The government has earmarked nearly $200 million to fund the Agriculture Services Programme for an Inclusive Rural Economy and Agricultural Trade (ASPIRE-AT) running from 2023-2027, with the main focus on building the value chains of six agricultural products, according to the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
ASPIRE-AT followed the original Agriculture Services Programme for Innovation, Resilience and Extension (ASPIRE), which ran from 2015 to 2022 with a focus on the introduction of modern agricultural technologies and methods to foster climate-change resilience.
The funding for ASPIRE-AT was announced just before the departure of a Cambodian delegation led by finance ministry secretary of state Vongsey Visoth for the 46th meeting of the Board of Governors of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome, Italy. The UN’s rural development agency will provide a concessional loan of $47.9 million for the project.
The programme to support local economies through ASPIRE-AT aims to reduce poverty and vulnerabilities in rural Cambodia through building climate change resilience and stimulating the growth of agriculture inclusively and sustainably.
The programme covers the entire country and seeks to develop value chains in six agricultural produce areas: vegetables, chickens, cassava, cashew nuts, fresh fruit and fruit processing.
At the meeting, Visoth will sign financing agreements for ASPIRE-AT with IFAD president Alvaro Lario, worth a total of $194 million with $47.9 million as a concessional loan.
Visoth is due to address the meeting, emphasising Cambodia’s stance on the efficiency of past cooperation and the Kingdom’s vision for the strategic direction of IFAD in the short and medium terms.
IFAD supported the previous seven-year ASPIRE programme which was funded at $86.25 million, with IFAD contributing $ 53.4 million of the total. That programme came to an end in 2022 and was soon reauthorised as ASPIRE-AT, with a renewed focus on trade, by Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina.
Following his February 2 meeting with Jyotsna Puri, associate vice-president of IFAD’s strategy and knowledge department, Tina said ASPIRE-AT will help stimulate the Kingdom’s rural economies through inclusive and sustainable agricultural growth, based on both export and domestic markets.
“I hope that ASPIRE-AT, supported by IFAD, will further improve the livelihoods of Cambodian farmers, just as the recently completed ASPIRE programme did,” he said.
In a tweet on February 4, the minister recalled that IFAD was the first international organisation to work with Cambodia`when the country was still reeling from internal conflict.
“Now, we are committed to raise our annual contribution to IFAD and to support IFAD in their endeavour,” he said in reference to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision to increase the Kingdom’s contribution from $600,000 to $1 million per year from 2025-2028.
Ky Sereyvath, an economics researcher at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the original ASPIRE programme had made a positive impact on Cambodia’s agriculture.
However, he said the next step is for more individual farmers to become organised as agricultural cooperatives to fully take advantage of the new ASPIRE-AT programme.
“What we should do in the next stage is to form more agricultural cooperatives, which are easy to manage, provide technical materials to, and garner support from markets for,” he said.