Although Cambodia has made recent strides in economic growth, more than one-third of its population lives below the poverty line.
The country is a net exporter of rice; however, the sharp rise in food prices in 2008 hit isolated areas of the country hard, leaving many poor households without enough food to eat.
More than 85 percent of rice production depends on annual rains. Recurrent drought and floods have led to reduced yields. In addition, weaknesses in infrastructure and the trading system prevent a more even distribution of the country’s rice surplus.
Investments in infrastructure key
The lack of proper milling infrastructure means that many poor farmers are unable to produce rice that is ready to eat locally. They are currently obliged to have their rice milled across the border in Thailand. Once this is done, they have to buy it back at a much higher price – a serious concern given the continuing risk of food price volatility.
Storage facilities and irrigation systems are also typically lacking. Only 15 percent of rice fields use irrigation, while these irrigated fields account for 40 percent of the country’s rice production.
European Union Food Facility
Many smallholder Cambodian farmers live in areas that are not well-linked to markets or the outside economy. Ensuring that Cambodia’s rural poor have better access to nutritious and safe food is at the heart of a 24-month project signed by Ministry of Agriculture, FAO and the EU Delegation in September 2009.
With funds from the European Union totalling more than €11 million, FAO will work closely with the Royal Government of Cambodia to provide quality inputs and training to 50 000 food-insecure farming families so they can grow more food and boost productivity.
FAO will also help around 24 000 households plant vegetable gardens and engage in small-scale aquaculture activities as a way to diversify production.
Given Cambodia’s high rate of malnutrition, especially among women and children, FAO will promote nutrition education and improved feeding practices based on local foods.
Funds will be used to train farmers in soil fertility management and low-input, environmentally friendly technologies such as Conservation Agriculture and Integrated Pest Management.
FAO will also seek to integrate disaster risk mitigation and preparedness into the training so that farmers are better equipped to deal with droughts and floods in the future.
To stem seed and food losses, FAO will provide equipment and storage facilities, as well as training in proper drying and storing techniques, to at least 5 400 households.
Some 75 000 households will receive training in water management in an effort to increase the area under cultivation as well as the number of crops grown per year.
FAO will also focus on boosting farmers’ employment opportunities by providing vocational training, exploring the creation of agro-processing enterprises and working to ensure that especially vulnerable farmers have access to affordable credit schemes.
Other FAO activities
FAO launched a Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) project worth USD 200 000 in 2008 to provide rice seed and fertilizers to 2 800 rural farming families in the north of Cambodia. This allowed farmers to plant two dry season crops. Normally, there is very little cultivation in the dry seasons as Cambodia has a largely rain-fed agricultural system.
Cambodia benefited from two other TCPs to address high food prices: a regional project aimed at strengthening capacity at national and regional level to boost food production and to monitor the food security situation; and an agricultural policy and programme support project to guide development efforts in the agriculture and water sectors.