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Hopes grow as agriculture sector gains from initiative

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Vendors prepare stalls to sell fresh vegetables and fruits at a Phnom Penh market. Sahiba Chawdhary

Hopes grow as agriculture sector gains from initiative

AS one of the Kingdom’s main engines of economic growth, the agricultural sector has been drawing increased attention recently from both the government and development partners.

Millions of dollars have been poured into agriculture projects by both the state and international NGOs, investments which are bearing fruit for many of Cambodia’s farmers.

Kean Sophea, deputy director of the Department of Horticulture and Subsidiary Crops at the Ministry of Agriculture, said the funds have brought positive change for thousands of growers across the country.

“There are a lot of changes to the farmers’ livelihood. We noticed that their income is increasing two-fold. Depending on the amount of available funds, we can facilitate a lot of the teamwork and cooperation where farmers can discuss their issues and share experiences to achieve high-quality production,” he said.

However, Sophea said many farmers were reluctant to change their work methods. “Farmers do not like to work based on a structure and keeping records. They like to farm the traditional way.”

In mid-2016, the Ministry of Agriculture announced that it would put $20 million into a three-year initiative to support those growing crops along the Mekong River. The goal of the project was to supply 160 tonnes a day of quality and safe vegetables to local markets.

More than 2,000 crop farmers and 200 rice cooperatives signed up and are still taking part in the project. The program was meant to reinvigorate vegetable farming that followed good agriculture practices (GAP) standards focusing on 13 priority crops including lettuce, chili peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), one of the largest funding partners for the country’s farming sector has, since 1996, given $189.5 million to implement 10 projects.

They help promote the sector, boost human resources, protect farmers from shocks and improve the commodity supply chain.

Meng Sakphouseth, a country program officer at IFAD, said agriculture in Cambodia has been an engine of growth and it still provides an important, albeit decreasing share of rural incomes.

“Poverty rates are dropping fast and are at a historical low. The diversification of the Cambodian economy and transformation of its agriculture sector have been two mutually reinforcing trends over the past two decades. And, they are supported by public policies which promote market-driven growth, open trade and private investments,” he said.

Lach Mom, a vegetable farmer who grows crops on 1.5 hectares in Kampong Thom province, said under the project, her family has seen positive change.

“I receive a lot of support and encouragement from the project managers. They teach us to plant and give us seeds. Now we can easily sell our produce at the market,” she said.

Mom said after joining the project, she earns more than $250 a month.

“Before I planted my crops without knowing the basics, and my production was not good. Now I don’t worry about my farming and am not as concerned about my income as before,” she said.

Chan Sophal, the director at the Centre for Policy Studies, said that implementing agricultural projects is key to help farmers.

“Agricultural projects promote the awareness of farmers to understand technical farming, increase production and income. We are pushing growth in the rice sector as well as the vegetable and animal farming sectors,” he said.

Commercial horticulture has struggled to take root in Cambodia, which as a result imports about 40 percent of its fruits and vegetables at a cost of around $200 million a year.

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