Cambodia’s land may be ripe for agriculture, but many youths are putting down their farming equipment and taking jobs in the city. They say that working as a farmer will never earn enough to support themselves and make their living standards better.
However, Mao Thora, a secretary of state for the Commerce Ministry, said agriculture plays a very important role in economic development because agricultural products are some Cambodia’s most important exports.
But can farmers earn enough to live comfortable lives? Many believe that it pays better to work at a garment factory or construction site.
Soun Yim, a 47-year-old widow from Phnom Srouch district in Kompong Speu province, said that she earns enough money from raising chickens and growing vegetables and rice to support her seven children, and will even be able to send all of them to university.
“If I decided to work as garment worker as others did, I could not raise my children and live as long as I do today,” said Soun Yim, who added that she earns $300 a month from selling chickens and vegetables, and another 4 million to 5 million riel from her rice crop after leaving three to four tonnes for her family. She said that it is much better than working at a garment factory, which frequently pay workers less than $100 a month.
Porn Sophak, who studies agricultural economics and rural development at the Royal University of Agriculture, said Cambodia is a great place to be a farmer.
“Cambodia has good conditions for farming, it’s just that some Cambodian farmers lack knowledge and technical skills in agriculture, which makes it difficult for them to improve their work and make money,” said Sophak.
Sophak also said that the lack of immediate profit discourages many people from becoming farmers.
“Focusing on the short term, working as a construction worker or garment worker can earn $70 to $100 a month, while farmers get nothing each month. The salary and money from being a farmer will never appear until the rice is sold. But the money we earn from farming can be up to millions of riel.”
Despite the money that can potentially be made from agriculture, many Cambodian youth still opt to take low-paying jobs in the city.
Kun Dy, who immigrated to Thailand for work, said he was raised on his family’s farm but quit the business when he grew up.
“I was not impressed by farming at all due to the fact that it requires a lot of technical skills and a long time to reap the benefits. Sometimes, it is fine when we get the great output, while other times we get less benefit from the output. That is the reason that my family would rather lend the land in front of our house to other farmers.”
However, some farmers are forced to stop because of hardships.
Oeun Someng, a 20-year-old garment factory worker, said she came to Phnom Penh to work because her family was too poor to afford to buy more land after their farmland was wiped away by floodwater.
“We have some pigs and chickens to support our family, but it is not enough, which is why I came to Phnom Penh.”
Soun Yim has experienced these difficulties, too. However, she never gave up or turned to work as a garment factory worker. She had always focused on farming, and for that she earns a very good living.