The Cambodian government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, is committed to promoting agricultural diversification as part of its battle against Covid-19 in order to maintain a stable business environment and people's livelihoods during the health crisis.

The commitment was made during a virtual roundtable meeting of the agriculture ministers of Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Vietnam and East Timor on April 23, hosted by the World Bank and co-chaired by its director of Development Policy and Partnerships Mari Pangestu.

The meeting – attended by representatives of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), ASEAN General Secretariat and a number of other national and international organisations – was on the 2030 Food System under the theme "Building Back Better" in the Asia-Pacific region.

Attendees discussed issues and explore priority options and actions to ensure the sustainability of food and nutrition security in the region.

Cambodian agriculture minister Veng Sakhon, who co-chaired the meeting, said in a keynote address that the government had already prepared plans and policies as part of its fight against Covid-19 in order to maintain the people's livelihoods and ensure businesses can survive during this tough time.

"The Cambodian government has launched a cash handout programme for rural infrastructure development to address unemployment and provide allowances for workers and poor families.

"The government also helps find [alternative] jobs for [suspended] workers through the National Employment Agency, introduce low-interest lending programmes for small and medium-sized enterprises, and provide additional resources for increased food production and tax exemptions," he said. "

Sakhon said the agriculture ministry, in the meantime, had been implementing the Covid-19 Emergency Response Project under the Cambodian Agricultural Diversification Project, which supports co-financing from the World Bank.

"Cambodia still has some challenges in agricultural development to address, especially low agricultural productivity and unresolved market competition for agricultural products, which has posed difficulties for farmers," he said.

He added, however, that in the context of the pandemic, the ministry has focused on a number of key areas in response to these challenges, including promoting the development of rice, aquaculture and industrial crops as well as improving productivity, quality and safety to supply the needs and consumption of the local market.

"The ministry has prepared a food production plan in line with the 2030 agriculture master plan and promote the implementation of its action plan to increase food production [vegetables, fruits, fish, meat] to meet domestic demands during the Covid-19 outbreak.