The Cambodian agro-food industry, even as a significant driver of economic growth, continues to be troubled by a collection of pressing issues, according to Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon on October 3.

The minister was speaking on the first of the three-day hybrid-format Vienna Food Safety Forum (VFSF) 2022, held at the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) headquarters in the Austrian capital, according to a statement posted on his official Facebook page.

Although the agro-food industry represents a vital bridge between farmers or producers and end users, development in the area is undermined by: limited access to modern and appropriate processing equipment and other machinery, technologies and support infrastructure; insufficient sustainability in raw material management; and a lack of public awareness of food-safety standards or sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) matters, Sakhon said.

“Food security is a major concern and a challenging aspect for developing countries like Cambodia,” the minister stressed.

However, the government has made strides in the field of information exchange, harnessing modern solutions of the digital age, he said, sharing that a sizeable share of local food-related data is now managed by quick response (QR) code- and blockchain-based technologies, and that a transition to e-phytosanitary certificates is underway.

Sakhon also brought up the launch of digital monitoring and tracking systems for fisheries products, as well as mobile apps guiding the safe use of pesticides that highlight the adverse effects of the pest-control substances.

“The Royal Government of Cambodia has taken great care to address these challenges, providing loads of incentives for investment in agriculture – including crop production, animal husbandry and aquaculture, along with post-harvest processing and packaging,” he added.

To this end, he said, the government has in recent years worked to steward the agricultural modernisation process to prop up domestic value chains at all levels, with food safety and international export standards as top priorities.

Speaking in the statement, UNIDO director-general Gerd Muller said the VFSF 2022 is a joint platform to brainstorm clear, effective and timely solutions to the world’s crises of hunger, malnutrition and of food security and safety.

The German politician called on UNIDO member states to boost efficiency of production processes, adopt modern agricultural technologies and improve the associated infrastructure, incorporating quality, food-safety and climate-change considerations.

Hun Lak, veteran agricultural expert and chairman of the Cambodia Rice Federation, the Kingdom’s apex rice industry body, told The Post on October 4 that the agro-food industry has seen marked growth over the past decade, underpinned by a continual stream of investment in cultivation, processing and packaging, albeit relatively small in scale individually.

With demand growing every day, agro-food producers and processors must look to further expand their operations and overall scale, he stressed.

On the other hand, new large-scale projects would provide a shot in the arm for the industry, given their association with cutting-edge machinery and technologies, skilled workers, and reduced production costs and wasted time, Lak asserted.

“The government has already put in place policies to improve productivity, quality and sanitary standards, it’s just that the implementation hasn’t been so good. With fuller implementation, coupled with more large-scale investments, the agro-food industry in Cambodia would surely progress faster,” he said.

According to figures recently published by the agriculture ministry based on exporters’ invoices, the Kingdom exported nearly $2.709 billion worth of agricultural goods in the first eight months of 2022.