The Cambodia-Australia Agricultural Value Chain (Cavac) programme on August 25 released a study identifying nine high-value crops with strong export potential in China, the EU, ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand.

The agricultural products highlighted in Cavac’s “Market for Cambodian Crops with Promising Prospect” report are avocados, chillies, sesame seeds, sweet potatoes, longan, mangoes, cashew nuts, palm sugar, and a dried banana chips.

It is well recognised that Cambodia is generally not able to compete with its neighbours on the basis of volume and economies of scale, so the Kingdom must have a keen sense of market niches in which it can prosper.

While efforts to increase productivity are important, perhaps, a strategic way for Cambodia to expand its agricultural exports is by identifying products with high market demand, or offering more value.

This is illustrated in the study, commissioned by the Australian government-funded Cavac.

The research digs deep into data such as global market size and growth potential, consumer preferences for varieties, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, and other non-tariff barriers to trade, product utilisation (fresh or processed), key competitors and potential windows of opportunity. Exporting challenges of these crops are also explored.

Australian ambassador to Cambodia Pablo Kang has been a long-standing partner in agricultural development, providing assistance to raise the Kingdom’s production capacity, improve farming practices, and advance research and development.

The Australian mission focuses on agriculture, recognising the huge amount of unlocked potential and the value that modernisation and improved productivity in the sector creates for the Cambodia, according to Kang.

In view of the Kingdom’s limited ability to compete with neighbouring countries, Cavac concentrates on finding new ways to add value to agriculture, engaging with the private sector to introduce new crops and modern technology to produce quality, high-value products, he said.

“We’re also working with Royal Government of Cambodia to encourage new investment in the agriculture sector,” Kang added.

Delivering the closing remarks at the report launch event, Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak expressed hope that the study would encourage relevant stakeholders to explore the development of new products to sell on the Chinese, EU, ASEAN, Australian and New Zealand markets, or anywhere else with a large enough demand.

He underlined trade relations, agricultural and national development, and poverty alleviation – during and after the Covid era – as the key topics to be taken into consideration in the interpretation of the study’s findings.

The study noted that poor market information, to a considerable extent, results in some Cambodian agricultural exporters concentrating on less-demanded crops, poor farming techniques, a shortage of capital for warehousing, and a limited processing capacity that restricts export options to unprocessed commodities.

The absence of an internationally-recognised domestic institution that can certify Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and food safety remains a major hurdle, restricting the export of these nine commodities to many international markets, especially European ones.

Aiming to counter the challenges facing the industry, the study provides recommendations to the government, private sector, and development partners on what they can do to promote and expand exports, with a focus on crop competitiveness, market relevance, and market access for the nine crops.

On foreign direct investment (FDI), the study highlights the need for Cambodia to establish a specialised investment unit to advise potential investors on conceivably lucrative opportunities offered by agriculture, particularly the nine high-value crops.

The study offers insight into the intricacies, tailored for policymakers in agriculture to use to make strategic and informed choices towards boosting exports of the nine crops and ramping up Cambodia’s strategic capacity to compete more effectively with economic rivals.

Other applications include trade policy and facilitation, quality standards, and investment promotion.

In collaboration with the commerce ministry, Cavac is planning to organise a forum on “Trade Information Promotion on Cambodia’s Promising Crops”.