As the debate over imports of vegetables containing unsafe levels of chemicals rages, farmers and vegetable producers have been asked to increase output to meet local demand and adopt good agricultural practices to guarantee the safety of local produce.
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The requests were made during an agriculture and food security forum titled ‘Fostering a safe and sustainable vegetable sector’, which was attended by farmers, government officials and representatives of vegetable production associations and NGOs to discuss ways to increase local food production and uphold food safety standards.
Ho Puthea, the director of the Horticulture and Subsidiary Crops Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, said boosting local production to lessen dependence on imports from neighbouring countries was one of the hottest topics of the evening, while concerns over food safety and the chemicals carried by imported produce were also on the agenda.
“Through dialogue we can find solutions. We need a closer connection between government, private sector and farmers,” Mr Puthea said. “We also discussed food safety. We want to ensure consumers’ peace of mind.”
The adoption of good agricultural practices and organic techniques were encouraged to ensure food safety, Mr Puthea added.
According to experts speaking during the forum, demand for local, high-quality vegetables is robust. However, the local vegetable sector now satisfies less than half of that demand.
Key challenges within the sector include low yields, difficulty producing during the wet season, poor competitiveness in regional markets and difficulty growing produce that meet consumers’ expectations of quality and safety.
According to a 2016 report from the Horticulture and Subsidiary Crops Department, market demand for vegetables reached 930,000 tonnes per year, with local producers able to supply only 420,000 tonnes. To fill the gap, Cambodia had to import 50 percent of the vegetables it consumed during that year.
Hean Vanhan, the director-general of the General Directorate of Agriculture, said the government is working to classify vegetables according to the season in which they can be grown.
“In Cambodia we cannot plant vegies all year round because of our cycle of wet and dry seasons, which causes floods and droughts,” Mr Vanhan said. “We are conducting studies to determine what province is best to grow certain vegetables.
“After we selected the areas, we will come up with a schedule to guide producers as to which time of year is best to plant each vegetable. We hope this will increase local production and reduce our dependency on imports,” Mr Vanhan said.
According to a recent study conducted by the Study Policy Center, Cambodia spends about $200 million on vegetables imported from neighbouring counties, with Vietnam coming in first as the biggest exporter of vegetables to the kingdom.
Dy Seveayuth, a brand manager at Natural Garden, said demand for organic, local produce has recently experienced a sudden boost, but added that imports are still needed as some types of vegetables are not grown in the country.
“Consumers are demanding more and more vegetables with organic labels. We are not afraid of a lack of market for this type of products,” Mr Seveayuth said.
“However, for certain vegetables, Cambodia still needs to import, as farmers often face difficulties growing them in the country.”