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China to aid farming sector

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A tractor drives through a paddy field in 2016 in Tbong Khmum province. Heng Chivoan

China to aid farming sector

A delegation representing China’s Ministry of Agriculture recently met with counterparts in the Kingdom to discuss bringing in Chinese experts to overhaul the sector.

Minister of Agriculture Veng Sokhon said the move would surely be a boon to the local industry.

“It is time for us to transform our agriculture sector. China will support us with technical and human resources."

“We will be able to increase production and harvests to many times a year rather than just once a year,” he said, adding that Chinese officials were already studying crops and husbandry in some regions.

Both nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in January on modernising the Kingdom’s agriculture sector.

The MoU provides for Chinese teams to conduct studies in 12 Cambodian provinces with the support of local agriculture officials.

Our main challenges are the high costs of production, electricity, transportation, and a shortage of finances, Sakhon said.

“Even though we have the Chinese [experts] to help us, we have to be ready to help ourselves too. We cannot rely on them for everything,” he said, adding that local irrigation systems were still limited.

Many in the sector have decried the Kingdom’s reliance on neighbouring countries as markets for its raw materials.

Sam Vitou, the adviser to agriculture NGO Cedac, said Cambodian products have trouble securing stable prices, because of a lack of planting techniques and strategy to reach the markets.

“Most smallholders just follow each other and do not know how to plant their crops based on proper agricultural techniques,” he said.

Both of the Kingdom’s main crops – cassava and rice – have suffered declining prices of late.

“In order to transform our agriculture products to be valuable in the market, we need the Ministry of Agriculture to provide farmers training on planting techniques and conduct market studies to bring supply closer to demand,” Vitou said.

The state-owned Rural Development Bank provided loans of more than $30 million for four warehouse projects which launched in July. Industry insiders have said the facilities will serve to stabilise the price of paddy, and boost exports.

The Kingdom recorded 635,700 tonnes of rice exports last year, with over 40 per cent going to the EU.

The amount is far behind neighbouring countries like Thailand and Vietnam, which exported a record 11.48 million tonnes and 5.9 million tonnes of rice respectively last year.

The Kingdom produced more than 10 million tonnes of paddy during the 2017-2018 growing season, beyond the government’s target of 9.44 million tonnes. Next year, sights have been set on producing at least 9.73 million tonnes.

Song Saran, the CEO of rice exporter Amru Rice said it is time investors in the sector diversified.

“We still have a lot of space for agricultural cultivation if we compare ourselves to neighbouring countries. We need technicians and human resources to promote the sector, in order to reach our main market destinations such as China and the EU,” he said.

The World Bank said Cambodia’s agricultural growth during the 2013-2014 season had slowed to one per cent. It was previously averaging 5.3 per cent from 2004 to 2012.

Assuming favourable weather conditions, the sector’s growth is expected to be at 1.8 per cent this year, said a forecast from the Asia Development Bank.

Cambodia Rice Federation vice-president Hun Lak said there is a lot of potential for development in the agricultural sector.

“What we have achieved now is solid rice production, but other agricultural products are ripe for growth, especially cassava, corn, cashew nuts, and bananas,” he said.

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