For fear of sunlight: Young Cambodians turn down easy careers in agriculture

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

For fear of sunlight: Young Cambodians turn down easy careers in agriculture

Cambodia's economy is predicted to grow over seven per cent in 2013 and much of it will be due to growth in the agricultural sector, according to the World Bank. In 2011 agriculture accounted for 58 per cent of total employment in Cambodia.

Yet high school graduates seem to ignore the potential of the sector and flock to other majors like accounting, banking, information technology and business.

Mut Sreylis, 21, is in her fourth year of a Major in Agronomy at the Royal University of Agriculture (RUA). She has been offered a job in environment rehabilitation and conservation where she has already been working as an assistant program coordinator for eight months – a most comfortable career start.

“I chose this major because I thought that agriculture is the main sector in our country. I would like to study and work in agriculture, sometimes in the field and sometimes in the office,” she says.

Sreylis is right: There are great job opportunities in agriculture – not only for farmers.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

On May 29, 2013, the Phnom Penh Post quoted Tech Samnang, adviser to the government and former secretary-general of the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia (ACC), who said that Cambodia needed a lot of engineering graduates, particularly in the agricultural sector.

According to the expert, however, most Cambodian youths think that studying agriculture means the same as farming – an extremely common misconception.

Many young and ambitious people therefore believe that there is no future in agriculture, and little income and hard labour instead.

Ngo Bunthan, head of Royal University of Agriculture, regrets that so few high school graduates are interested in the field, though enrollment rates are increasing slightly.

“In the past five years, the number of students enrolling in the university [RUA] has been increasing. But the rate is not the same as the increasing number of high school graduates,” Bunthan says.

However, even if youth had correct perceptions about an agriculture major, there could be a drawback.

Agriculture, like other scientific majors, requires practical knowledge. Gaining experience in the field under the hot sun is inevitable.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Bunthan explains: “Studying agriculture may be difficult for some because students can’t learn theory and use it without practical experience.”

Yet the attractive career chances in agriculture remain.

“By studying agriculture, students have more opportunities to do their internships abroad, join exchange programs and earn scholarships. Most importantly, this subject ensures employment to students: We have never met an unemployed RUA graduate,” says Bunthan.

Kem Ley, a social researcher, also agrees that the job market for students armed with a degree in agriculture is wide, and agriculture-related jobs are always in need.

He explains: “Students from this field enjoy a big scope of employment. They can run their own business, set up a farm and work for private companies and NGOs.”

But the researcher is concerned that the government is not paying enough attention to the sector and its human resource needs.

“The government wants to develop the country so fast that they forget the country’s agricultural background. Cambodians don’t value farmers and believe that industry can produce 10 times more than agriculture can [which is false] and the younger tend to absorb this idea.”

Ley adds: “The agriculture-related job market would expand 10 times if the government encouraged companies to invest in irrigation systems in order to increase the number of businesses in agriculture.”

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