Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday called for the National Assembly to amend laws limiting offshore borrowing to US$200 million so the country can use debt to finance a massive expansion of its irrigation systems to boost rice output.
“From next year, the National Assembly must allow the government to borrow up to $400 million from foreign countries in order to increase our country’s economic strength,” he said at the inauguration of a new stretch of National Road 1.
“If Cambodia can increase harvests from once to twice a year and can increase paddy yields up to 3.5 tonnes per hectare, we will be able to export as much or more rice as Vietnam.”
He called on the Ministry of Economy and Finance to initiate projects to expand the irrigation system in Cambodia and identified Japan as a potential source of the required funds.
Cambodia currently has 2.5 million hectares in paddy but a lack of irrigation means farmers can typically only grow one harvest a year.
Average yields are less than 3 tonnes of paddy per hectare, meaning a maximim possible annual harvest of around 7.5 million tonnes.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries estimates that Cambodia produced 7.2 million tonnes of paddy in 2009, of which 3.3 million tonnes was surplus to national needs and available for export.
Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture, said Vietnam exports between 4 million and 5 million tonnes of rice per year. Cambodia could match that with technical and infrastructure improvements, including better irrigation networks and training.
“Cambodia is able to produce and as much export rice as Vietnam because the country has extremely fertile land, but the government must provide enough resources to support those whose job it is to train the farmers,” he said.