Claims low prices are driving farmers to the brink of survival
Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Kem Sokha, right, and Sam Rainsy at a press conference Wednesday.
THE country's two main opposition parties called Wednesday for immediate government action to help indebted farmers struggling with plummeting produce prices. More than 80 percent of Cambodians rely on farming for their livelihood.
In a joint press conference, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the Human Rights Party (HRP) said the government must act to ensure banks do not confiscate land pledged by farmers as collateral for loans.
They also demanded the government introduce mechanisms to stabilise the prices paid to farmers for their crops.
SRP President Sam Rainsy said that other countries facing this type of situation would undertake similar actions to protect farmers' lands.
"First the debts must be suspended and interest on their loans must also be reduced while we wait on the situation to resolve itself," the two parties stated in a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In the letter, made public at the press conference, they said crop prices had declined between 30 percent to 80 percent for crops such as paddy rice, corn, beans and cassava, plunging farmers into crisis.
Calls for relief
HRP President Khem Sokha said the parties - which have a combined 29 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly - could not keep silent.
Kem Sokha added that farmers in his constituency were borrowing sums of up two million riels at three percent interest and were worried about the coming months.
"We cannot sit and wait while people are suffering - we must act," he said.
"Even though we are the opposition and have no power to decide or to force the banks to act, we do have the right to call on the government to take action."
A recent IMF report noted that inflation in late 2007 through to mid-2008 saw food prices rise sharply - as high as 45 percent year on year in May 2008.
The cost of farming inputs such as fertiliser and diesel also rose, hitting farmers hard.
With thousands of farmers having borrowed to pay for the increased cost of inputs, their land was now at risk since falling produce prices could leave many unable to service loans.
But Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap dismissed the call as an opposition stunt to attract votes ahead of the upcoming council elections. He said the government had already taken steps to alleviate problems for farmers.
"[Prime Minister Hun Sen] has ordered the National Bank of Cambodia to tell banks to provide money to farmers and workers at low interest, and not to confiscate their land," he said.
"We have also ordered the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Agriculture to increase market prices for farmers."