Alexandre Huynh, the Cambodia representative of the UN’s food and agriculture organisation, discusses the challenges facing farmers and the wider industry in Cambodia
What are the main challenges facing Cambodia’s agricultural industry?
Despite significant progress made over the past decade, the agricultural sector in Cambodia still lags behind neighbouring countries. The key challenges are: low productivity due to the sector’s dependency on rain-fed systems, poor farm management practices and high production costs; inconsistent supply of produce due to reliance on rain-fed agriculture; limited access to new knowledge and skills for farmers; inadequate market access; and price fluctuations due to the country’s limited processing activities and disorganised and fragmented value chains for agricultural products.
These challenges are compounded by the fact that, between 1994 and 2013, Cambodia was among the 15 countries most affected by climate change in the world. Agriculture is highly vulnerable to disaster and climate change risks, and farmers are struggling to cope with the changing climate due to poor knowledge, poverty, lack of technical support and a reliance on rain fed-systems.
What should be done to overcome these challenges?
We are currently working with the Royal Government of Cambodia on a number of key areas. One of the main challenges we are addressing is low productivity, which we are helping to overcome by intensifying the country’s agricultural sector in a sustainable way. This involves increasing the accessibility and affordability of good quality seeds and other inputs for farmers, improving the country’s irrigation system and enhancing agricultural extension by developing farmer field schools focused on climate-smart agriculture. To increase the competitiveness of the industry, we are promoting agro-processing and value chain development while ensuring natural resources are managed sustainably.
In order to improve its chances of overcoming its challenges, the agriculture sector also needs to improve its organisation. To this end, we are fostering greater cooperation between stakeholders through technical working groups and other high-level forums and collecting and analysing data, as typified by the 2013 Census of Agriculture.
Equally important are promoting technological advancements and capacity-building, both of which support the production, processing and marketing of agricultural products.
How important is it for rice farmers to diversify their crop production/begin producing higher value products?
Increased productivity, diversification and commercialisation of agriculture, including livestock and aquaculture, are core objectives of FAO Cambodia. Not only are these strategies important for poverty reduction, they also help to achieve food and nutrition security by improving diets and, consequently, reducing rates of malnutrition.
To what extent is Cambodia’s approach to economic development skewed towards urban centres?
If we examine the policy guidance for economic and social development in Cambodia, we can see that there is a high priority accorded to the agricultural sector.
But there is a case for increasing investment in the sector, because it has great potential and, without this investment, the sector will slip behind other areas. There is also a pressing need to address the issue of malnutrition in Cambodia, and the agricultural sector has a vital role to play in this regard. Indeed, there is a strong economic argument for investments in nutrition to ensure the wellbeing of a productive population.
This article was first published in Globe Media Asia’s Focus Cambodia 2018 magazine.