Government officials yesterday called for more private investment in cassava production, arguing it will help boost and diversify Cambodian exports.
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Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak, speaking during a two-day forum in Siem Reap, said cassava farming had expanded notably over the last decade and is now an important engine of agricultural growth.
He said cassava farming involves an increasing number of farmers and intermediaries and accounts for almost four percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
“Cassava is not only an agricultural sector nor a development sector; it is first and foremost a business,” he said.
“As such it requires greater investments by the private sector all across the value chains, including from research and development institutes, seed and fertilizer companies, food manufacturing and processing investors, marketing and export promotion agencies, logistics and transport firms.
“Enabling trade and investment flows into the nascent cassava industry is what we must do to ensure a more sustainable, inclusive and transformative sector.”
Nick Beresford, the country director for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), said cassava is the most important upland crop in Cambodia and the country’s second biggest agricultural export after rice.
He said the crop had expanded particularly fast in the last few years across Cambodia due to rising global demand and added that cassava production was helping millions of Cambodian smallholders earn a living.
Mr Beresford added that the UNDP was partnering with the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) and other development partners to introduce necessary changes in national cassava production and value chains, which should help reach new markets and increase productivity.
“It is now vital that Cambodia moves forward to secure greater value-addition from cassava production by connecting Cambodian producers to higher value outlets, enabling greater cassava processing inside the country, and boosting its domestic use in a host of subsectors,” he said.
“We see a very clear business case for private sector investment in cassava here in Cambodia. The country affords highly competitive prices for raw and processed cassava.
“It has remarkably fertile soil that can produce 20 metric tonnes per hectare – a lot higher than the industry standard of 12.
“Finally, Cambodia is well placed to access the major markets in Thailand and China,” he added.
Mr Sorasak said the MoC is spearheading the formulation of a national cassava policy to address challenges, investment opportunities and boosting production and exports.
“An essential step in developing appropriate solutions is to engage in an open and informed dialogue about where the challenges lie, what current best practices are and whether or not public intervention can play a constructive and supportive role,” he said.
According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Cambodia exported 2.3 million metric tonnes of cassava chips – about 5.5 million tonnes of tubers – during the first nine months of the year.
Cassava chip exports in 2016 amounted to 2.9 million metric tonnes, which mostly went to China, Thailand and Vietnam.