Bridging the digital divide in Cambodia

By Savann Oeurm
Oun Noun, a 31-year-old farmer, uses a computer for the first time at the opening of the Cambodia Community Innovation Center in Pursat province. Photo: Savann Oeurm/Oxfam America

Oxfam works with local organizations to set up Internet access centers for rice farmers.

Two organizations in Cambodia have opened new Cambodia Community Innovation Centers in Pursat and Takeo provinces to help farmers access the Internet; many of them will use the Internet for the first time.

The Innovation Centers will offer computer classes for people in the community. Farmers and students in these areas will now be able to use the Internet to access market prices for crops, and learn about agricultural technologies. They can also use social media sites like Facebook to upload stories, photos, and videos about agricultural products from their community, and share those stories nationally and globally.

Rapid expansion of wireless networks in the country, and widespread usage of smart phones is helping as much as one third of Cambodia’s population access the Internet and use Facebook, 80 percent of them exclusively through cell phones, according to a 2015 study funded by USAID and the Asia Foundation.

Oxfam and local partner organizations plan to establish at least one Community Innovation Center in each of Cambodia’s 24 provinces. The network of Centers will support a Khmer-language Facebook page devoted to helping participating farmers share information and market products.

Hay Sokchea, a 16-year-old student, wants to use the newly opened Center near her home in Sareng, in Pursat province, to study. She also says she hopes to increase her “knowledge related to agriculture that can help my parents to increase their productivity.” Sokchea says the center is near her home, and will help her get computer training that would otherwise be out of reach as her parents cannot afford to send her to a nearby town to study. She says she hopes to promote the Center to her friends, so they too can register for the computer courses offered.

Focus on technology for women

The Cambodia Community Innovation Centers intend to unlock access to the Internet and digital technologies to help rural women in particular. “These centers will provide a relatively affordable means for women to learn new business skills, get market information, and improve their income,” says Keo Kaneka, Oxfam’s policy advisor. With more information and training, she says rural women in Cambodia can “increase their ability to participate in economic activity, and play a more active role in economic decisions for their family and community.”

Oun Noun, a 31-year old farmer, says she intends to use the Internet to promote her business of selling the rice seeds. “I am very interested to learn to upload, post, search… I especially want to use Facebook to promote my product, the rice seeds that I produced in Sareng village,” says Noun, “so I won’t necessarily have to go from village to village to advertise the product.”

The innovation centers are equipped with computers, LCD projectors, and Internet access provided by Oxfam and its partners, RACHANA and SRER Khmer. The centers are managed by farmers, and trainees are required to contribute fees to keep the centers running. 

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