"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
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
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
"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
"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",
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
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,"
"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",
"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
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