Cambodia would run the risk of food shortages if the agricultural sector cannot support the economy during the Covid-19 pandemic, a senior National Assembly (NA) member said.
Loy Sophat, the chairman of the NA’s Committee for Agriculture, Rural Development, Environment and Water Resources, made the remarks at the 9th National Farmers’ Forum entitled Smallholder Farmers in the Context of Covid-19 in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.
“If we have less knowledge, we cannot expand Cambodia’s agricultural sector. In the Covid-19 crisis, without agriculture supporting the economy, Cambodia will be at high risk of [not being able to] supply local food, including vegetables, fish and meat,” he said.
Sophat said general farmers – especially smallholder farmers – should change their views and habits about production and processing. He said they should increase their skills and processing techniques to add value to products according to market demand.
Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) president Song Saran said while some parts of the agricultural sector were severely affected by competition during the pandemic, there is room for the Kingdom’s agricultural sector to prepare for competition as well as export.
Saran pointed out that while some commodities have been strongly affected in terms of prices because of limited processing capability, some crops – like rice – have seen an increase in price.
“Rice has improved because we have the infrastructure for processing and packaging which increased exports and fetched better prices. But for some of our agricultural products, we have to export raw materials, such as mangoes and cashews,” Saran said.
According to Saran, small farmers with less than 1ha of land could not continue to harvest rice during the pandemic. He said farmers should switch to growing other crops which can be sold quickly.
Yan Sreyyat, a representative of Women Farmer Champions, said market information on agricultural products and agricultural techniques has not been widely spread to farmers. There is also climate-related challenges to worry about, she said.
“We need to strengthen mutual understanding between farmers and stakeholders to mitigate the effects of climate change now and in the future,” Sreyyat said.
Tek Vannara, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said 392 national and international organisations are actively working with farmers, government institutions and other development partners.
Vannara said his organisation has been working with farmers and relevant parties to find solutions for the agricultural sector.