Coastal Cambodians on the Move: The Interplay of Migration, Social Wellbeing and Resilience In Three Fishing Communities

Title: Coastal Cambodians on the Move: The Interplay of Migration, Social Wellbeing and Resilience In Three Fishing Communities
Authors: Asif, Furqan
Date: 2020-04-24
Abstract: Small-scale fishing communities along Cambodia’s coast have relied on marine resources as a mainstay of their livelihood for decades. However, in the last ten to fifteen years, a confluence of shocks such as increased fishing pressure, the rapid rise of commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Thailand, illegal, underreported and unregulated fishing, climate change and, more recently, sand mining, have contributed to a progressive decline in catch. Such challenges demand that fishers harness social traits of adaptability, responsiveness, persistence, planning, inter alia. In other words, there is a need for fishers and their households to demonstrate resilience in the face of such challenges. Though a contested term, scholars working within human-environment relations have adopted the concept of social-ecological resilience, acknowledging that the social aspects of resilience have been relatively under-addressed. Relatedly, studies on fishers and fishing communities have shown the important contribution fishing plays in fulfilling social and psychological needs, i.e. wellbeing, and how fishing is more than ‘just’ a livelihood. While evidence for this connection between fishing and wellbeing has been shown across different regions, the nature of this relationship is not as clear for coastal communities in Cambodia. Meanwhile, Cambodia has exhibited rapid economic growth (and foreign direct investment) over the past decade. Part of this has been through the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) across the country. The creation of the SEZs and thus, the resultant labour demand has catalyzed migration of Cambodians to secondary cities and to the capital, Phnom Penh. Unlike other parts of the country, the experience of the lives of people on the move from the coastal regions of Cambodia remains less understood. Through qualitative work done among three coastal fishing villages in Koh Kong province in southwest Cambodia, I aim to contribute to a better understanding of the social dimensions of resilience by using a multidimensional (material, subjective, and relational) social wellbeing framework to not only better understand how migration affects the wellbeing of those who leave and those who stay, but also the implications on fishing as ‘a way of life’. My research focuses on understanding the role fishing plays, and the degree to which it impacts the wellbeing of fishers and their households in coastal Cambodia, in the context of migration. My empirical findings problematize the notion that fishing as a way of life supplants other dimensions (e.g. material/income) as observed elsewhere by considering outmigration of villagers from the fishing village. I find that the draw of alternative economic opportunities outside the coastal village has resulted in shifting values and opinions towards fishing as a livelihood particularly by younger villagers and has catalyzed their out migration. As a livelihood strategy, migration plays a crucial role in supplementing income from fishing and, in some cases, forms a critical lifeline for the poorest households. I also show how life in the coastal fishing village is filled with trade-offs and difficult choices people must navigate and negotiate, including tensions between various aspects within subjective dimensions of wellbeing. My thesis reveals the important, and sometimes dominant, influence of subjective and psycho-social factors on coastal villagers’ resilience and how this changes the way some view fishing itself. As such this research shows that adopting a social wellbeing lens can not only result in a better understanding of the impact of migration on coastal fishing communities in Cambodia but also broaden understanding of social resilience, for villagers and migrants who are facing a sea of environmental and economic change.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -