Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 6 vowed to send experts to Timor-Leste to inspect soil conditions and other environmental factors in connection with a major undertaking to boost the ASEAN observer state’s agricultural production.

The pledge comes at the request of Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao – Timor-Leste’s first post-independence president from 2002-2007 – at a meeting with Hun Sen. According to the premier, Gusmao asked him for help in the agricultural domain, specifically to reduce food imports.

This was relayed to reporters following the meeting by Hun Sen’s personal assistant Eang Sophalleth, who noted that Gusmao – who also held the prime ministerial post from 2017-2015 – expressed his gratitude to the Cambodian government for its hand in supporting Timor-Leste’s journey to ASEAN membership as well as its Covid-19 battle.

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries spokeswoman Im Rachna on May 7 affirmed that the ministry will work with Timor-Leste officials on the undertaking discussed at the meeting as well as other agricultural matters.

She commented that the project is not the first of its kind, and that the Kingdom has teamed up with other countries on similar endeavours, such as Cuba.

“The ministry and the private sector are working with Cuban counterparts to assist Cuba in the development of human resources and agricultural technologies and methods, especially in the field of rice,” Rachna said.

The Timor-Leste economy is largely dependent on the extraction of oil reserves from the Timor Sea which – as per its tourism ministry – account for as much as 80 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). These revenues allow the island nation to invest in roads, electricity, and other key infrastructure and services.

Agriculture too is a crucial economic sector for the former Portuguese colony, which the ministry says employs more than half of the population. The government has set improving agricultural and fisheries production as a top priority, in a bid to ensure food security and stem excessive imports.

Cambodia Rice Federation president Chan Sokheang sees the agricultural tie-up with Timor-Leste as a mutually beneficial alliance, reflecting on the Kingdom’s transformation from a nation grappling with food shortages and weak local supply chain linkages, to one that produces enough food to feed its population with extra to export as well.

“We can share all those experiences with Timor-Leste and help promote agriculture in the country. We’re also looking for investment opportunities for the private sector,” he said.