Cambodia information access survey

As the Cambodian government begins to work more closely with local aquatic resources managers from poor rural communities, increased attention is being paid to the use of communication strategies and tools. In particular, the newly established Community Fisheries Development Office (CFDO) of the Department of Fisheries (DOF) is seeking mechanisms to share information about aquatic resources co-management practices and the livelihoods of people who depend upon the resources. 

The aim of this report is to identify and recommend methods of communication that are appropriate to aquatic resources management stakeholders, focusing in particular on poor rural communities. The report is divided into four sections:

  • Section I provides an overview of media resources that are available in Cambodia, and identifies examples of communication strategies and tools currently used by a range of development organisations to target poor rural communities.
  • Section II explores how aquatic resources management stakeholders currently access and disseminate information, and identifies examples of communication strategies and tools currently used in this sector.
  • Section III examines how poor rural communities obtain information, focusing in particular on information related to aquatic resources management. It identifies their preferred information sources, their own communication networks, and the ways by which they access the media.
  • Section IV concludes the report’s findings and recommends specific follow-up action. Costs, contact details and specific media strengths and weaknesses can be found in Appendix A. 

Research conducted for this report included consultation with the DOF, international and local NGOs, international organisations, and television and radio stations based in Phnom Penh. To identify how poor rural communities obtain their information, three two-day field studies were conducted in the villages of Dong Kooum (Kandal Province), Koh Rosei (Kampong Chhnang Province) and Soup Leu (Kratie Province). The field visits consisted of one-to-one interviews, group discussions and a range of participatory appraisal exercises that focused on communication-related issues.

The report also draws on the findings of other communication-related research. However, up-to-date media-related statistics are not widely available in Cambodia. Although a socio-economic survey was conducted in 1999, followed by a few informal media access and impact surveys by a number of different organisations, sample audiences have rarely explicitly included poor rural communities who are dependent upon aquatic resources. Finally, it is important to remember that there is much to learn about communication and extension from other sectors in Cambodia. This report draws extensively on these experiences and includes many examples from beyond the aquatic resources sector.

Key Findings

Communication Media, Materials and Tools

  • Although radio is believed to be the most accessible media in rural Cambodia, recent studies suggest that in some provinces more rural households own televisions than radios. However, radio is still a popular, economic and effective component of several government and non-governmental development organisations’ communication strategies.
  • Television ownership among rural households has almost doubled since 2000. Furthermore, the percentage of people who can access, but do not own a television, is increased through group viewing, which is common in rural communities. Several people believe that television is a more powerful communication tool than radio. However, there is a shortage of skilled staff and high quality production facilities in Cambodia, whilst international expertise is expensive. 
  • The press is not accessible to rural communities due to poor distribution and high levels of illiteracy. Although primarily an urban phenomenon, the press can be a powerful advocacy tool in support of rural communities, but should be used with care when lobbying the government. 
  • Video can be a useful education tool to target audiences with low literacy levels, which can be reproduced at low cost and used repeatedly in a targeted environment. To overcome unpredictable television reception and low access to TV, several organisations now use mobile video units to reach remote audiences. The use of video directly by communities to document their experiences is untested in Cambodia.
  • Drama and comedy are popular forms of entertainment in Cambodia. Many believe that theatre, puppetry and soap operas on radio and television have great potential as vehicles to communicate information. “Sbek Touch” (little shadow theatre) is based on peasants’ traditional daily life and is considered an appropriate medium for conveying modern issues or messages. 
  • Attention to colour, script and dialect, simple language, photographs and positive images are all important factors that will help to increase the accessibility of communication materials to poor rural communities.
  • The landline communications system in Cambodia is out of date and unreliable, with many relying on mobile phones. The internet remains an urban phenomenon and is expensive compared to neighbouring countries. It is not widely available to government offices, particularly beyond Phnom Penh. However, NGOs often have access to e-mail and the internet. 
  • A number of organisations have worked with study tours, village volunteers and farmer-to-farmer training. Results have been mixed and demonstrate the need for a package of tools if a communication strategy is to be successful.

Information Exchange within the Fisheries Sector


  • It is difficult for staff from all levels of the DOF to access information on aquatic resources management issues from outside and within the DOF, unless supported by an external party. Low budgets, low salaries, low motivation, a lack of resources, and a highly bureaucratic and formal working environment are all contributing factors. As is the case throughout Cambodian society, informal contacts with colleagues and friends within the government hierarchy are important sources of information. 
  • Currently there is little co-ordination in terms of information and resource sharing between offices and departments within the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) at the national level. Co-ordination is worse still between ministries. However, the situation is much improved at the provincial level. 
  • Historically the government and NGO sectors have worked in isolation. However, both parties recognise that it would be mutually beneficial if relationships improved, particularly in support of the ongoing reforms in community fisheries. Recent collaborations with the CFDO provide good examples of the benefits of working together.
  • Language is an important issue. The majority of government staff can access fisheries literature that is published in English only, preventing many from understanding the information, particularly at provincial and district levels. Few examples of lessons learned in the management of community fisheries have been documented in Khmer or English.
  • At the national level, DOF staff often find it difficult to access information about poor rural communities from their provincial sources, unless supported by an externally-funded (and usually managed) project. At the provincial level, communication between provincial departments and communities is usually minimal, unless supported by an NGO or IO. There is limited capacity, limited understanding of roles and responsibilities, and limited institutional and policy support.
  • At the national level, the DOF has no or minimal budget for extension strategies and materials. Much of the current extension work is supported by external agencies. A number of interesting and effective extension strategies have been tested and developed in Cambodia, with support from international projects and organisations.

Civil Society

  • There are several examples of effective and productive collaborative efforts between certain civil society organisations in the fisheries sector. The upside is that they have formed strong working relations and collectively are a force to be reckoned with. The downside is that this bonding may hinder much-needed collaborative relationships with the government.
  • NGOs depend on established NGO networks, working groups and stakeholder meetings to access information on aquatic resources management issues. As is the case within government, informal contacts with colleagues and friends within civil society are an important source of information.
  • Media advocacy is an important part of many NGOs’ communication strategies and good relationships have been established with the media, particularly the Phnom Penh Post, Cambodia Daily and Ramsey Kampuchea. NGOs have found that lobbying must occur at all levels of the government decision-making process to be effective. Several incisive reports on recent developments within the fisheries sector have been commissioned, but they are mainly in English. 
  • Government and civil society stakeholders under-utilise existing information resources such as libraries, the internet, newsletters and reports. This is due to a lack of accessibility, a lack of awareness or a lack of incentive. Language too is likely to be an important issue. However, several NGO field workers stated that more emphasis should be placed on better utilising local resources, by involving communities more often in the development of communication materials. 
  • Unlike the community forestry sector, there is no network within the community fisheries sector that links all stakeholder groups together. Although a quarterly “Co-ordination and Partnerships Meeting” has recently been established to link stakeholders together at the national level, all stakeholders agree that there is an urgent need to improve vertical and horizontal communication linkages within the sector.

How Rural Community Groups Access Information

General Information

  • Rural communities rely heavily on traditional information sources including the Village Chief, Commune Chief, monks and to an extent, village elders. NGOs and health centres are perceived as important and trustworthy sources of information but access to these institutions varies from village to village. Word of mouth and village meetings are still the most popular forms of information dissemination within a village.
  • Both radio and television are important sources of information, though they are not considered as accessible as other sources within the village (e.g., Village Chief). In common with other available evidence, in each visited village, twice as many households had a television compared to a radio. Lack of electricity is not a barrier; car batteries are used as a power source. An overwhelming majority of villagers prefer to watch television than listen to the radio. 

Aquatic Resources Management Information

  • The amount of contact between villagers and district fisheries officers varies enormously. Some are keenly sought out, whilst others are viewed with suspicion (fear even) and are not perceived as helpful information sources. Information from provincial government departments, including the Department of Fisheries, is valued, but lack of contact at the provincial level reduces their utility. In some cases, NGOs play an important role in facilitating communication between community and provincial levels. 
  • At this early stage in the establishment of Community Fishery Committees (CFC), few feel confident to disseminate information within the village. Support to understand roles and responsibilities is urgently required. It is also important to remember that poor rural communities rarely include educated, self-assured and confident people with the capacity to access and share information.


The key recommendations to emerge from the research are summarised below: 

  • Understand your audience: conduct a base-line knowledge, attitudes and practices survey before developing a communication strategy targeting rural communities.
  • Increase the use of mass media, in particular television, radio, travelling theatre and puppetry. All are useful tools to support a more focused communication campaign.
  • Use video sessions broadcast from a mobile broadcasting unit, and pre-recorded information and music broadcast on a village public address (PA) system to overcome issues of low access to media and poor transmissions.
  • Organise practical and interactive village-focused communication activities such as facilitated information, education and communication (IEC) sessions using, e.g., posters, flip charts, picture books and farmer field training schools.
  • Use village volunteers, study tours, community theatre, role-plays, t-shirts, music and songs where appropriate to complement the use of mass media and village-focused communication activities.
  • Maximise the use of local resources to produce communication materials and involve communities in the development process.
  • Improve stakeholder networking at national, provincial and community levels; increase accessibility of existing newsletters; prepare more case study materials; catalogue existing literature in a central resource center; and encourage informal networking and cross-sectoral communication.


Publisher: Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific

Rights: Creative Commons Attribution.


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