Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Government favours fewer farmers




Government favours fewer farmers

Farmers prepare to plant rice seedlings in Kampot province in 2015. A recent government report proposes policies to absorb workers from the Kingdom’s dwindling agricultural sector.
Farmers prepare to plant rice seedlings in Kampot province in 2015. A recent government report proposes policies to absorb workers from the Kingdom’s dwindling agricultural sector. Pha Lina

Government favours fewer farmers

Pointing to the gradual decline of Cambodians employed in agriculture – from 80 percent in 1990, to 60 percent in 2005, to 40 percent today – a report published on Tuesday on the Ministry of Agriculture’s website declares this process to be both inevitable and healthy if managed correctly.

The report goes on to state that Cambodia should embrace migration of agricultural workers away from farm work, while modernising what remains of the sector, though observers yesterday questioned some of the means recommended.

Among other things, the ministry’s report suggests lobbying foreign countries to accept – or continue accepting – Cambodian migrant workers, while shifting focus to manufacturing and infrastructural improvements.

More controversially, it also suggests encouraging the establishment of economic land concessions (ELCs) for companies that can hire large numbers of people to work on industrial-scale plantations, despite long-standing problems with land disputes and adverse impacts on local economies associated with such ventures.

Ou Virak, head of the Future Forum think tank – which in May touched on the diminishing agriculture sector in an analysis of Cambodian socio-economic changes – said he agreed with the ministry’s embrace of migration.

“Every stakeholder should embrace it and work to make sure that the process is not painful and that the migrants themselves will . . . learn to protect themselves and have access to protection and other supports,” Virak said via email.

Others, however, emphasised the need to export products rather than people.

Moeun Tola, of the labour rights group Central, argued that Cambodia could protect its agricultural sector while industrialising by encouraging entrepreneurs – via tax breaks, for instance – to open factories capable of processing the raw materials harvested by Cambodian farmers. This, said Tola, would diminish production costs, providing an opportunity to raise workers’ wages.

Yang Phirom, a business adviser for the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture and the CEO of Cambodia Organic Farm Enterprise, argued for similar efforts to cut production costs, for instance by opening laboratories that would allow Cambodia to more easily comply with EU-required rice testing for GMOs before exporting the rice.

But Virak, of Future Forum, dismissed arguments that Cambodia should concentrate on exporting agricultural goods, saying they ignored the realities of a global marketplace. “The same countries making this advice are protecting their own agriculture market through different protectionist mechanisms,” he said.

Despite their differences, all three analysts disapproved of the ministry’s enthusiasm for ELCs, which Virak fears will precipitate deforestation. Phirom and Tola opposed ELCs on the grounds that they required farmers to work on company land.

Ministry of Agriculture spokesman Lor Reaksmey declined to comment.

MOST VIEWED

  • Body of woman killed in Bangkok returns

    The Cambodian embassy in Thailand is working to repatriate the body of a casino dealer who was shot dead in Bangkok on Monday night. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesman Kuy Kuong told The Post on Wednesday that officials are preparing paperwork to

  • Chikungunya hits 15 provinces, says gov’t

    Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said on Thursday that the chikungunya outbreak in the Kingdom has spread to 15 provinces. Some 1,700 people are now suspected to have the disease. Vandine urged people to prevent its further spread by eliminating shelters for the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes

  • Gov’t exempts visa A and B holders from Covid fees

    Airline passengers who are diplomats and officials of international organisations holding Type A and B visas for travel to Cambodia are exempted from paying Covid-19 testing fees, said the Ministry of Health in its latest adjustment of rules on Wednesday. Health Minister Mam Bun Heng

  • Bill covering dress code draws ire

    Ministry of Interior secretary of state Ouk Kim Lek responded on Tuesday to criticism concerning a draft law that would ban women from wearing overly revealing clothing, saying that input from all parties will be considered as the law moves through the promulgation process. Several

  • What’s the deal with Cambodia and China’s FTA?

    Cambodia’s Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China kicks off a series of FTAs in future but for now, critics wonder what else the parties could bring to the table apart from what it already has to date By the end of this year, Cambodia

  • Cambodia, Vietnam exchange border maps amid criticism

    Cambodia and Vietnam formally exchanged border maps on Monday despite criticism from former members of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) that the Kingdom is losing land in the deal. The two countries said agreement on the border is 84 per cent complete, leaving