Since the beginning of the harvest, I have been zigzagging the Northern part of Cambodia(Battambang), Cambodia’s best land.
What I see and what I hear is far different from what the Minister of Agriculture claims as the main reasons Cambodia’s has a production surplus but is stuck with its own products.
Here is what our farmers say –
1/ 2.6 million hectares of Cambodia’s farm land are now part of economic land concessions;
2/ high cost of production including high price of gasoline;
3/ Cambodia puts in 0.01% of its budget to agricultural research;
4/ only 25% of farmers have access to irrigation;
5/ 3%/month interest rate from micro-credit institutions and up to 30% from informal money lenders;
6/ high cost of fertilizers;
7/ none or limited market for products.
Yield is higher but compared to neighboring countries, it is far below.
Farmers are in heavy debts with no social protection including health care and education for their children. Local corruption including informal tax adds to production and transportation costs.
These barriers to Cambodia’s agriculture sector are not new, and getting more serious as Cambodia’s competitors dominate the region and world markets and more serious of all as the Cambodian government economic land concession policy leave farmers landless and migrating inside and outside of the country to find employment.
Beyond economic impact, social impact that include child labor, children dropping out of school to follow their parents and family break up must be seriously studied.
This is what the government says about agricultural outputs
Farmers are not organized, and government agricultural package goes to associations of rice millers or companies that are of high scale and connected to government officials.
Farm laborers are not unionized and exposed to all forms of exploitation.
Migration of rural youth leaves Cambodia’s farmers short of labor.
Cambodia can do much better for and with her farmers.
The best practice is by CEDAC, a local based NGO that has organized tens and thousands of farmers, enabling them to find European and US markets for their organic rice, a niche for Cambodia.
International donors in the agricultural sector as AusAID should think about revising their aid policy.
Opposition MPs have made demands for the removal of the Minister of Commerce. Cambodia is deep in trade deficit.
We need to look far beyond tourism and garment sectors for growth.
Land is Life.