Op-Ed: PM Hun Sen Says Agriculture Plays Greater Role in Development amid Covid-19 Impact

“Covid-19 has impacted on us to some extent, but it will never defeat us”, Prime Minister Hun Sen told farmers in the southern province of Takeo where he visited rice harvest area, adding, “we have agriculture to sustain the country’s development.”

“Global consumers can stop demand for travel and luxury items, but they cannot stop procuring commodities that feed their daily living,” he told the crowd of farmers gathering at the rice field about 60 km south of Phnom Penh.

The agricultural sector, however, alone cannot substitute for the current down trends, such as for garment, tourism, and other sectors but it plays a more fruitful role until the Covid-19 crisis is over.

The Royal Government foresees that the country’s growth will hit -1.9 per cent for 2020 from earlier projections of +6.5 per cent. Growth is projected to rebound to positive 3.5 per cent for 2021 thanks to a gradual increase in overseas demand and greater confidence in local markets.

Cambodia expects its growth to pick up in 2021 thanks to an increased trend supported by agriculture of 1.6 per cent, rebound of the garment sector 4.1 per cent, service growth of 3.6 per cent, and tourism among other critical sectors.

No one has died from the Covid-19 in Cambodia, despite 197 cases in the country, including the 57 patients currently hospitalised. Foreigners are also among the cases detected here.

There are more than 14.56 million Coronavirus confirmed cases globally, including more than 607,000 confirmed deaths in 216 countries, areas or territories.

Cambodia has to shift its strategy, amid Covid-19, from other affected sectors to agriculture. For Cambodians—who lost jobs in garment and tourism sectors, as many as 170,000 — can return to work in the agricultural sector.

The Premier called on Cambodia’s donors to continue supporting the sector, which contributes about 20.8 per cent of GDP and where its large population of 73 per cent is still associated with commodity planting of 4 million hectares nationwide. Cambodia currently has 6 million tonnes in paddy rice (or 4 million tonnes in milled rice) a year in surplus from the domestic consumption.

China has provided Cambodia the fund for vast irrigation networks to support the country’s growing  rice production that can be harvested twice a year. Cambodia can harvest three seasons a year with yield production of 5 tonnes a hectare.

An estimated 70 per cent of Cambodia’s rice exports go to Vietnam; and 30 per cent to Thailand across the borders. Cambodia is also investing in rice processing infrastructure, such as silos, so she can gain more profits from the value added commodity.

Cambodia exported more than 4.88 million tonnes of its commodities in 2019, an increase of 17.3 per cent, from 2015 the increase was 4.16 million tonnes, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and fisheries.

The government has also invested hundreds of millions of dollars in irrigation, but that is not enough and she will look to invest another multi-million dollars in loans and grant aids from China in the sector.

“I am also asking Australia to continue to support us in the sector of agriculture. Please convey my message to the Australian Prime Minister,” said PM Hun Sen, adding that, he is pleased with the support from Canberra after it severed its diplomatic support for the Pol Pot/Khmer Rouge and turned to support Cambodia’s agriculture sector since 1983.

“You can go through my proposed projects to Cambodia’s donors. I never ask them to buy me any luxurious items but to invest grants and loans in agriculture to support our people,” he told the crowd, which included Ministers and officials.

Cambodia is working with foreign governments—such as China, the Republic of Korea, the European Union, and Japan, among others—so that the country can export more of its commodities, mainly rice. The Southeast Asian nation also has other commodities such as tapioca, corn, banana, and mango for export.

The country exports some of these commodities to South Korea, China, and Japan.

Cambodia, one of the five key rice exporters globally, has to improve the quality and the packaging for export since PM Hun Sen is keen to see the country become part of the regional and global supply chains, such as rice, fish, and other commodities.

The Premier called on Cambodian workers—who have lost jobs and others who have just returned from working in Thailand—to work on fish farming. The government will provide them with free baby fish along with some funds and technical support.

“The state needs to look into such domestic productions by subsidised funding,” he said.

PM Hun Sen also said that, Cambodia which has suitable soil for growing a variety of fruit, and that industry should be improved.

“I believe there will be higher demand for commodities, amid the Covid-19 crisis, such as fruits,” he said.

At the same time, the Royal Government of Cambodia is encouraging farmers to invest in pig farms and other livestock like poultry to reduce reliance on imports of meat products from neighbouring countries.

There is a company which intended to import 1 million tons of pigs from Thailand but the government did not agree with the plan, because that would kill our own farm production, the Premier explained in order to support domestic businesses.

The Premier also recalled that during Prince Sihanouk’s leadership in the 1950s and 1960s and that the Prince helped people to enjoy their life by relying on agriculture. So, any return to this sector is never too late. Prime Minister Hun Sen himself said that this week marked 20 years ago when he visited the community.

“We need to increase our farm productions as we need to improve our exports to Hong Kong where they do not have space of location to deal with a farming industry,” he said.

Cambodia’s concerned institutions are currently debating the ASEAN-Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, and India Free Trade Agreements, and such moves that will enable Cambodia to expand its markets overseas.

“The people continue to stand with PM Hun Sen. we will not allow anyone to die of starvation. I now call on the people to greater investment in agriculture so that we can supply not only for domestic consumption but for exports as well”.

By Ek Tha

Spokesman of the Council of Ministers’ Office,

Advisor to the Ministry of Information,

Standing Vice-Chairman of the Royal Government Spokesperson Unit.


Source: Agency Kampuchea Press