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Cambodia’s farmers at risk

Dear Editor,

I wanted to comment on your article “Farmers weigh up US technology”, which appeared in the December 4 edition of The Phnom Penh Post.

Your article describes how Cambodian officials want to replace “Cambodia’s traditional farming methods … with US style agro-machinery, hybrid seeds and chemicals”.

I just thought I would point out that perhaps the most comprehensive study ever carried out into global agriculture involving more than 400 experts over four years concluded that the industrial agriculture model which US companies mentioned in your article has degraded the natural resources necessary for human survival, “destroyed rural farm communities around the world” and “now threatens energy, water and climate security”.

This study was sponsored by the UN Environment Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization, and UN Development Programme; UNESCO; Global Environment Facility; and the World Bank and was endorsed by 58 governments.

Australia, the US and Canada, however, chose not to endorse this report’s findings. Studies of agriculture systems in these countries have highlighted their inability to address the unsustainability of their agricultural practices.

Driven by high capital costs, debt and the need for quick and substantial financial returns, US agriculture is now becoming dominated by highly capitalised, hard-nosed agribusinesses, with a relatively few individuals and companies now possessing large percentages of the available agricultural land.

Increases in row crop production (corn, soybeans, etc) and nitrogen fertilizers, and loss of perennial cover have been implicated in declines in biodiversity, and a “hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico” thousands of square miles in size.

Is this the kind of agricultural future which Cambodian farmers actually want? What will happen when increases in agricultural chemicals threaten the already reduced harvest of fish in this country?

Does Cambodia really want to risk the Tonle Sap also becoming another hypoxic dead zone devoid of fish, following the US “model”?

Rather than simply mimicking the clearly documented failures of this industrial agriculture model, Cambodia would be much better to work with the knowledge of its farmers and the unique agro-ecosystems which they have created to develop an agriculture which strengthens Cambodian rural culture and enhances the natural productivity of its environment.

Jeremy Ironside
Phnom Penh

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