Cambodia's rice industry remains hindered by the size of cultivation land and an absence of domestic milling facilities as well as irrigation, according to an Asia Development Bank (ADB) report launched this week.
The ADB’s study, released Tuesday and titled Improving Rice Production and Commercialization in Cambodia, states that Cambodia’s average rice yield ranks the lowest among almost all Southeast Asian nations.
Cambodian rice yields currently stand at 3.3 tonnes per hectare, according to the report, which took into account survey results from 750 households across 18 communes in Battambang, Kampong Thom and Takeo provinces.
Meanwhile, Vietnam produces around 6.2 tonnes per hectare, Indonesia produces about 5.7 tonnes, the Philippines 4.3 tonnes, Laos 4.1 tonnes, and Thailand 3.5 tonnes per hectare.
“Area cultivated by farm/farm size is [the] most important determinant of improved production and commercialization,” the report, which was presented in Phnom Penh by ADB country director Eric Sidgwick on Tuesday, states.
The study concludes that agricultural productivity in Cambodia would increase with strengthened land titling and skills development efforts from the Cambodian government, and improved access to finance, which in turn could prompt investment in irrigation and domestic milling.
“In our meeting just last week with the private sector, the same issues have been raised. We cannot solve all the problems at once,” Hean Vann Horn, deputy director general of the General Directorate of Agriculture, said yesterday.
“But the government has been focusing on a more long term action plan, of which increasing rice production has been prioritised, followed by paddy collection and processing, simplified rice exporting processes and finally market planning,” Horn reasoned.
Horn said that the foremost challenge for the industry is the lack of capital for exporters to stock paddy rice. As a direct consequence, paddy flows to neighbouring countries more rapidly as farmers scramble for finances during the harvest.
According to the ADB report, 44 per cent of respondents said they had no access to irrigation systems. Meanwhile, only 14 per cent said they had access to high-yield rice seeds and only five per cent said they were aware of regional and even domestic market prices.
Srey Chanthy, independent economist, said the ADB report’s findings were not surprising and represent the same issues that have been plaguing Cambodia’s rice industry for almost two decades.
“If we thought we had all the answers, then why is the issue still there? We have to ask how policy is being implemented,” Chanthy said, adding that little domestic revenue is spent on strengthening the agriculture sector.
Chanthy said improving knowledge and skills in farming should be the first priority for the Cambodian government. He called for commercial banks and microfinance institutions to increase the amount of credit available to the fledgling industry from an estimated $800 million to more than $1 billion.