Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina has shown support for a Japanese-backed plan to grow culantro (Eryngium foetidum L) in net houses – in line with Tokyo’s standards – for export to the East Asian island nation, the agriculture ministry reported.

This came during a February 21 working meeting at the agriculture ministry between Tina and representatives of companies identified as Maru Co Ltd, “CJCG Co Ltd” and “AFP Bank Subsidiary”, at least one of which is Japanese, according to a ministry statement on the same day.

Culantro – sometimes mistaken for cilantro – is a flavourful herb with characteristically long, serrated leaves that is native to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

Tina affirmed that the ministry stands ready to support the project and ensure its success, as Cambodian agricultural exports continue to show a high rate of positive results.

The ministry will smooth interactions between the farmers and companies, providing technical and technological assistance as well as investment guarantees while ensuring markets for produce during harvest season, in a bid to foster mutual trust, he added.

According to a ministry report, in the first 11 months of 2022, Cambodia exported 5.222 million tonnes of agricultural products, just 88.33 tonnes of which were under the “assorted vegetables” category, shipped exclusively to France and New Zealand.

Although separate figures were not immediately available, other statistics provided by the report suggest that the southwestern Pacific country accounted for fewer than 10kg.

The “assorted vegetables” category consists of cucumber, cabbage, choy sum, broccoli, cauliflower and similar, and excludes popular Cambodian crops that may be considered vegetables in the culinary sense. Notable examples of excluded items are: legumes including mung beans and soybeans; grains such as corn and rice; spices like peppercorn and chilli peppers; and cassava.

Sok Yorn, vice-president of the Siem Reap province-based Cambodia Safe Fish, Meat and Vegetables Association (CSFMVA), told The Post on February 21 that high levels of market competition – in part due to produce smuggled from bordering countries – compounded by a lack of demand has brought the share of positive trends in vegetable cultivation to near nil.

He stressed that large-scale investments and contract farming are required to boost the cultivation of vegetables to a desirably high extent while making certain that the produce is in step with quality and related standards.

This in turn will instil confidence among farmers in the stability of prices and markets, including during the harvest, he said, noting that historically, a lack of buyers would condemn crops to rot.

“Contract farming” refers to entry into pre-harvest agreements between buyers and farmers on agricultural production with established conditions, generally regarding product types, prices, quantities, quality and other standards.

“Cambodia has relatively suitable climates and soil qualities for cultivation. Thus, more investment will help create more jobs and take farmers’ incomes to another level,” Yorn said.

And ensuring sustainable vegetable exports will necessitate contract farming, the formation of agricultural cooperatives, ample seed supply, and the adoption of advanced cultivation techniques and technologies, he opined.

Yorn shared that the CSFMVA is scheduled on February 28 to meet South Korean companies to examine the possibility of exporting a number of products to their home market.

Cambodia Association of Travel Agents president Chhay Sivlin recently commented to The Post that investing in growing quality vegetables and adhering to food safety principles would not only improve the wellbeing of locals, but also constitute a part of international tourism promotion campaigns.

She warned that a reputation for low-quality vegetables or food would put off foreigners from visiting, but noted that an increase in tourists would boost demand for veggies, translating into extra income for growers’ families.

“Whether consumed locally or exported, we truly want the quality of Cambodian vegetables to be recognised and trusted,” Sivlin said.