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Room for growth in innovation

Youths work at a co-working space last year in Phnom Penh. Photo supplied
Youths work at a co-working space last year in Phnom Penh. Photo supplied

Room for growth in innovation

Cambodia lags behind much of the world in terms of innovation, placing last among other countries in Asia despite significant inflows of foreign investment capital that could be used to develop innovative technologies, according to a new report.

The Global Innovation Index 2017, jointly published by graduate business school Insead, Cornell University and the World Intellectual Property Organisation, ranked Cambodia a low 101 out of 127 countries according to various factors related to innovation, such as education, patent applications and technology adoption. The rank was the lowest of any country in Asia, though Laos was not included in the report.

“Cambodia is relatively new in terms of economic catchup. Although improving, it lags behind in most of the input indicators selected here, although it is second in FDI net inflows among Asean economies, foreshadowing welcome development ahead,” the report said.

This year’s report, titled Innovation Feeding the World, focused largely on the need for increasing innovation globally in the agricultural sector to match growing food demands. The report specifically calls for much greater focus and funding for research and development (R&D) initiatives in agriculture as well as increasing the use of information and communications technology in the sector.

“To overcome market failures, policy makers have a responsibility to provide funding mechanisms to stimulate innovation in agriculture and food production,” it said.

Mey Kalyan, senior adviser to the Supreme National Economic Council, said yesterday that it is important for Cambodia to have a more focused approach on how to resolve ongoing and long-term agricultural issues.

“We need to review what the direction of our agriculture is going to be for the future,” he said. “One direction is innovation and technology, because Cambodia is lagging behind in that sector.”

Kalyan said a major goal for Cambodia should be diversification of its agricultural products, noting that if the country wanted to increase the industry’s value it needed to look beyond rice cultivation.

“Not much has been done in terms of R&D in Cambodia so far, so we need to do more,” he said. “If we want to see diversification, we also need technology and knowledge.”

Kalyan, who is also chairman of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, added that universities have a major role to play in terms of research and innovation, noting that in countries such as Thailand a lot of agriculture innovation originates in higher education institutions.

The government, the private sector and NGOs need to come together in a concerted effort to increase the effectiveness of Cambodia’s agricultural value chains, though policymakers need to outline the future direction for the industry, he explained.

“The policies must be led by the government, [which] must show the direction,” he said.

Cambodia has listed agricultural development as a major objective in its Industrial Development Policy 2015-2025, with the government indicating it will work to improve curricula for agricultural science students while also improving efficiencies, reducing fees and increasing processing facilities in Cambodia.

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