Khmer Times’ Sok Chan discusses with Sen Sovann, director general of the General Directorate of Animal Health and Production (GDAHP), the biggest achievements made in the agricultural sector last year, as well as GDAHP’s goals for 2018, including how they are dealing with the plummeting price of pigs in the country.
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KT: What have been your biggest achievements in 2017?
Mr Sovann: Last year, we restructured the department and increased the number of tasks and responsibilities for low-level officials. Our objective was to ensure that we are able to face the many challenges and problems in the region and the world, as we also took part in an assessment of animal health and production conducted by the World Organization for Animal Health.
In 2017, we focused mainly on budget management, human resources, strengthening lab capability, surveying animal diseases, strengthening our human capital and boosting international cooperation with regional neighbours and development partners to advance the programs now in progress.
We have strengthened animal health services in the country by developing the legal framework, restructuring the department and setting up the animal health system. The objective is to be recognised as being in line with regional standards in the animal health sector. We continue to monitor animal diseases, focusing particularly on foot-and-mouth disease, to improve the investment atmosphere and attract more people into the industry.
KT: How much meat does Cambodia consume every year?
Mr Sovann: Local demand is 228 tonnes of meat per day for local cattle, which is about 1,900 heads. In 2016, demand was 670,000 cows and 3.7 million pigs. We consume about 63 million chickens and ducks per year.
We raise only 2.8 million pigs per year, so we need to import a lot of meat. Every day, 1,800 pigs and more than 10,000 chickens enter the country from Thailand and Vietnam. These are just the official numbers; if you count illegal shipments, the figure is probably a lot higher. In 2016, we imported about 42,000 tonnes of meat.
KT: How would you evaluate progress made last year in animal health and production?
Mr Sovann: Demand for high quality meat will continue to increase, so we need to expand production to meet that demand. With more and more tourists visiting the country every year, we need to up our standards. Australia is studying a cooperation with us on cow breeding to help the private sector develop the capabilities they need to start exporting beef.
If we can prevent diseases and strengthen the skills of animal health officers in the villages, investment opportunities in the country will multiply. Our vision is to make Cambodia into a cow-exporting nation, but, to get there, we need to eradicate certain diseases, and strengthen our labs so that we can provide the vaccines and tools that farmers need to raise healthy animals.
KT: How is demand for Cambodian meat like in neighbouring countries?
Mr Sovann: Vietnam is demanding high quality meat, particularly beef. We hope they will choose to work with us, as Cambodia can produce and supply beef to the Vietnamese market. We are also looking at exporting to other countries, such as Malaysia, Singapore and China.
We have huge potential in the meat market, with vast expanses of land that can be used to raise cattle. Our goal is to take advantage of this potential, and make Cambodia a beef-exporting country.
KT: When it comes to animal health and production, what are standards currently like in the kingdom?
Mr Sovann: We have come a long way, but there are still many challenges ahead. The next step for us is to build up our human capital and infrastructure – including phyto-sanitation centres and quarantine stations – to build trust in us as a meat-producing nation.
The goal is to build trust on our system among Asean nations. Later on, we can focus on countries outside Asean. This is a key part of my strategy for 2018.
We have already conducted negotiations with Australia and we have established quarantine regulations for live cattle. We continue negotiations with Vietnam and Thailand to reach a deal for sanitary and phyto-sanitary demands.
KT: Tell us about your longer term plans for the sector.
Mr Sovann: We aim to increase the number of chickens, ducks and cows that are raised throughout the country. We are also encouraging investment in the pig sector to reduce our dependency on imports. We have found that raising chickens and ducks benefit local communities and farmers, boosting the livelihoods of people.
KT: Do you have any recommendations for farmers, businesspeople and investors in the sector?
Mr Sovann: Producers must be aware of market demands. Before they start raising animals, they have to know who their customers is, what are their requirements and how they buy. Raising chickens is a good business for small farmers. If they want to start raising pigs, they’ll have to study the market, calculate their costs, etc.
Smallholder farmers should be raising pigs in a traditional way. They don’t need to compete with commercial farms.
A good long-term investment is cattle. We have great potential in this sector, and it is relatively low risk. We are encouraging the private sector to process cow feed.