The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has announced a partnership with Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Environment to launch the Public-Social-Private Partnerships for Ecologically-Sound Agriculture and Resilient Livelihood in Northern Tonle Sap Basin (PEARL).

The initiative aims to bolster agricultural practices, promote environmental harmony and ensure climate-resilient livelihoods for approximately 450,000 inhabitants in the region.

The collaboration was unveiled during an October 27 workshop in Phnom Penh, aiming to gather further insights and detail the PEARL project’s objectives, measures and six-year implementation plan.

Rebekah Bell, FAO’s representative to Cambodia, stated that PEARL is fundamentally a Cambodian initiative, arising from the government’s collaborative efforts with multiple relevant institutions.

“This project does not belong to FAO. We are merely facilitating Cambodia’s access to a grant from the Green Climate Fund [GCF],” she explained.

She added that the scheme would elevate the quality of the country’s agricultural products and improve the livelihoods of up to 450,000 farmers, roughly three per cent of the national population.

She said the project will grant small-scale farmers the chance to cultivate high-value commercial crops, including mangoes, cashews, organic milled rice and leafy vegetables.

“The project supports numerous smallholders reliant on agricultural produce. Our aim is not just to ensure access to the project but to enhance market opportunities and utilise resources efficiently to mitigate vulnerabilities from climate change,” she said.

During a video conference, Green Climate Fund (GCF) representative Marc Dumas-Johansen emphasised the importance of the northern region of the basin.

He noted that the grant’s intention is to foster resilience in the region, focusing on augmenting biodiversity and increasing the production of high-value crops, while simultaneously preserving biodiversity.

Ken Serey Ratha, head of the environment ministry’s General Directorate of Environmental Knowledge and Information, deemed PEARL a crucial project, countering three contemporary crises: Covid-19, geopolitical tensions and climate change.

“This project benefits Cambodia as a whole. I’m eager to collaboratively oversee its six-year development,” he said.

Agriculture ministry secretary of state Yang Saing Koma linked PEARL to the government’s aspiration of elevating the Kingdom to an upper-middle-income economy by 2030 and achieving a high-income status by 2050.

He said the project aligns with the ministry’s four strategic priorities: production chain and market value; countrywide deployment of 1,600 commune agriculture officials; farmer association and community cluster organisation management; and sustainable natural resource management.

“This project will augment farmers’ capabilities. We’re aiming to offer various capital investments to agricultural communities and bridge the production and value systems with relevant stakeholders,” he explained.

The environment ministry said earlier this year that PEARL was created through their collaboration with the agriculture ministry and other relevant bodies, under FAO’s technical guidance and with financial backing from the GCF.

The project has a budget of roughly $43 million – $36.2 million from a GCF grant and $6.6 million from a shared fund created by the involved ministries and the FAO.

According to the environment ministry, the initiative targets farmers in the Tonle Sap Lake’s northern regions, notably in Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey provinces.