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Farming needs new skills, says expert

Sorn Sarath / Khmer Times Share:
Cambodian farmers need to develop their technical skills, says a leading agricultural expert. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Over the last two decades, Cambodia’s economic growth has made remarkable progress, increasing at an average of 7 percent during the period, and agriculture has been a key pillar of this economic success, contributing to poverty reduction, income generation and enhanced food production.

However, there has been a decline in growth of the sector and its share of gross domestic product dropped from 34.6 percent in 2011 to around 23.6 percent in 2017, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

IFAD’s country director, Kaushik Barua, told Khmer times by email that Cambodia’s agriculture sector needs to focus on new skills to increase labour productivity and technology to improve land productivity and value chains.

Kaushik, said while the earlier period of growth depended on expanding factors of production (land or labour or other input), the next stage will have to depend on enhancing the productivity of these factors.

Kaushik said connecting agriculture to technology is necessary to increase productivity and value chains, which will boost local economies.

“This is a key requirement for agri-businesses. First, processing technologies are needed all along the supply chain to ensure added value. Second, especially in a post-COVID world, agricultural value chains will depend on digital technologies,” he said, adding that IFAD along with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is developing tools to ensure extension services are delivered through online and tele-based services, including Skype calls, text messages and phone calls.

“Digital tools are being developed rapidly, including an interactive map tracing beneficiary households, as well as farmer diaries that can be updated online,” he said.

Kaushik said that with regard to the agriculture sector, while the availability of rice is not a concern, there have been disruptions to the vegetable and livestock supply chains.

He said demand for vegetables and livestock products has dropped with the disruption in tourism and hospitality sectors caused by COVID-19.

“Food security, especially physical and economic access to food, is also a potential concern. Further, because of the consequent effects on unemployment, many returnees from other countries are in rural areas and need to be provided livelihood opportunities,” he said.

In its strategic plan for 2021-2023 unveiled last Wednesday,
the Cambodian government said that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government will trim it budget expenditure by almost a half for three years.

The government said the country’s key sectors such as agriculture are expected to grow 1.6 per cent in 2021.

Meng Sakphouseth, IFAD’s country programme officer to Cambodia, said IFAD and the Ministry of Agriculture have been rolling out a farmer app called “Chamka” to help farmers involved in the development of agricultural products.

He said now, during the first step, the working group is training farmers in three provinces,  Kampong Chnang, Takoe and Kandal, how to use the app, which will provide technical assistance related to farming and a market place for farmers.

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