Due to consistent efforts in disseminating agricultural techniques aimed at improving yields and securing food, following Cambodia’s move away from the agricultural cooperative model, the sector has seen substantial growth, an increase in rice yields, ensured food security and developed the capability to export.

However, the Kingdom’s agricultural sector faces several challenges. These include limited market access, the potential for declining agricultural prices during harvest season and inadequate local agricultural techniques. 

These factors lead to unsustainable cultivation practices, insufficient investment and working capital for processing agricultural products. Risks associated with climate change and high production costs are significant concerns as well.

To address the challenges, the government has introduced the fifth and sixth priority policies for the agricultural sector. The policies aim to enhance production, find markets and stabilise agricultural prices. This is expected to be achieved through financing programmes and by deploying agricultural officials to communes, promoting the development of modern techniques within communities.

Prime Minister Hun Manet emphasised that these policies are designed to enhance and maximise the country’s agricultural potential, ultimately benefiting farmers. 

“Regardless of what farmers grow or raise, it is crucial to have a market that generates income for them, improving the livelihoods of farmers as a primary objective. This policy aims to increase their revenue. As their income grows, they become a collective force, bolstering our agro-industry and competitiveness,” he stated.

The policies were recently announced by the prime minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina outlined that the policy’s first priority is to provide funding to sustain the production value chain. This involves facilitating market access and ensuring stability in prices. 

Another critical aspect is deploying agricultural officers. The ministry has targeted 1,552 communes, recruiting 1,600 officials, including reserve personnel, based on the specific needs and conditions of the sector.

Tina stated that deploying officials to communes addresses the concerns and challenges voiced by the populace. Although the advancement of cultivation techniques has aided farmers in enhancing crop yields, the ministry acknowledges the necessity of providing more refined cultivation methods to further aid farmers in decreasing costs and boosting profitability.

“When we have commune officials, we can undertake targeted actions. It’s akin to tailoring a shirt based on the shape. Thus, the commune agriculture officials possess the ability and capacity to feedback information, allowing us to analyse techniques and determine ways to minimise costs effectively,” he added.

Tina explained that reform extends beyond placing experts in communes. A key component of the policy is the creation of modern agricultural communities, a significant reform introducing contemporary practices, achieving an economic scale competitive with neighbouring countries.

“Currently, we farm on small land sizes, and the costs remain high. Even with guidance from agricultural officials, the cost reduction is only partial; a portion can no longer be decreased. However, if there is an agricultural community with a larger cultivation area, then investment in agricultural production will be more cost-effective,” he said.

Progress and strategies in agriculture

Yang Poeu, secretary-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC), mentioned that the government’s priority policy, particularly in the agricultural sector, is commendable as it aligns with the country’s current challenges and the need for solutions. 

However, he emphasised that the execution to date has not yielded significant outcomes, as the newly introduced policies are still in the early stages of implementation, necessitating a period of observation.

“The provision of skills to 1.5 million young people, along with the deployment of agricultural officials, is just the beginning. Therefore, the results are not immediately evident, so we must observe the progress over time,” he stated.

Yang Saing Koma, secretary of state at the ministry, noted that the government’s fifth priority policy programme for the sector includes a budget package starting at $100 million. 

He said the funds are allocated for timely intervention to purchase products from farmers, with the primary aim of stabilising the prices of crops like rice, Keo Romeat mango, Pailin longan, cashews, cassava, corn and other products as required. However, the allocated budget is flexible and can be adjusted according to needs.

“Specific measures will be implemented through various strategies aimed at preventing drastic price fluctuations, with other measures focusing on interventions to stabilise prices in the event of significant variations,” he stated.

Saing Koma believes the most effective approach to managing costs is to regulate supply according to demand. The state could also implement a temporary stockpile system to intervene in agricultural costs when necessary.

He said that measures like production contracts could be utilised as well.

Another key policy initiative for the sector is the deployment of technical officers to all communes engaged in agricultural activities nationwide. The government aims to boost productivity and assist farmer families in enhancing their products and incomes, bringing services directly to the grassroots level.

“Across the country, we have 1,550 communes involved in agriculture, with a significant number, around 1,000, known for their rice production, supporting approximately 2 million farmers,” he stated.

He added that the officers are typically graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher, possessing experience in agriculture and related skills. Their expertise is crucial in aiding local authorities, especially at the commune level, to undertake crucial activities. 

These include assisting farmers and farming communities, establishing links within the production chain and boosting the economic efficiency of production. The aim is to reduce costs, increase competitiveness and ultimately improve the livelihoods and incomes of farmers.

Growth in modern farming communities

According to Saing Koma, the establishment of modern farming communities forms a part of the sixth priority policy, addressing challenges like a lack of capital, insufficient human resources for effective leadership and management, limited access to advanced production techniques, inability to fully capitalise on market opportunities in terms of quantity, quality and pricing and the heightened risks posed by climate change.

He explained that modern farming communities are characterised by the requirement for farmers to join in joint production and engage in high-level professional management to improve market competitiveness. 

This involves collective purchasing, production, sales and management by the community. Profit distribution is proportional among members based on their shares, operating under the principles of voluntary, open and non-discriminatory participation.

He explained that implementing the modern farming community concept provides two options. 

The first involves the community leasing farming land or contracting crops from member farmers for joint production, with members earning from land or plantation rent, community profits and wages. 

The second option allows member farmers to contribute their production land or crops as shares in the community for joint production, with members receiving dividends from community profits and additional wages from the modern agricultural community.