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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ADB gives $35m in food aid to help Kingdom's poorest

ADB gives $35m in food aid to help Kingdom's poorest

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The emergency package comes as the WFP restarts school meal program aimed at keeping poor rural students in class

TRACEY SHELTON

The ADB's country director Arjun Goswami at the press conference Tuesday.

THE ADB announced Monday its official approval of an emergency food-aid package, providing US$35 million to the most vulnerable Cambodians struggling with ballooning commodities prices. 

The $17.5 million grant and $17.5 million loan will be supplemented by $5 million from the government.

"Our target is to get food on the plate within three weeks, but we need to make sure the system is fully transparent first," said the ADB's country director, Arjun Goswami. He added that most of the program's deliverables would come in the first of its three-year timeframe.

The measure will address the needs of both suppliers and consumers, distributing food rations to those most in need and selling seeds and fertilisers to farmers at a subsidised rate, the bank said. The plan also includes work-for-food programs.

The project aims to provide immediate relief to populations around the Tonle Sap lake, which have been hardest hit by rising commodities prices, according to poverty mapping conducted by the ADB and the government.

The domestic price of rice and fertiliser has doubled over the past year, while the price of meat and fish has increased      30 to 60 percent, according to the ADB. It estimates that nationwide the population has lost half a billion dollars in purchasing power due to inflation. 

"Forty million is not the full need for even the Tonle Sap region. The initial quick assessment we did suggests the need for just the Tonle Sap region may be closer to $80 million or $85 million," Goswami said.

Mahfuz Ahmed, an ADB agriculture economist overseeing the project, added:  "People have less diversified economic opportunities in the Tonle Sap area.... These are 500,000 people who are desperately poor."

Three "slums" in Phnom Penh are also targeted for assistance. The ADB measure comes after the government requested urgent assistance in May.

Despite the country's bounty of rice, about a quarter of the farming population are net rice purchasers as poor access to capital and processing facilities forces them to sell short to middlemen at undesirable rates. 

"We are also looking at those things as part of our medium and long-term strategy," but at the moment "are facing a short-term situation", he said.

The bank said its relief package would complement the UN World Food Program's recently restarted $9 million school meal scheme, which provides meals to 450,000 rural school children before they start their lessons. The WFP was forced to suspend the school meals program in May due to high food prices. 

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