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Worker exodus to affect output

Rice farmers harvest their crop in Battambang province
Rice farmers harvest their crop in Battambang province earlier this year. Hun Sen says farmers need to change their old, labour-intensive methods of farming by using modern technology. Heng Chivoan

Worker exodus to affect output

Agriculture workers have been steadily leaving the sector to pursue other kinds of employment, dropping its labour participation to 48.7 per cent in 2013, with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries stating in a yearly report, that this worrying trend could impact the nation’s agricultural output.

The report, released at the ministry’s yearly review meeting last week, stated that agricultural workers were moving to urban centres in Cambodia or even abroad seeking non-agricultural jobs. The drop in agricultural labour was sizeable, considering it was 57.6 per cent in 2009, and 54.8 per cent in 2010.

“The current trend of migrant workers moving from rural areas to the city or abroad is rising. Labour in the industrial sector was around 15.8 per cent in 2009, 16.9 per cent in 2011 and continued to rise to 19.9 per cent in 2013,” the report read.

Speaking at the annual review meeting, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the agriculture sector continues to be an important pillar of economic growth and will continue to be so despite Camboida’s increasing diversification on the economic front.

“The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as well as farmers across the country, must try to find ways to increase output and bring costs to the lowest. Doing so, we will get the [desired] amount of agricultural products, particularly rice, as well as help increase incomes for farmers,” Hun Sen said.

He added that farmers need to change their old, labor intensive methods of farming, and use mechanisation and modern technology to counter the rising costs of labour.

Yang Saing Koma, president of Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, said this fall in agricultural workers could be worse than what is stated in the report, with the government failing to take any action or put into place any measures to stem this outward flow of labour.

“It is negative not only for agriculture sector, but also it is negative to the nation as a whole, since agriculture sector is the main sector of the national economy,” he said.

Saing Koma added that it was integral for Cambodia to maintain its production levels, or else it would result in the country having to import agricultural products, affecting revenues and the economy.

“It’ll [economy] be affected and seriously impacted in the future. The government has to intervene strongly so that we are able to compete with them [neighbouring countries] in the future,” Saing Koma said.

Srey Chanthy, independent econnomist, said falling labour participation in the agriculture sector was a normal evolution, as labour begins to gravitate towards industry and service sector jobs.

The government needs to contribute to increasing industrial development, he said, which would help increase mechanisation in the agriculture sector, enabling farmers to compensate for this loss of labour.

“In the agriculture sector, If the government can make available relevant resouces, in effective ways, by using machinary this will not be a serious problem,” Chanthy said.

According to the report, agriculture contributed around 28.7 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product in 2014. Whereas, the industrial and services sectors contributed 25.5 per cent and around 40.5 per cent, respectively.

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