The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) offices in Cambodia and countries in the Asia-Pacific region participated in a four-day virtual conference recently to respond to the “twin pandemics” of Covid-19 and hunger facing the region.
Dealing with Covid-19 has led to setbacks in the fight to end hunger and malnutrition, the FAO said.
In a press release, it said the Asia-Pacific region is home to more than half of the world’s undernourished citizens, and partly due to Covid-19, the number of hungry people in Southern Asia is projected to rise by nearly a third to 330 million by 2030.
According to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, 2030 is also the deadline set by the global community to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in all its forms.
The press release said government representatives from Cambodia and 45 FAO member nations in Asia and the Pacific held the four-day virtual conference to examine the region’s food security, with a particular emphasis on implications linked to the spread of the coronavirus.
FAO regional representative for Asia and the Pacific Jong-Jin Kim said the virtual conference brought together people to chart a true course of action that would benefit all.
“We must come to terms with what is before us and recognise that the world and our region has changed.
“We must find new ways to move forward and ensure sustainable food security in the face of these twin pandemics, as well as prepare for threats that can and will evolve in the future,” he said.
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon said through the virtual conference that agriculture was the backbone of Cambodia’s economic development, as it contributed 20.8 per cent to the GDP in 2019.
He said Cambodia’s poverty rate decreased from 53 per cent in 2004 to 13.5 per cent in 2014. It’s now expected to be below 10 per cent.
More than 60 per cent of the poverty alleviation from 2007-2011 was a result of positive developments in agriculture.
However, Cambodia is still confronting critical issues. Workers have been leaving the agriculture sector to find new opportunities in urban areas.
The decline in agricultural labour emphasises the need to mechanise agriculture, to find solutions to water and irrigation issues, and improve infrastructure to ensure an increase in production, Sakhon said.
“Access to markets also remains a major issue for small farmers. There is a crucial need to create a better business environment for farmers through mutually beneficial contract farming and better market information services, in addition to agricultural market facilitation,” he said.
A 2019 Cambodian government report said that the Kingdom had a workforce of roughly 10 million. Of the number, the agricultural sector consisted of more than four million people.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) predicted that the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic on the economy is pushing large numbers of Cambodians into poverty and an estimated 390,000 of them will lose their jobs this year.
But the government announced that Cambodia had sufficient food and ensured that it will not let any citizen die of starvation.
The government also announced that it had implemented the cash handout programme to help poor people during the crisis.
It encouraged people who lost their jobs to resort to agricultural occupations to help the economy of families and the nation.
Hopefully, agricultural occupations will boost exports and reduce the import of vegetables, fish and meats, the government said.