A three-year project known as FoodSTEM to train a new generation of entrepreneurs in sustainable agriculture and food engineering kicked off its first workshop yesterday.
It is led by the Institute of Technology of Cambodia (ITC), with four major Cambodian Universities – the ITC itself, the Royal University of Agriculture (RUA), the Royal University of Law and Economics (Rule) in Phnom Penh and the University of Battambang. The project is also supported by three European Union institutes: Montpellier SupAgro, Toulouse INP and the University of Liege.
The idea is to ensure there will be enough food to feed Cambodia’s growing population using a variety of disciplines and cutting-edge skills.
During the first workshop, the above stakeholders were consulted on the training and equipment needs of the project, with particular emphasis on the difficulties encountered by the entrepreneurs to create activities in the agri-food sector and on specific areas to focus on in terms of training and equipment.
The consultation workshop was co-organised with the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie as part of the C-NEUF “Espace Techno Incubation”, a three-year programme aimed at providing technical support to the pre-incubation of projects with student entrepreneurs in promising sectors in Cambodia such as digitalisation, mechatronics (which combines electronics with mechanical engineering) and robotics, energy sources, agriculture and agri-food – a $7.8 trillion industry for feeding the planet – and developing culture and entrepreneurial practice.
Om Romny, director general of the ITC, said that the workshop we are doing with EU and local experts is to sit down and talk and find the solutions to push the agricultural sector, especially on food processing and packaging and urge local producers to contribute to the economy.
Om said that the role of the university is to transfer the technology to support the agri-processing or food processing sector of the country.
“We just provide the technology, but the main role comes from the government and relevant ministries to set up clear policies and synchronise the system between the universities and the private sector’s small and medium-sized enterprises,” Om said.
“If the SMEs [small and medium enterprises] want to invest in food processing, they will need the resources to support them, so they need to know the laws and regulations to run a processing factory and, at the same time, they need to understand the techniques and technology, so our job is to help them” he added.
Om said that food processing requires set standards, tasty goods and attractive packaging with experts working with the university share their knowledge. The university can provide certain skills, knowledge and know-how.
“However, to get a processed food available in the market, the relevant ministries must be involved,” he added. “We have enough human resources in agro-processing, but we have to work with relevant stakeholders. We want to build trust with every stakeholder so everyone contributes together,” Om said.
The Cambodian food market consists mainly of products imported from neighbouring countries. Locally, food processing is carried out by informal family microenterprises lacking entrepreneurial skills and access to finance, with inadequate infrastructure and limited knowledge in terms of quality, safety or respect for the environment.
That is why we need to strengthen training at different university levels, from the technician level to the master level in order to allow the emergence of a new generation of fully qualified entrepreneurs.
FoodSTEM has a multidisciplinary and innovative approach both through the content offered and through learning methods: e-learning courses and well-equipped laboratories open to students. These courses will focus on entrepreneurship, product development, design of sustainable production units and supply chain management .
Last December, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen called for more investment in agriculture processing and the technology industry in the Kingdom. He said about 70 percent of leftover paddy was sold to Vietnam and Thailand absorbed 30 percent. “Previously, we were lacking silos, warehouses and rice millings. Therefore, our choice is to sell paddy to neighbouring countries,” he said.
“Now, we are attracting investors to the processing industry in Cambodia. We want foreign friends to invest in the agro-processing industry in Cambodia… SMEs must conduct processing both locally and internationally. We have many potential agriculture products. We want investment in the technological side of the industry. Although we have many labour-intensive industries such as garments, we cannot stand still, so we have to attract high technology and high added-value industry to the Kingdom.”