For Cambodia to reach its full potential in agriculture, it needs more investment, diversification in crops, access to new technology, more research and development on related products, the full mechanisation of rice cultivation and plain, old-fashioned cash.
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That was the view of stakeholders at an agriculture seminar hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce and USAID’s Feed the Future Cambodia Harvest II project which work to accelerate the growth of the horticulture sector. The event was also sponsor by DFDL, an Asean integrated investment advisory firm with 11 offices in the Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, Bangladesh, Singapore and three collaborating firms in Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The seminar also introduced the US government’s upcoming Agriculture Trade Delegation February 6-7, which aims to grow agriculture trade and investment ties between the United States and Cambodia.
Speaking at the seminar in Phnom Penh called Unlocking Investment in Cambodian Agriculture, Saran Song, chief executive officer (CEO) of Amru Rice (Cambodia), and president of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) said that in the last five years there has been dramatic change in the agriculture sector in the Kingdom.
Song added that Cambodia has produced market-oriented, quality rice to fulfill the demand and standards of overseas buyers beyond fulfilling local consumption.
Farmers are moving from traditional growing and cultivation methods to more modern and mechanised methods, he said.
Commercialising rice for export improves farmers’ livelihoods but they need to diversify and need to earn more per month or year otherwise they will have to move away from their homeland, Song added.
“Rice alone one is not sustaining their lives. They need to start to think of other agriculture products, such as cassava, cashew nuts and other crops to help them live better, support their families better and have a bigger impact on their communities,” he added.
Song added that farmers must reorganise and join agricultural cooperatives to become stronger and encourage them to maintain competitiveness, to help them become market leaders in the community and to unite in how to sell and bargain with rice millers to satisfy market needs.
More importantly, farmers need to become entrepreneurs because they need to transform from being just farmers to becoming entrepreneurs, said Song.
“Being an entrepreneur means they can innovate products, create new products, design, get information, conduct contract farming, improve their business model, maintain production, get easier access to finance, digitalise – all this they need to know. If they do not know it, I do not think we can compete with farmers in Thailand, Vietnam, India, the US [etc],” Song added.
Song said that farmers do not know how to manage water resources or how to use nutrients or fertilisers. They need to learn and mitigate against climate change regarding crop tolerance make use of pesticides properly.
“The most important thing, they [farmers] must start to think about is exports, but they do not know the information the market needs and what the standards are,” he added.
Song mentioned that investment in rice mills in the last three to five years is declining in the rice sector compared with real estate and construction. He said that If there is more investment in infrastructure in rice production, it will make Cambodia competitive in the long term.
Cambodia’s potential is not only for rice, but for cassava, cashew nuts and other main crops that farmers can adopt and cultivate after the rice harvest can generate more income for their family across the whole year.
Veena Reddy, USAID Cambodia mission director, said the agriculture sector is important for the Cambodian economy and it contributes a lot to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 40 percent of the nation’s workforce, helping to develop Cambodia.
She added that Cambodia has the potential in rice and would like to achieve similar success in other major crops, such as pepper, cassava, maize, soybeans, and cashew nuts. Farmers must also move up to the agriculture value chain from raw goods to processed exports.
“Improving productivity using with technology can help Cambodian agriculture become competitive in the global market. High-quality modern technology, packaging, food safety and other equipment is in demand by the Cambodian agriculture sector to meet export standards,” Reddy said.