Economic Growth, Social Inequality and Environmental Change in Cambodia

Globally, the studies of low-income rural economies show variability in household wealth and the potential for income growth is much larger than economic factors alone can explain. In 2005, the University of Chicago implemented a long-term socio-economic and environmental study in four provinces in northwestern Cambodia aimed at examining the social and ecological factors that promote:

  1. accumulation of wealth,
  2. effective management of natural resources, and
  3. sustainable economic development.

The Cambodian study is a central element of a comprehensive regional research program in which the primary objective is to understand socio-economic and ecological systems throughout the Lower Mekong River Basin and Thailand.
Key objectives of the Cambodian study are:

  1. to conduct a large-scale socio-economic survey that collects detailed information on household composition, income, consumption, occupation, labor supply, assets, investment, cash holding, borrowing, lending, gifts, remittances, inputs and outputs on farm plots, crop and income forecast, perceptions and responses to risks, business activities, health, demographics and migration;
  2. to implement a comprehensive environmental analysis that will document changes in land-use and land-intensification in northwestern Cambodia;
  3. to combine the analysis of social, economic and environmental factors to answer the question as to how, and to what extent, ecological and social variability affects economic behavior and decision-making within villages.

This University of Chicago research project has identified the ecological and socio-economic bases of land-use, land-conversion and sustainability of natural resources in environments such as Cambodia that are experiencing accelerating population growth, increasing economic activity and ongoing environmental degradation. The results of the project shall be useful for future planning and managing the kind of economic development and natural resource exploitation that may occur in the future. It is anticipated that the data and the models developed by the project will be useful to government and non-governmental development agencies, landscape planners and natural resources managers in Cambodia and in other developing countries.

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