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Warning for local agriculture sector

Harrison White / Khmer Times Share:
Africa’s ‘fall armyworm’ pest first seen in Cambodia last year has already destroyed more than 10,000 hectares of corn in four provinces across Cambodia. Supplied

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned of the upcoming multiple impact of viruses, plagues and economic damage in Cambodia and across the region.

It will potentially affect the Kingdom’s food security and Cambodia’s only remaining economic pillar, which has been vital to Cambodia since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic this year.

The warning outlined several natural crises that are already having a serious impact on food security and hunger in this part of the world, already home to most of the world’s most undernourished people.

Specifically identifying the maize-destroying pest fall armyworm, that migrated to Asia from Africa in 2018 – as a growing and major concern for regional crop farmers – as the pest continues its spread across the pacific reaching as far away as Australia.

It is the same pest that destroyed more than 10,000 hectares of corn in four provinces across Cambodia last year, when it was the first time the invasive pest had been detected in Cambodia, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

The organisation also identified the deadly African swine fever – which became an enormous concern – as the disease re-emerges in the Asia-Pacific with some 5,000 outbreaks across the region and more recently into the Pacific subregion.

The disease is deadly to pigs but is not harmful to humans.

It resulted in the deaths and culling of millions of pigs in China, the country that was originally hardest hit in 2018 and 2019.

Cambodian pig farms were also affected after the disease was believed to have spread from neighbouring Vietnam, with market sellers of pig products reporting a decline in business activity, threatening their livelihoods and raising a public health alert.

Luckily, the swarms of desert locust – which originated in Africa and are the worst experienced in more than a generation – that have moved into west Asia are yet to affect Cambodian farmers.

Jong-Jin Kim, the FAO deputy regional representative and head of the FAO regional office for Asia and the Pacific, said, “While the lockdowns of countries across the region in response to COVID-19 have taken their toll on the economies, lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

“The convergence of these plant pests, severe storms and animal diseases will only add to the suffering.

“While we continue the battle to save lives and contain the spread of COVID-19, we must now fight a war that has multiple fronts and various enemies here in the Asia-Pacific region.”

According to the UN agency while the garment, construction and tourism sectors are the engines of economic growth, the local agricultural sector accounts for about 35 percent of Cambodia’s gross domestic product and still employes a large majority of the population.

Crop production contributes about 54 per cent of the agriculture sector’s GDP, with fisheries accounting for 25 per cent, livestock 15 per cent and forestry and logging about 6 per cent.

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