Agriculture is paramount to the Cambodian
economy, accounting for almost half of GDP (1997-2001). Nearly
88% of the poor come from rural areas and 80% of the population
is rural, yet the country does not have a medium-term agricultural
sector strategy. The livestock sub-sector ranks among the
highest 'potentials' and priorities for future development
in Cambodia according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry,
and Fisheries (MAFF), contributing 14% to the agricultural
It materially affects the lives of millions of Cambodians.
Agriculture's primacy is undeniable, given that it is the
only sector capable of absorbing the 150,000-250,000 entrants
joining the labor force each year. This represents a tremendous
opportunity for agriculture in general and livestock in particular.
However, the last decade of development action has also shown
donors (with the implicit consent of the government) unwilling
or unable to contribute to agriculture, with only eight percent
of aid going to that sector. Aid coordination, while a stated
goal, remains elusive. A difficult institutional environment
manifests itself through a combination of weak state capacity
and poor governance that limits the scope for reform.
Civil servant salaries are abysmally low (barely above the
poverty line) for political economy and patronage reasons.
'Illegal taxation' is pervasive with, for example, demands
for heavy and frequent informal payments for transport of
cattle within the country. There are numerous reasons for
this, but three are of particular note: the legacy of the
Khmer Rouge causing the death of a quarter of the population
and decimating the country's human resources; patron-client
relations with an embedded culture of corruption that prevents
pro-poor policies from being implemented; and a donor-government
nexus which has produced too many strategies and plans, but
too few funded mandates and feasible policies.
Four areas of particular interest, which represent both risks
and opportunities, emerge for pro-poor policy making.
There is a consensus that the development of agriculture
is Cambodia's best hope for survival in the global economy
following the end of the preferential quotas for the export
of garments to the United States and the European Union, which
had made that industry Cambodia's largest foreign exchange
earner. This consensus should be exploited before embarking
on myriad other donor-driven priorities.
An opportunity avails itself in that the Consultative Group
in December 2004 called for a medium-term sector strategy
for agriculture within an overall policy and strategic framework
to be completed by December 2005. Research also shows that
widows or single women heads of households and families that
own no draught animals rank among the poorest and thus pro-poor
policies could target this group.
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza
Situated between Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia clearly is
an important element in the region wide Highly Pathogenic
Avian Influenza (HPAI) epidemic. Funding for Cambodia's overextended
surveillance system contained in the National Animal Health
and Production Investigation Centre was depleted (as of this
writing). Donors await a government request for support. HPAI
can still be contained, so this is a golden opportunity for
donors to coordinate activities and thereby increase the effectiveness
of their interventions.
Livestock has been shown to hold significant, mostly untapped
potential for the economy (80,000-150,000 head of cattle exported
unofficially) that could be critical to Cambodia's overall
prosperity. Its development can be a major contribution to
poverty reduction. Total livestock imports for ASEAN were
591,500 head of cattle in 2002, while the rest of Asia accounted
for 91,300 and the Middle East took in 527,756.
Of this trade, Cambodia's official exports accounted for
only 10,600 head. The livestock sub-sector thus has considerable
potential if tapped properly, as farming continues to shift
from subsistence to commercial agriculture over the next decade.
This would likewise depend on how effectively and credibly
Cambodia is able to create a Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)-free
zone within the country, considering that there is significant
cross-border trade in cattle with Thailand, Viet Nam and Laos,
countries which have not yet succeeded in creating their own
Village Animal Health Workers
The experience of NGOs and donors when they collaborate,
as in the case of Village Animal Health Workers (VAHWs), is
instructive. It was in the absence of animal health services
in rural areas that Vétérinaires Sans Frontières
(VSF) introduced VAHWs in 1996. It took VSF five years and
the help of the World Bank and IFAD to have a sub-decree recognizing
VAHWs adopted by the Council of Ministers on 2 March 2001.
In 2004, MAFF reported that the development of animal health
and production services at commune and village levels had
reached 4,449 VAHWs or 75% of a foreseen requirement of 5,906.
While 80% of poultry breeders have not been exposed to VAHWs
in 2004, it is a remarkable feat that 20% have, while prior
to 1996, none would have been serviced. That in eight years
two million smallholders have interacted at some point with
VAHWs is an impressive achievement. Consolidating the gains
made in VAHWs is essential.
Overall, three strategic entry points emerge from the above
risks and opportunities:
A two-pronged strategic entry point: (a) Take advantage
of the increased emphasis on agriculture at the December
2004 Consultative Group meeting to produce a medium term
agricultural sector strategy that includes NGO involvement
and targets widows or single women heads of household and
families that own no draught animals; and (b) Support HPAI
interventions that consider training of poultry producers
and subsidize microfinance to producers whose birds have
been culled (especially if they meet the above criteria
of widows or single women heads of households).
Cambodia is poised to take advantage of growing regional
demand for livestock, and it should not fail to do so
because the window of opportunity is narrowing with FMD-free
status required for exports by 2006 and SPS Agreement
by 1 January 2008².
Thus Cambodia should exploit its comparative advantage
in livestock exports (especially cattle), regionally and
internationally and consider creation of an FMD-free zone.
A feasibility study could be funded by the private sector
and/or donors such as AusAID.
Because development outcomes have been so disappointing
in the last decade (poverty reduction appears to have stalled,
while human development indicators are markedly worse since
1990), regularizing VAHWs through contractual agreements
for preventive services with the government and/or NGOs
is one avenue that should be explored. However, if political
willingness remains weak, donors may consider by-passing
the government altogether to work directly with the poor
on their own or through NGOs that have been effective in
promoting vaccination and animal health services in rural
areas, especially as these relate to HPAI and FMD prevention.
Footnotes to above:
1 Co-chaired by the Royal Government
of Cambodia and the World Bank, the CG takes place annually
and offers Cambodia's major donors the opportunity to evaluate
progress and pledge aid for the following year.
2 This is per Cambodia's World
Trade Organization working party report, adopted on 22 July