fisheries

This programme (Promotion of Inclusive and Sustainable Growth in the Agricultural Sector: Fisheries and Livestock) implemented by Voluntary Service Overseas (“VSO”) focuses on several main ideas to support the finishing villages in the Tole Sap region. VSO is an international development charity that fights poverty through different activities around the world.

At the core, the programme aims to develop and support "Community Fisheries" organisations that allow members of the community co-manage various aspects of fisheries such as protecting and managing conservation areas.

This team receives training and shares their knowledge with others in the community. In my discussion with the women, it seemed like each of them advocates for protecting the water and its resources for future generations.

It is also important that this project support aquaculture development and the fisheries value-chain. By teaching better practices to develop and market their products, the women felt more confident about earning an income from this way of life.

In the picture below, you see a woman inside a straw hut that protects the fish, during processing, from insects, flies, and animals.

Fishing processing is done in a hygienic way
Fish is dried and smoked, this is referred to as a 'chopstick' of fish

I spoke with an older lady in the fishing village who said, “I hope we can protect our waters and fish for our children and their children.”

The threats to the lake and it's communities who depend on it are very real - from growing population, cutting down flooded forest and removing other parts of the delicate ecosystem, construction of dams upstream, and climate change. This programme captures the idea that we must recognize, support, and sustain life on the water for future generations.

A girl sells fish at the fish market
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