Since its launch in 2015, the Agriculture Services Programme for Innovation, Resilience and Extension (ASPIRE) project – which focused on the introduction of modern agricultural techniques that are resilient to climate change – has benefited 144,000 farming households across Cambodia.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) launched ASPIRE with its initial operational period running from 2015 to 2022.

In light of the achievements, the ministry and the UN’s rural development agency have extended the programme. Now known as ASPIRE and Agricultural Trade (ASPIRE-AT), the project will now focus on linking farmers’ agricultural products to markets.

Minister Dith 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.

It is expected that the programme will benefit 125,000 smallholder farmers who live at or near the poverty line, as they are vulnerable to climate change, agricultural market shifts and other factors that are difficult for them to predict or control. Around 50 per cent of its beneficiaries are women, 20 per cent are young people and 1.5 per cent are members of indigenous communities, according to the ministry.

“I hope that ASPIRE-AT, supported by the IFAD, will further improve the livelihoods of Cambodian farmers, just as the recently completed ASPIRE programme did,” he said following a meeting with Jyotsna Puri, associate vice-president of the IFAD’s Strategy and Knowledge Department.

Puri and Reehana Raza – IFAD regional director for Asia and the Pacific – led a delegation on a recent visit to Cambodia where they also met Prime Minister Hun Sen to discuss investments that will promote inclusive and sustainable growth post-pandemic, especially through “priority export and domestic value chains”.

The delegation also met with Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth; Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology Lim Kean Hor; Minister of Rural Development Ouk Rabun; and other key partners from the UN.

“From our experience in Cambodia, we know that there is great potential for small-scale farmers to become more resilient and make measurably significant contributions to economic growth,” Puri was quoted as saying in the IFAD’s February 7 press release.

“This will require, among other things, investments in infrastructure, building value chains, irrigation facilities, creating markets and ensuring access to financial services. Additionally the private sector and farmer organisations must also play their role,” she added.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) launched ASPIRE with its initial operational period running from 2015 to 2022. AGRICULTURE MINISTRY

According to the press release, Cambodia’s poverty rate had climbed to 18 per cent, up from 10 per cent in 2019, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as increases in the prices of fuel and fertiliser and disruptions to supply chains caused by the ongoing Ukraine conflict.

Puri said that with innovation and improved use of mobile technology, rural families in Cambodia can build safer, healthier and more secure lives with improved livelihoods – not just for themselves, but for the rest of the population.

“As an IFI [international financial institution] and a UN organisation, IFAD is well-positioned to support the government in its planned growth trajectories, while ensuring no one is left behind,” she said.

She announced that over the next decade, IFAD aims to contribute to a sustainable rural economy and ensure that benefits reach the most marginalised communities.

IFAD regional director Raza said Cambodia’s smallholder farmers today face multiple challenges, including volatile food and fuel prices and the effects of climate change.

“Our goal is to enable small-scale farmers, and especially rural youth, to become more productive by improving their access to productive assets and skills, enabling them to earn increased, sustainable incomes while reducing their vulnerability to climate and other shocks,” she said.

Chan Sophal, director of the Centre for Policy Studies and an adviser to ASPIRE-AT, said the project will help attract investment in much-needed equipment such as warehouses and drying facilities for agricultural products.

He said it will also study the feasibility of providing loans to farmers to invest in their plantations, such as financing for mesh greenhouses to boost vegetable production and other material assistance to enable them to plant crops with fewer losses and better yields.

“The project will centre on linking agricultural production to markets, as well as helping individual farmers. We’ll focus on smallholder farmers organised as agricultural cooperatives,” he added.

According to IFAD, since 1996, it has helped finance 12 rural development programmes and projects in the country for a total investment of $950.48 million, of which $309.08 million came from IFAD’s own resources. These investments have benefited over 1.56 million households in Cambodia.