Cambodia exported 2.9 million tons of agricultural products last year, roughly the same as 2012, but experts say the figure does not reflect the huge potential for the market.
According to official data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, exports included more than 1 million tons of dried cassava, more than 670,000 tons of fresh cassava, 370,000 tons of milled rice, 200,000 tons of sugar, 160,000 tons of red corn and 80,000 tons of cashew nuts.
Agriculture accounted for 27.5 per cent of GDP in 2012, according to the latest ministry data.
Ouk Rabun, the newly appointed minister of agriculture, said at an annual meeting in Phnom Penh last week that farmers had moved from growing for consumption towards commercialisation, according to a recording of the meeting posted later on the ministry’s website.
“We have seen that the farmer base is shifting for the better, from producing for its own use or household supply or local consumption to commerce, due to the rise in domestic and global demand,” Rabun said.
However, access to the market and a lack of information about it are holding the sector back, according to independent agricultural analyst Srey Chanthy.
“I think the volume of exports is still small compared to the great potential. And we mostly export raw materials, so we lose a lot of added value for the economy,” he said.
“If you look at the population working in the sector, it’s big, about 2.1 million households, but we can export only around 3 million tons, which is really small.”
He said that farmers always face problems during harvest season, as export access is limited to Vietnam and Thailand, where supplies fetch low prices.
“We have a lot of markets that are really open in the United States and the EU, but the problem is that we lack the processing capability,” he said, referring to the practice of sending raw
materials across borders before export.