Cambodia’s agriculture has become a talking point among other sectors, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so for faced unsolved issues for years.
Lack of processing facilities, market access, high production costs and farming techniques are obstacles to the sector’s growth. Compared with neighbouring countries, Cambodia exports most of its raw materials and imports processed products instead to supply its market demands.
However, promoting and pushing agricultural products is on the government’s agenda to ensure food security and to mitigate the impact of the global virus.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly called on relevant parties, including the private sector, government agencies and farmers to work together to increase agricultural production to meet local demand and for exports. The aquaculture sector is also being promoted.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), which has been criticised over the weakness of the sector, is now seen as more active and new measures have been taken to improve it.
In the appointment and changed positions of the ministry’s civil servants, Veng Sakhon, MAFF’s minister, said that changing roles and responsibilities is necessary to improve the quality and efficiency of leadership and management in an institution.
“These are among things that contribute to the development of the agricultural sector,” he said.
“Building an effective state institution, accountability and transparency requires in-depth reform of human resources. It is key for the country’s agricultural sector development to compete internationally.”
The minister urges that, during this pandemic, agriculture officials must go to the grassroots level to solve farmers’ problems in a comprehensive, timely and effective manner in all circumstances and events that may occur.
“We need to review the refurbishment and construction of important infrastructure such as irrigation systems, electricity, administrative buildings, training centres, seed warehouses and, especially, human resources,” he said.
Sakhon said that laboratories, agricultural development centres, universities and agricultural institutes need to be promoted or transformed into centres of research, breeding-technique learning and conservation to disseminate to farmers greater understanding and appropriate knowledge. “All projects need to be updated to suit actual and urgent needs and the needs of local farmers in the context of COVID-19,” he said. “We need to review the principles of importing, exporting and looking after all kinds of animals, animal products, fish and agricultural goods to avoid added burdens on domestic production.”
Sakhon said establishing mechanisms to provide information on agricultural markets, strengthening research, developing technology, farming plans, harvesting and processing are needed while continuing to strengthen sanitation and phytosanitary requirements.
Tong Chantheang, an executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture, the pre-eminent Cambodian organisation in the fields of agricultural and rural development for 23 years, said that it could be a starting point for the sector’s development.
“There are good opportunities for farmers and some former migrant workers have joined the agriculture sector amid COVID-19,” she said. “Because agriculture is playing an important role in ensuring food security and creating jobs, starting from now we will improve the sector significantly.”
However, Chantheang said lack of processing investment is threatening its growth as well as the development of farmers.
“With increasing production, the government needs to seriously consider processing for exports that creates more jobs and added value,” she said.
This article was first published in Khmer Times. All contents and images are copyright to their respective owners and sources.