Agriculture Student Advocates for Community Development

Thorn Khak is only a second-year student in agricultural science at the Royal University of Agriculture in Phnom Penh. Photo: Chhum Chantha

PURSAT – Thorn Khak is only a second-year student in agricultural science at the Royal University of Agriculture in Phnom Penh. But he is already enthusiastic about dedicating his early professional life to sharing the skills and knowledge he acquired with his community to try to improve local agricultural practices and income.

Originally from Oasoam village, in Pursat province, Thorn Khak was one of the few students who won the Southern Cardamom REDD+ Scholarship in 2021, a program that supports some Cambodian students in their studies in agricultural or environmental science. In return, they must help their community for at least three years once their studies are completed.

“Because of the poverty in my community, I feel proud that I am the only one who can pursue higher education,” Khak said.

Historically, logging and hunting have provided the majority of his community's income. Some of them have stopped, understanding that nature must be valued and protected, but others still rely on these practices, even though it does not provide them with enough income to sustain their livelihood.

Through his studies, Khak is dedicated to developing his agricultural knowledge and applying it to the community's development by sharing modern farming techniques like fertilization or breeding.

He claims that more agricultural income will help reduce deforestation and hunting.

“I will study hard to use those skills to help develop my community to reduce hunting and logging,” he said.  “I want them to move away from depending on income from the forest to farming with modern technology on small land that provides higher income.”

Every four years, the Southern Cardamom REDD+ scholarship is granted to 16 Cambodian students. The program, supported by the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Education and Sports, and the NGO Wildlife Alliance, comes with a $150 monthly pension and covers all tuition, water, electricity, or health insurance fees. It also gives students three sets of clothes, shoes, bags, and school supplies.

Khak knows the program has been a game-changer for him to pursue higher education, and that he’s been lucky to have been selected two years ago.

“I wouldn't have been able to do it without the scholarship,” he said.

His father, Thorn Khon, expressed his pride that his son can pursue his bachelor's degree in Phnom Penh as Khak is the only one in Oasoam commune who has had the chance to attend college.

Once his son graduates, Khon hopes he will use his knowledge in agriculture to support his family and teach the locals how to prosper in a sustainable way, reducing hunting and deforestation.

“I'm hoping he'll lift the family out of poverty and make the whole community prosper,” said Thorn Khon.

He encourages all citizens to protect wildlife sanctuaries in order to reduce global warming and reap the benefits provided by wildlife conservation organizations.


Originally written in Khmer for ThmeyThmey, this story was translated by Te Chhaysinh for Cambodianess.

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