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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Traditional farming due for shake-up

Traditional farming due for shake-up

"Big is beautiful" - that's the Government's credo for changes in the way

the country is to be farmed. Many though are pessimistic. Heng Sok Chheng reports.

CAMBODIA'S plans for large scale agricultural development will see huge changes to

the millions of people now living off the land. The debate now is whether such changes

are going to be all to the good.

Cambodia is to tell aid donors in Tokyo in July that four out of five Khmers are

farmers and - save for 1995 when for the first time in years a 120,000 ton rice surplus

was achieved - crop yields have declined.

Backed up by $70m already pledged by the World Bank and the ADB, the Government is

looking for $191m from donors till the year 2000 for agriculture, forestry and fisheries

projects; and another $113m for rural development.

The Government wants to expand rice production by using more fertilizer, pesticides,

and new seeds; diversifying into other crops for export, such as cotton, soybean

and tobacco; better research; more and better roads for access to marketplaces; and

developing "agro-processing" industries and larger, private sector involvement.

"The plan is to give land to big investors to farm in whatever way that doesn't

spoil the environment, with either conglomerates of rice growers or large holdings

specializing in cash crops," said agronomist Chan Tong Yves, under secretary

of state of Ministry of Agriculture.

Some NGOs involved in agricultural development are worried this will destroy small

farming communities.

Director of the Cambodia-IRRI-Australia project, Harry Nesbitt, said in the long

term farmers would have to migrate to the city to find work in industries and factories.

"We should encourage rural development so that farmers can have some input in

farming [decisions]. They can have better markets for their products and importantly

get access to other forms of work they can support their income," he said.

Country Director of HEKS Cambodia Programme, Lot Miranda, said the Cambodian farming

system was seriously at risk, but "Cambodia is in a vulnerable situation now

and it doesn't have much choice."

"The nature of the policy is that the government will allow everyone to come.

Market emphasis on high-value crops or cash crops for export will deprive farmers

of their needed landspace," Miranda said.

"I would like NGOs to support the government's [stated] goal of sustainable

agriculture."

By accepted definition, "sustainable agriculture" means farming that enhances

the environment; that is economically viable and affordable; and doesn't threaten

local farmers' livelihoods.

Miranda said if the government policy was toward a "green revolution" then

"I am afraid that green revolution will destroy small farming communities. Farmers

will become labourless in the fields. They will go to the city and what will they

find in the city? Nothing, because their skill is on the land. The city will become

a squatters' area".

"I would encourage the government to understand what has happened to other countries

adopting the green revolution. Big farming is for profit, not for food. They produce

for business.

"In the Philippines there are hundreds of thousands of hectares planted in cash

crops like pineapple, banana and coffee for export. They don't intend to feed our

people, they intend to feed someone else", said Miranda, a Phillipine national.

"It is definitely not good. First they will go hungry. The green revolution,

chemical-based agriculture, as a strategy is a great failure."

According to Baden Cameron, a consultant with the Ministry of Agriculture, the government's

aim is to achieve development with equity and social justice, through sustainable

economic growth, human development, and the management and use of the country's natural

recources. The secondary goal is to achieve increased agricultural production on

a "sustainable and cost effective basis".

Ministry undersecretary Tong Yves said as Cambodia's population increases by 2.8

per cent a year, the government needed to increase the quantity of rice and crop

yields to feed everyone. "This only means we have to develop agriculture."

The policy not only demanded better rice yields but also to diversify into cash crops

that would replace rice for money, he said.

"Like Saudi Arabia, they have no rice but oil; like Japan, they have industrial

products; like Singapore, which has no rice but they have money to buy rice",

Tong Yves said.

"Big land [holdings] have more advantages [than small land holdings]. We need

to develop agriculture. Now we lack capacity, input, technology and instrastructure.

If we continue to use the methods like today we cannot develop. So we encourage big

scale investment."

"Whoever has the technology and the capacity, and if whatever they do does not

affect the environment, we will give land to them", Yves said.

"When the number of farmers increase, there is pressure put on the land",

Yves said.

Nesbitt said that Cambodia's goal would take long time to realize.

Dr Peter White of the Cambodia-IRRI-Australia project said when the population increased

and the agricultural yields were low, the quantity of fertilizers had to be increased.

He said Cambodia's agriculture was not sustainable.

"You cannot meet the demand without importing fertilizers and it is expensive

and difficult for farmers to do that."

Miranda said food aid was spent on roads, canals, ponds and other "food-for-work"

projects, which tended to drive farmers off the land. "This is not sustainable."

White said traditional farming methods had to be changed to increase productivity.

But he said: "It depends on farmers' positions. If the people in the city become

more wealthy, the farmers want to change too".

When asked how such development could be achieved, White said: "We have to use

fertilizers, we have to grow modern varieties [of crops], we have to change the way

of harvesting to be less labour intensive."

In ten years, the young will go to work in the factories. They would become very

poor and exploited, White said.

"If the government can support the farmers, you can keep some farms and farmers

will be O.K. It is expensive for the government. I don't think the government can

support farmers. Farmers will eventually have to sell their land."

Tong Yves said Cambodia had a lot of abandoned land to be developed. Done properly,

farmers could be helped by bringing in intensive farming and "intergrated social

agriculture."

Robert Nugent, an advisor to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said:

"Continuing strife is the biggest thing that effects sustainability of anything

in Cambodia. Without peace, talk of sustainability is rather like putting the bullock

in the front of the cart. Nothing is sustainable without some hope that you can plan

for the future, which is what sustainability is all about.

"Experts and development agencies have a tendency to assume that a solution

is available apriori; that a solution is known before the problem. The aid community

often imports solutions. Development is full of solutions in search of problems,"

Nugent said.

"This can lead to aid agencies adopting a self justifying approach, what could

be called the Conspiracy of Success. The project can not fail because it starts from

the assumption that the solution is correct therefore if their are any problems they

only exist outside the project," Nugent said.

"It would be tough for development agencies to admit that they might actually

be part of the problem by encouraging and institutionalizing patterns of explanation

that are not sustainable", he said.

"What is not sustainable are institutions that are set up believing in the myths

of modern agriculture, such as pesticides as a solution for food security",

Nugent said.

"The rice farmers will be there long after the buildings of such institutions

are surrounded by weeds at the end of roads no one travels on. A quick trip round

a country like the Philippines is like going on an archeological tour of the ancient

ruins of agricultural development projects, if you are looking for such things."

Christopher Redfern, a senior economist at the World Bank, said the Ministry of Agriculture

will get a $40 million interest-free loan from the Bank to assist in the development

of Cambodian agriculture, livestock raising and management of fisheries. The ADB

has also recently announced a $30m package for the same area.

Redfern said the project, which will start in 1997 for five years, aimed at a comprehensive

program to help the development of small agricultural holdings "to utilize their

important potential for contributing to economic growth."

When asked about the gover-nment's plans for large scale development, Redfern said

he had no comment because he didn't know about that.

White said: "If the money is used well and directed toward how to apply fertilizers,

how to farm efficiently, the increased productivity can ensure the repayment of the

loan. Agriculture can make good returns to pay off the loan."

Miranda suggested the government, international organizations and NGOs talk with

farmers and ensure that secondary crops not be introduced as substitutes for staple

food crops.

Miranda said HEKS would continue to encourage LAMP (Limited Area, Maximum Production)

farming systems and work with up to 100 projects in five provinces over the next

five years. Other NGOs plan to expand their projects similarly.

According to CRS, as most of Cambodia's food is produced from small farmers, efforts

should be concentrated to help these farmers achieve food security by adopting sustainable

agriculture and integrated farming methodologies.

According to It Nody, director of the Agronomy Department, the government will issue

an official policy for NGOs to work through because so far those NGOs have followed

their own way, though he said they had done a good job.

By Naro, head of Ausandan Thmey village, Kompong Chhnang, said recently a Malaysian

company arrived looking for 5,000 hectares to grow cashew nuts. The company intended

leasing farm land and employing the farmers to work for it.

Naro said: "I think it is better they do that than leaving their land unused

because they cannot afford to farm by their own means".

However, FAO's Nugent said: "If the situation in other countries in Asia is

anything to go by, Cam-bodia's 2.8 per cent population growth rate will mean increasing

urbanization and increasing areas of agricultural land that will be lost to rice

production forever".

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