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US-Cambodian farm talks plant seeds of partnership

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More than 45 per cent of Cambodia’s total labour force is directly engaged in the agriculture sector, which accounts for roughly 26 per cent of the gross domestic product. Photo supplied

US-Cambodian farm talks plant seeds of partnership

Some of the biggest names in Cambodian and American agriculture met in Phnom Penh on Wednesday “to dig into the details of the growth potential of Cambodia’s agriculture sector,” in the words of US Ambassador William Heidt.

The first-of-its-kind trade event – the Plenary Session of Business Opportunities in Cambodian Agriculture – was hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia and attended by Cham Nimol, secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce. It was organised by the US Embassy in Phnom Penh.

The session comes as bilateral trade between Cambodia and the US reached $1.9 billion so far this year, a 23 per cent increase over the same period last year.

Agriculture accounts for roughly 26 per cent of the Kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP), and more than 45 per cent of the total labour force is directly engaged in it.

“Cambodian agriculture has enormous potential,” Heidt said, in his opening remarks. “From 2004 to 2012, growth in the sector was 5.3 per cent – one of the fastest in the world."

“Crop yields and agricultural exports increased significantly. And larger, more competitive companies emerged, including many in this room.”

More than 65 Cambodian companies attended the event, including the Mong Reththy Group, Amru Rice, LCH Investment and the Sonatra Farm Company.

“These companies are market leaders and represent the very best in innovation and entrepreneurship,” Heidt said.

The US companies that attended included John Deere, Walmart and Syngenta. “The companies in our delegation have more than a century of experience working with partners in over 130 countries around the world,” he said.

He added that five of the US companies at the event had a combined revenue approaching $760 billion.

Nimol expressed hope that US companies could help Cambodian agriculture overcome obstacles such as limited productivity, low quality and poor supply chain conditions.

She said Cambodia’s livestock and aquaculture production was unsustainable and lamented the Kingdom’s weak export mechanisms and poor sanitation standards.

“I intended to highlight these issues, not to scare off potential investors but to present the opportunities for the delegation to seriously consider a win-win scenario where investment would help Cambodian farmers to not only sustain but grow their incomes,” she said.

Nimol said Cambodia is an active participant in global and regional trade and its exports now reach 147 countries, accounting for 60 per cent of the GDP.

But Heidt pointed out in his remarks that growth in Cambodia’s agriculture sector had slowed in recent years.

A US government report published this year noted that most demands for agricultural necessities such as water pumps, tractors, fertilisers, insecticides and seed come from private agribusiness investors and NGOs. Heidt said American companies could help.

“This delegation builds off more than 10 years of US development assistance to Cambodian agriculture."

“Our assistance initially focused on food security and the production of basic foodstuffs, but it has now shifted to helping Cambodian farmers compete in the regional and international markets.”

At least one Cambodian businessman was convinced by the American sales pitch. Hun Lak, managing director of Mekong Oryza trading Co, told The Post that agriculture was growing rapidly in the Kingdom and his company’s exports were expanding.

“We will discuss more in today’s session about production and market need. So from now on, I believe our agricultural production line will reach a standard where it can meet market demand,” he said.

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