Falling numbers of people working in the agriculture sector are not a concern, the government has said, despite the industry being the backbone of the national economy.
According to an Agriculture Ministry study released on Tuesday, about 80 percent of the country’s population worked in farming in 1993, but that figure now stands at 40 percent.
A comparison with other countries in the region showed similar trends, with employment in Thailand’s agriculture sector dropping from 77 percent to 32 percent in the same period. In the Philippines, the proportion of farmers fell from 56 percent to 29 percent.
Hean Vanhan, director-general of agriculture at the ministry, told Khmer Times the decline in the farming workforce was due to the fact the country has diversified into other sectors.
Mr Vanhan said smallholder farmers are increasingly struggling to survive, so are either leaving the industry to work in other sectors, or modernising and running big commercial farms.
“The fall in the workforce is not a problem. It is time for all countries to shift from small scale farming and to large scale commercial farms, to modernise the agriculture sector,” Mr Vanhan said.
However Sam Vitou, executive director at the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture, told Khmer Times the drop in the workforce will have significant repercussions.
He said farmers are increasingly using machinery to replace physical labour.
When farmers use machinery, the production cost is higher, he said, meaning they can no longer compete on price with neighbouring countries. This drives some farmers to migrate.
“When they cannot make enough profit in agriculture, they migrate to other countries, and that further decreases the workforce in the sector,” Mr Vitou said.
He added that demand for agriculture produce in the country is high, so the industry should be attractive to young Cambodians.
Mr Vitou called on the government to increase vocational training courses to attract young people to work in agriculture and to reduce imports of produce, to push local farmers to meet demand.
He also said government should support farmers with better infrastructure and electricity costs.
According to forecasts, the agriculture sector will grow 1.96 percent this year and 1.99 percent next year, due to favourable weather conditions and increased government support.
The Agriculture Ministry report said the government is already in the process of boosting the sector by expanding markets, providing farmers with new technology, expanding infrastructure, lowering electricity tariffs and managing irrigation systems.
Mey Kalyan, a senior advisor to the government’s Supreme Economic Council, recommended Cambodia expand initiatives to add value to the industrial and agricultural sectors.
He said a quality electricity supply and technical experts were a prerequisite for diversification in both sectors.
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