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The effects of COVID-19 on farming

Scarlette Green / Khmer Times Share:
A woman growing rice in a field in Kampong Speu province. KT/ Siv Channa

In 2020, the agriculture sector continues to play a significant role in the Cambodian economy, accounting for 22 percent of the Kingdom’s GDP and employing one-third of the Cambodian workforce.

However, even before the pandemic, agricultural expansion was decelerating and the first contraction in over fifteen years was recorded in 2019. This was largely attributed to a prolonged drought in 2013 that saw a large number of Cambodian farmers migrating abroad to secure an income.

Despite the compounding economic and health concerns due to COVID-19, Prime Minister Hun Sen has touted the agriculture sector as a key source of economic strength to face the pressure of the pandemic. In terms of products, rice is the most crucial crop and it contributes around half of all the agricultural GDP.

The impact of COVID-19 on agricultural output, value-chains and security will be crucial to monitor and address due to their significant economic importance in Cambodia. Angkor Research and Consulting in partnership with Future Forum are undertaking an economic impact study and subsequent policy review on COVID-19.

The survey found that paddy rice, cassava, animal husbandry and vegetable production comprised the majority of farming activities. All provinces, with the exception of Phnom Penh were found to produce paddy rice as one of the top two outputs. The other main outputs were cassava in Siem Reap, animal husbandry in Kampot and Kampong Speu, and vegetable production in Svay Rieng.

This survey will be a longitudinal study focussed on workers, families with micro/small enterprises and farmers. Farming is not the main economic activity in Phnom Penh, which contributes only 1.4 percent of total farming.

The rate of change was found to be modest between January and April, however, where it is present there is a trend towards self-consumption and away from product sales. Six households out of ten shifted their focus to consumption only regarding paddy rice and vegetables.

It is notable that the costs of inputs have fallen over the period. The survey identifies that this trend holds for Kampong Speu, Kampot and Siem Reap provinces, falling by 79 percent, 56 percent, and seven percent respectively. By contrast, the cost of input in Svay Rieng and in Phnom Penh increased by 45 percent and one percent respectively.

When we look at the changes at an aggregate provincial level the data outlines that the means of income dropped by 46 percent in Kampong Speu, 29 percent in Kampot, and 46 percent in Siem Reap. By comparison, the income of farming in Phnom Penh and Svay Rieng increased by 0.2 percent and 21 respectively.

The average profit for each type of farming fell for the majority of products, with the exceptions of paddy rice and animal husbandry which increased by 98 percent and 21 percent respectively.

Most provinces experienced average profit contraction. In Kampong Speu, Kampot, Phnom Penh and Svay Rieng, the average profit fell by 25 percent, 33 percent and six percent respectively.

Siem Reap displayed the largest reduction in farming profit at 53 percent. This can be attributed, in part, to the concentration of cassava farming activities. The mean profit from Cassava in Siem Reap fell 67.6 percent from $116.4 in January to $37.7 in April.

The summary of the findings conclude that farming incomes have declined significantly by over 30 percent from $283 in January to $195 by April. These declines were seen across a variety of farming activities and provinces.

If this trend continues it will have a further negative impact on the agriculture industry. On average, total farming income was down 55 percent between January and April, whilst total profit was down 59 percent over the same period.

There have been differential impacts from COVID-19 on different provinces and activities. Farming profits in Siem Reap fell by 53 percent, the highest of all five provinces. At the same time, prices for paddy rice increased significantly which has benefitted some farmers.

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