The Cambodian government will have to develop fresh polices if it hopes to improve the livelihoods of poor rural farmers and prevent further decline in a shrinking agriculture labour force that has been migrating in the search of jobs.
Experts on the sidelines of the closing workshop of a four-year program by the Food Agriculture Organisation, where the findings of a set of studies were presented, said yesterday that smart policies can lead to growth opportunities not only for agricultural smallholders, but for the country as a whole.
For example, demand for beef is expected to increase by 9.3 per cent in the region by 2020, experts said. Vietnam, already a habitual importer of beef, doesn’t have the space to raise cattle, but Cambodia does, said Khieu Borin, adviser for agricultural NGO CeLAgrid.
“Right now there’s no giant company that raises cattle in Cambodia. They are all raised by smallholder farmers,” Borin said. “This is a good opportunity to look at cattle when the market demand is high.”
But specific polices to improve animal feed, animal breeding and animal health would be needed, he said. For example, currently smallholder farmers have limited access to veterinary services and the cost for cattle is very high.
Meanwhile, half of the Kingdom’s demand for vegetables is met by imports, said Pisey Khin, director of the Nuppun Institute for Economic Research. “So the priority should be to implement measures to increase domestic production,” he said.
However, small farmers can’t take advantage of the economic opportunity of meeting the demand without more education and irrigation infrastructure.
Srey Vuthy, director of the department of planning and statistics at the Ministry of Agriculture, said officials are “worried” about the decline in the agriculture labour force.
In 2009, agricultural workers represented a 57.6 per cent of the country’s total workforce. In 2014, that share decreased to 45.3 per cent. “We need to do something to create jobs in the rural areas,” Vuthy said.
The challenges raised by the studies hadn’t been addressed due to financial limitations and lack of resources, he added.