The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will provide more support for agricultural cooperatives throughout the country in finding business partners and gaining better access to low-interest loans, pledges minister Dith Tina.

Tina said this is to encourage the formation of a foundation to help co-ops build and expand through a network of producer groups to achieve profitability and economic sustainability, as well as contribute to reducing agricultural imports from abroad.

The minister was speaking at the closing of an annual meeting held on March 14 to review the work outcomes of 2022 and directions for 2023 under the theme “Agricultural cooperatives motivate contract farming production”.

Tina said co-ops across the country have actively contributed to agricultural production, agribusiness, agro-industry and the provision of support services, especially the implementation of contract farming for the development of the sector.

He instructed provincial department directors to examine active and efficient co-ops and eliminate any inactive ones.

“Among the cooperatives, there must be trust and solidarity while absolutely avoiding fraud among them. Moreover, the co-ops must have a clear planting plan based on the contract and clear production chain information from the producers to the market,” he said.

Ministry secretary of state Yang Saing Koma said on March 15 that he had chaired a meeting on agricultural diversification projects with relevant departments and institutions to discuss agri-business, focusing on strengthening support for co-ops on market issues.

Saing Koma said the ministry has been considering intervention for co-ops to give them access to low-interest loans.

“To address this issue, the ministry must first strengthen the capacity of the co-ops, such as promoting a clear marketing plan through the implementation of contracts to build trust with financial institutions that provide loans.

“The ministry is re-evaluating to strengthen the weak co-ops. We have observed that there are more than 10 per cent high-potential co-ops, more than 70 per cent medium and 10 per cent low-potential,” he said.

Pat Savoeun, head of the O’Saray Farming Cooperative in O’Saray commune of Takeo province’s Tram Kak district, said the co-op used to apply for

loans from commercial banks with high interest rates but could not meet the “many” supporting document requirements and the need for collateral.

“Lack of capital is a major problem for our co-op, especially during each harvest season, when members need money immediately for paying their costs or expenses. So, if the agricultural ministry coordinates on loans, then we hope that our co-op will get loans with low interest rates – and less cumbersome conditions – to use for purchasing products from our farmers during the harvest season,” he said.

The agricultural cooperative programme was established in 2003, with one co-op as a start. This year the number of co-op has increased to 1,251 with 170,208 members, 107,380 of them women.

The major business sectors of the co-ops include agricultural production, agri-business, agro-industry and the provision of support services for agricultural production, namely major crops such as rice cultivation, rice seed production, vegetable production, mangos of the Keo Romeat variety, pepper, corn, Pailin longan, cashews and cassava.