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Giving farmers market data

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081204_14.jpg

Officials announce a new national agricultural data system to give farmers access to information on prices, trends and market conditions

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON

A farmer in Takeo officials hope that greater access to information will boost rural incomes and increase competitiveness.

CAMBODIAN farmers may soon have access to up-to-date market information through a new government program aimed at boosting the Kingdom's agricultural sector, officials say.

"I hope the information on agricultural goods will help our farmers produce more of the goods our markets need most," Minster of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Chan Sarun told the Post earlier this week.

The farm information service, proposed by the Ministry of Agriculture, will offer agricultural commodity prices and other market data  to every village in Cambodia. Although no details as to how the information will be disseminated are currently available, Chan Sarun said he aims to see the program up and running  next year.

Low market awareness is one factor that has prevented farmers from capitalising on high food prices, experts say.

A November report by NGO Forum identified "lack of marketing extension services" as a major factor behind lagging rural productivity and stagnant incomes.

The information will direct farmers to produce goods that match demand.

Agriculture is critical to the country's economy, as more than 80 percent of the population is employed in the sector and more than 21 percent of overall GDP comes from crop and livestock farming, according to NGO Forum figures.

The market information system will service Cambodia's 13,948 villages, Chan Sarun said.

NGOs working closely with Cambodia's agricultural sector were optimistic about the plan.

"I strongly support this idea because it can encourage farmers to select crops more efficiently and contribute more to their productivity," said Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodia Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture.

"The information will direct farmers to produce goods that match demand, as long as the [agriculture] ministry provides the information as quickly as possible," he said.

Oun Sophal, president of the Farmers Association in Kampot province's Dang Toung district, said timely information would allow farmers to operate efficiently, adding that many face losses because they have been unprepared for changing market conditions.

"In 2006, farmers in my village suffered great losses on watermelon crops because there was no market for them. The following year they grew corn, and the price dropped dramatically," he said.

"The information network will allow farmers to respond early to market needs for crops and livestock, rather than react to them when it is too late," he said.

Svay Rieng provincial Governor Chieng An said the network would give farmers a reliable way of pricing their crops.

"Farmers [will be able to] correctly decide what crops to grow before they sell," he said.

The government is pushing farmers to increase production in a bid to boost the national economy and reduce rural poverty, Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY GEORGE MCLEOD

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