Government and United Nations officials joined up yesterday to launch a media campaign to raise awareness about organic food and to promote a scheme for small-scale farmers to take part in a guarantee programme.
The campaign is being promoted by the Ministry of Agriculture with technical assistance from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The scheme for small-scale farmers, known as Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), addresses certification and marketing issues.
It is a low-cost certification scheme adapted to local markets and short supply chains, said Mayling Flores Rojas, FAO agriculture officer for Asia and the Pacific.
Ms Rojas said the ministry and the FAO initiated a two-year pilot project titled “Small-Scale Farmer Inclusion in Organic Agriculture Value Chains Development” through a PGS in Phnom Penh and Battambang, Kandal, Kampong Speu, and Takeo provinces.
She said the pilot project also aimed to support the creation of more PGS groups. Thirteen had been formed so far involving 177 farmers, of whom 89 were women
She said the benefits of PGS for smallholder farmers included creating market opportunities, higher prices for organic products, improved selling conditions, lower certification costs compared with third-party certification, recognition of good product quality and improved livelihoods.
Kean Sophea, deputy director of the department of horticulture and subsidiary crops at the Ministry of Agriculture, said the ministry had finalised the draft law on National Organic Standards in March.
He said his department is now adding technical details to the draft law before it is sent to the Council of Ministers for approval.
Mr Sophea said once the standards are approved, all farms and companies would have to register for certification with the ministry for their products to be labelled as organic.
He said currently most organic shops and farmers got their certification from the Cambodian Organic Agriculture Association and foreign companies.
“Since we don’t yet have a proper law on organic vegetables, we cannot really say that those shops are selling organic products,” he said.
Mr Sophea added that Cambodia needed 500 to 600 tonnes of vegetables per day. However, he said, no one was sure if they were not sprayed with dangerous chemicals.
“The most important thing is trust, from producers, suppliers, purchasers and consumers, because we want to work together to give accurate information to people,” he said.
Iean Russell, senior policy advisor at FAO Cambodia, said organic food production is an important first step to address the challenges of the future.
“We look for PGS systems as a guarantee because it is an effective way to ensure food safety,” he said.
Khon Rithy, shop manager of Natural Village, said awareness of organic products was rising and there was a shift to consume more organic vegetables.
But he said his customers often complained about high prices because they did not understand the production chain for organic vegetables – which was longer compared to vegetables grown in the conventional way using chemical fertilisers.