Israel's biggest-ever delegation arrived in Phnom Penh Monday, with
telecoms and agriculture firms saying they have big plans for Cambodia
From left to right: Israeli delegate Yitzhak Kiriati; Ministry of Commerce Secretary of State Pan Sorasak; Israeli Ambassador Yael Rubinstein and Israeli trade attache Tzahi Selzer.
With Cambodia's huge agricultural potential and Israel's world-class technology, the two countries have a bright future of cooperation ahead of them, said Israeli Ambassador Yael Rubinstein on Monday in Phnom Penh during her country's largest-ever visit to the Kingdom.
Included with the delegation were representatives of Israel's top agriculture technology companies, offering what they say are the world's most advanced farming methods.
"One of our most important messages is that we see agriculture as a business - not just a way of feeding people," said Yitzhak Kiriati, director of the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, a government-private export promotion group.
"We are not coming to Cambodia to save hungry people - we are here to make people make money from agriculture," he said.
He said Israel will be working to introduce new technologies and to change methods used on Cambodian farms.
"Israeli agriculture operates as a system - you pool resources.... We will be working with Cambodia to increase not only the technology, but the way that farms organise themselves."
No deals were signed, but a delegation spokesman said he expects major announcements before year's end.
Local agricultural experts said the Israeli visit could bring much-needed advancements to a sector plagued by inefficiency and low productivity.
"There are serious problems in Cambodia with a lack of investment - agriculture needs more support and loans for small farmers," said Yang Saing Koma, president of CEDAC - a local agriculture development association.
One of our most important messages is … we see agriculture as a business.
Israel is an arid, desert country that has become an important agriculture exporter, in part because of advanced irrigation, greenhouses and fertilisers. One of its most famous technologies is "drip irrigation" that waters plants individually, cutting evaporation and waste.
The Israeli government told the Post better farming techniques have allowed it to boost agriculture earnings from US$0.50 per cubic litre of water to $4.00 in the past 60 years. These technologies could fit well in Cambodia's wet-dry climate, say local experts.
"We are growing rice in the wet season, but we really aren't growing much in the dry season. We should be growing vegetables in the dry season, but we need better irrigation, and greenhouses," said Yang Saing Koma.
Agricultural advancements would pay off in terms of poverty reduction and economic growth, say experts. World Bank figures say 59 percent of Cambodians rely on agriculture. Rice yields in Cambodia are a low 2.6 tonnes per hectare, compared with 3.5 in Thailand and close to six in China.
"[Agriculture sector] growth is constrained by the poor use of fertilisers, weak irrigation systems and rural roads, limited access to credit and poor research," said the World Bank in its 2008 report.
Telecoms were also an area of focus for the delegation.
"Cambodia's telecoms market is expanding fast," said Eyal Mayer, director for Business Development and Project Management at Celtro, a mobile phone technology firm.
"The prospects for Cambodia are very strong indeed."
Amnon Ferber from the Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute said that the Cambodian market would be especially lucrative for small- and medium-sized Israeli companies.
"There is a lot of competition in India and China, so Cambodia is very interesting for Israeli business," he said.
But Israel's politics continue to be a subject of debate, and the head of the Palestine Solidarity Council (PSC) in Thailand said that the Israel delegation's visit to Phnom Penh is nothing to celebrate. "Cambodia should steer clear of Israeli investment.... We can and should be doing something about the violence against the Palestinians through nonviolent means," said PSC Chairman Stuart Ward.