The agriculture industry will remain sustainable as long as best practices are adopted and an effective value chain is developed, said Alexander Huynh, Cambodia representative of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
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The industry, which contributed 35 percent to Cambodia’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016, according to the World Bank, faces challenges such as climate change, growing regional competition and a shortage of labour.
Mr Huyn told Khmer Times on the sidelines of a FAO event in Phnom Penh that farmers will have to change the way they work as important policy decisions are made to boost agricultural growth.
“We know that in 10 or 20 years, there will be less farmers. To counter that, we will need more competent farmers, who have critical knowledge and capacity, data, information, and access to technology.
“There are a number of initiatives that FAO can do to help the government make decisions in terms of balancing these two aspects: making agriculture successful for the farmers and making it also sustainable,” he added.
Mr Huyn said the government has supported the industry successfully through the development of a certification system, and by upgrading its infrastructure and attracting investment.
“Everything is there for now, and there is a lot of pressure to move very quickly. It is only a matter of time for a viable value chain to be developed. Having said that, if you look at the objectives set in the ongoing strategies, it seems very ambitious.
“In the National Strategic Development Plan for 2019-2023, the government’s vision of raising farmer’s incomes to more than $2,000 by 2023 is very ambitious, but I am sure the country can make it if there is the ecosystem,” he said.
In an evaluation of FAO’s contribution to Cambodia between 2014 and 2018, the organisation’s Office of Evaluation (OE) found that FAO’s mandate continued to be of relevance in Cambodia as the country strives to attain middle-income status by 2030.
Among its 10 findings, the OE said FAO has a key role to play in supporting an inclusive, resilient, efficient and sustainable transformation of the agricultural sector.
“If you look at the opportunities, it is very interesting because what the study shows us is that Cambodia developed very quickly in the past 20 years. But it has still a lot of opportunity and room to grow based on the experience of some of the most developed countries,” Mr Huyn said.
In order to be profitable and competitive, the sector requires high yields, and for that there should be better seeds, inputs, technology, and good post-harvest treatment.
“It is part of the value chain. Production is only one aspect, because if you don’t have any roads or competitive seaports to export, then you are not competitive at all. It is the entire chain, from production level, water management, cost of electricity, storage, transport, certification, and norms.
“It is an evolving ecosystem that considers the process from the field to the table of the consumer. You have to start somewhere, and starting at the production level is a good thing to show the market that it is possible,” he added.
Meanwhile, Veng Sakhon, the Minister of Agriculture, reiterated that in order to grow their income, farmers will have to modernise by adopting smart agriculture techniques and best practices.
“There is a lot to do, so we need to work together with our development partners,” he told reporters after opening the event.
“In 1993, the industry employed 50 percent of the country’s manpower, but this is now down to 25 percent. Even with 25 percent, our production is big. A smaller share of the workforce doesn’t mean we are less productive. I think the government’s efforts to promote SMEs will contribute to growth in the agriculture sector.
“We support the sector with tax breaks of up to five years for the private sector. The government has also allocated $100 million for the SME bank now. I hope when it is launched, farmers will access it,” he said.