The way forward described by the agricultural experts in your article of June 18
("Agriculture: Cambodia's next frontier") hardly represents a new "frontier"
The products they name that are destined to drive growth are not new agricultural
export crops for Cambodia. Before the war, maize, for instance, was always the third
major export earner and Cambodia had a very healthy market in live beef and buffalo
exports, particularly to Hong Kong.
The glaring omission from their accounts is rubber.
Apart from rice, rubber has been Cambodia's most important and reliable export item
since independence, worth more in foreign exchange earnings than all the maize, soya,
fish, timber and beef exports put together.
When bombs were raining on the countryside in 1973, Cambodia was still exporting
rubber. Democratic Kampuchea exported rubber.
Among all the world's producers of natural rubber, Cambodia is said to produce the
best quality with the highest yield. And this is done without the assistance of foreign
experts or, as far as we know, foreign direct investment.
In fact, it is not only the agricultural experts who seem to know little about the
current status of rubber production.
The general public outside of Kampong Cham province seem to be unaware of the wealth
generated by plantations on over 50,000 hectares of the country's richest arable
They know even less about who owns and manages these plantations.
They know a little about working conditions because rubber plantations always rate
a mention when child labour is an issue. But what of land tenure for the hundreds
of families who tap the trees? What are their rights in relation to the privatization
process already underway at Chup, the country's largest and perhaps finest plantation
and which will be extended to all seven state plantations?
What does this privatisation, conditional on a loan from the World Bank in the early
1990s, mean? Is there to be a public bidding process? Who is monitoring this process?
If the foreign aid banks and major donors genuinely want Cambodia to develop a strong
and independent base for agricultural exports, they will guarantee the general public
both transparency and accountability for processes which they initiate.
Margaret Slocomb - Phnom Penh