The government has taken the opportunity of the COVID-19 crisis to develop agriculture, while the garment and tourism industries, which are the Kingdom’s economic pillars have been hit hard by the pandemic.
During a field visit in Prey Veng and Takeo province, Prime Minister Hun Sen called on farmers join hands to develop the agriculture sector to ensure food security as well as for developing exports during health crisis while the government will support it technically and financially.
Veng Sakhon, minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries currently has been seen showing up at farms, pledging to boost the country’s agriculture sector.
The minister on Monday organised a panel discussion with technology researchers to understand the current situation in agriculture and opportunities for research into the field and post-harvest technologies to promote the country’s competitive agricultural production and ensure its sustainability.
Secretary-General of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) Lun Yeng said that agriculture is playing an important role to promote economic growth not just during the COVID-19 era.
He said, however, the virus outbreak could be the most important chance to develop the sector.
“During this pandemic we have opened more new markets for our rice because when the international market price goes up and there is a lack of supply, more countries have increased buying, so we have linked with more markets,” he said.
Yeng said while the sector is the country’s long term economic growth engine, COVID-19 has turned people toward agriculture.
“Before farmers overlooked the livestock and crop raising and we imported more from neighbouring countries but now the government, farmers and businessmen have been pushing farming,” he said.
The Kingdom’s rice exports are expected to reach 800,000 tonnes this year, an increase from more than 600,000 tonnes last year, according to the CRF.
Cambodia also expects to export 1 million tonnes of milled rice by 2021, the amount set by the government five years ago.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said during his field visit in Takeo province’s Prey Kabbas district on Tuesday that factory or hotel workers who have lost jobs from the virus pandemic can take up jobs in farming.
He also said about 100,000 migrant workers who returned from Thailand have gone back to join the labour force in agriculture.
According to figures from the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MLVT), as of the last two weeks in July more than 410 factories have been suspended, affecting 240,000 workers.
Hong Vannak, a business researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the agriculture sector, which already faced pre-pandemic issues, will also be key to economic recovery.
“If the government manages the sector well, it will be well improved because we have more potential to grow,” he said. “Our livestock and crop farming has yet to reach its full potential and in this crisis period more people have turned to agriculture, which helps us in job creation.”
Vannak said so far Cambodia still lacked decent infrastructure, irrigation systems and a lack of market access both locally and for exports, which prompted many farmers to give up their jobs.
However, he said within three to five years the sector will see strong growth if the government manages it well.
“We are far behind neighbouring countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand. But now we have seen a lot of improvement and we are using machinery in agriculture”.
“We have foreign investors from China and Japan willing to invest in livestock and vegetable farming,” he said.