Prime Minister Hun Manet officially launched the government’s 5th and 6th Priority Policy Programmes to boost the agriculture sector on November 20. The government has released $100 million in loans for the sector.
The programmes are part of the newly launched Phase One of the Pentagonal Strategy. The two priorities focus on agricultural production, market expansion, maintaining the balance of agricultural costs and prices and the stationing of agriculture officials in several target communes, as well as the modernisation of agricultural communities.
“The political programmes of the fifth and sixth priorities aim to further boost and unlock the full potential of our agriculture sector. Far from leaving agricultural land lying idle, we introduced these policies to strengthen and capitalise on the potential to increase the yields of our farmers,” said Manet.
He added that the market for agricultural products is no different from other markets. It is extremely competitive, so agricultural techniques need to be constantly updated to increase productivity, reduce costs and ensure that market demands are met.
“When it comes to agriculture, we always talk about the balance between consumers and producers. This balance is what the government has to get right, in order to ensure more benefits for farmers and keep prices stable on the market. We must consider the positions of producers and consumers,” he continued.
The prime minister added that in a wider geopolitical context, although the world economy is difficult to predict, Cambodia cannot give up or ignore the development of agriculture, which serves as its “rice pot”. Just as it seeks to modernise the industrial sector from labour-intensive industries to technical skills-based ones, the government has the same obligation to modernise traditional labour-based agriculture to technical skills-based agriculture.
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina explained at the launch ceremony that keeping agricultural prices stable was one of the main priorities of the agriculture ministry. The ministry intended to help farmers by intervening in markets in a timely manner, in order to help them curb a flood in supply which could lead to farmers experiencing drastic price falls a short time period.
He added that this year, the ministry – in collaboration with the Ministry of Civil Service and the Ministry of Economy and Finance – will hold exams in the second week of December to select 250 agricultural officials who will be deployed to communes in 17 provinces.
He explained that the target provinces – Takeo, Kampong Speu, Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, Battambang, Kampot, Pursat, Prey Veng, Preah Vihear, Tbong Khmum, Svay Rieng, Oddar Meanchey, Kandal and Mondulkiri – have been selected for their potential for high quality crop production.
“All of the assigned officials will be permanently based in local areas, so they can build connections with farmers in the area and their livelihoods. They will gather information about the agricultural products that are produced there and provide information to the ministry. They will also be able to refer farmers’ requests for intervention directly to us so we can intercede in a timely manner,” he said.
The minister added that since 2003, Cambodia has organised 1,251 agricultural communities, representing over 170,000 individuals. Of them, he considered 217 to be “strong”. Between them, they had more than $26 million in capital, or about $20,000 per community. Many of the communities are currently facing a broad range of challenges, including a lack of capital or leadership, loans, production chains, production volume, or high production costs.
“We have a vision of creating modern agricultural communities that highly integrated. This type of community will bring farmers together under the same production mechanisms, so they can act as a strong agricultural economic enterprise. These communities will have the capacity to compete for quantity, quality and prices and meet sustainable market demand,” he said.
Tina explained that the modern agricultural communities would provide many benefits, with their members receiving technical support, modern production infrastructure, counselling, business management, low-interest loans, production contracts, and reduced risks from climate change. The farmers would also enjoy reduced production costs and increased profits, through economies of scale.
He said that as the first stage, the ministry will implement modern agriculture communities for strategic crops such as vegetables, rice, cashews and pepper.
Manet instructed the agriculture ministry to ensure that the recruitment of agriculture officials for the communes must be based on transparency and integrity. He said around 10,000 students had so far applied for the posts, while the actual need is just 250.
“We have to ensure their applications are reviewed in a transparent manner, and ensure that those who are the best qualified are appointed. Those who pass should be employed, and those who fail must accept that they are not qualified for the position. An agriculture official must serve as an effective agent who can see the overall issues of their respective posts,” he said.
To those who had applied for the positions, Manet said that should they be appointed, they must try their best to serve the farmers in their communities with their whole hearts, not just to get a state job and state salary.
Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) vice-president Lim Heng viewed the government’s agriculture policies as crucial to the reform and modernisation of the Kingdom’s agriculture production chains.
“I see the policies as ways to ensure food security and improve economic effectiveness, mitigate the impact of climate change, expand markets, increase farmers’ incomes, and reduce the expense of consumers across the country. They will achieve this through maintaining stable prices and contributing to poverty reduction, as well as supporting the national economy as a whole,” Heng said.
Hun Lak, a businessman in the agriculture sector, believed that the policies laid out by the new government hit the nail on the head, as they focus on human resources and access to loans.
“Human and financial resources are vital, because if there is only policy and no real capital, the policies cannot be implemented,” he said.
“I am interested in the points which focus on boosting agriculture activities, markets and stabilising prices, all of which are important. Also important are the announced loans, which will attract people who are involved in the agriculture sector,” he added.
According to the official policy documents, more funding could be released should it become necessary to purchase crops from farmers. This included rice, mango, Pailin longan, cassava, cashew and corn, among others.
In his preface to the policy document, Manet explained that agriculture has been the root of Cambodian culture and tradition for a long time. It has rescued people from starvation and ensured the Kingdom’s food security, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.