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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rise of machines could spur economic boom

Rise of machines could spur economic boom

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PG13-story-1.jpg

As Cambodia's agricultural sector moves to compete in a robust

global market, farmers are embracing new technology over traditional

methods

PHOTO SUPPLIED

Farmers demonstrate a machine used to shred tree branches to use as

fertiliser in Kampong Thom province. A shortage of farmhands is

preventing Cambodia’s agriculture sector from realising its full

potential.

Proposed improvements to Cambodia's

agricultural infrastructure and a growing reliance on agribusiness as a

principal engine of economic growth are changing the way farmers

produce and market their goods.

Srey Bun Doeun, who earned a master's degree in agricultural

engineering after studying in Russia and Thailand, spent more than a

decade waiting to find a market for his skills in the production of

machines that simplify labour-intensive tasks and generally make life

easier for farmers.

"I noted that Cambodian farmers have begun changing their habits," Srey

Bun Doeun said. "They are moving from subsistence farming to

large-scale production to compete in Cambodia's growing agro-industry."

Those changes could mean big profits for Srey Bun Doeun, a father of

two whose line of homemade agricultural machines includes a waste

shredder, grass cutter, cassava peeler and peanut sheller.

Shortage of farmhands

Srey Bun Doeun said his products could soon be in high demand because

many farmers face a shortage of manpower to cultivate and harvest their

land.

"Some farmers have hundreds of hectares of land but can't find enough

workers to harvest crops," he said. "My aim is to replace people with

machinery in order to increase the capacity and efficiency of the

process."

A strong and growing agricultural sector will lead to growth in other sectors as well.

The budding industrialist works with a partner in a Meanchey

district workshop that can produce as many as 30 machines each month.

His prices range from US$2,500 to $3,000 per machine.
Ngov Sroy, a farmer in Kampong Thom province, purchased one of Srey Bun

Doeun's waste shredders to make  effective micro-organism (EM) organic

fertiliser for his 30-hectare cashew plantation.

He said the production of EM materials is time-consuming but much safer for the environment than chemical-based fertilisers.

"My waste shredder is a locally made machine that can replace 20 to 30 workers," he said.

The growing popularity of agricultural machines follows a push by

government officials to modernise the Kingdom's agricultural sector in

the wake of booming exports.

Last month saw the beginning of negotiations with Kuwait for nearly

$600 million in development loans to upgrade irrigation systems

throughout the country. As agriculture plays a larger role in the

national economy, farmers must increase efficiency and output to

compete.

Yang Saing Koma, director of Cambodia Center for Study and Development

in Agriculture, said agriculture has become the foundation of economic

growth in the Kingdom, and new agricultural technologies will play a

vital role in sustaining that growth and strengthening the economy as a

whole.

"A strong and growing agricultural sector will lead to growth in other sectors as well," he said.

New techniques needed

Kasie Noeu, former secretary of state for the Ministry of Justice and

current president of the Peace and Development Institute, said

traditional agricultural techniques can no longer sustain the necessary

market growth.

"It is the right time for farmers with large-scale operations to take

advantage of new machinery. Otherwise, they will miss an incredible

opportunity," he said.

He said many Cambodian workers have turned to other labour markets in

South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia for jobs in agriculture or

construction, leaving a shortage of available manpower at home. "At my

own farm, I can't find enough people to harvest bananas for my cattle,

so I'm currently negotiating for a banana tree cutter."

Kasie Noeu said he strongly advocates innovations in agricultural

engineering and hopes that new products for planting, harvesting and

processing will soon be available.

"If we can employ all these machines on farms across Cambodia, our

agricultural output would increase more than 100 times what we have

been able to produce by traditional methods," he said.

28.5%

of GDP comes from the agriculture sector

As

the Kingdom moves to develop its agro-industry sector, the government

is trying to push farmers to abandon traditional methods.

Srun Darith, deputy secretary general of the Council for

Agricultural and Rural Development, said agriculture comprised 28.5

percent of Cambodia's GDP in 2007, but that a shift toward a new "era

of machines" could see that number rise in coming years.

He said Cambodia produces more than 6 million tonnes of rice each year,

only 4 million of which is consumed by the domestic market.

"If we could use machines for agriculture and use all available land,

Cambodia could produce as much as 15 million tonnes of rice in a year,"

Srun Darith said.

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