The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is promoting key production chains to boost exports of high-quality produce to international markets, according to minister Dith Tina.

Speaking at a January 5 press conference on “New Concepts for the Cambodian Agriculture Sector”, Tina said the development of the sector rests on increasing exports of safe and high-quality products. This can be achieved through increasing productivity, adding value and enhancing competitiveness in international markets.

He added that the historical focus in Cambodian agriculture had solely been on strengthening food security. But development in the sector has shifted the spotlight beyond “this honourable goal” towards supply chains for both domestic and international markets.

“Regarding local markets, the ministry is focusing on new concepts which will ensure the stability of the prices of agricultural produce. One consequence of this will be the prevention of food insecurity for consumers, producers and distributors alike,” he said.

Where international markets are concerned, Tina said the ministry is pushing for increased exports of high-quality products that could be sold at high prices. He termed these as “key” or “luxury” products.

“The ministry is focusing on the production of luxury products. We are evaluating the lessons we have learned from the success of Kampot pepper and intend to use the results to market other products like rubber, milled rice and cashews,” he said.

“We shouldn’t just be focused on producing large quantities of any particular product, and then trying to compete in international markets. Instead, we envision producing high-quality, high-value products that will increase profit margins,” he added.

To realise this vision, Tina said the ministry will work closely with the Ministry of Commerce to promote the Kingdom’s luxury products for exports to international markets, especially the countries and blocs that have free trade agreements with Cambodia.

“The full participation of all relevant institutions, raw material suppliers, producers, processers, and consumers will be crucial to achieving this goal,” he said.

“Another step which must be taken to contribute to the effectiveness of my vision is the elimination of middleman – or brokers – who are behind the increase of a product’s price. ‘Brokers’ should not be used to refer to these people, but a more accurate term such as transporter, as this is the part they play in the production chain,” he said.

He also said that the current licensing system needs to be enforced more actively.

“Some claim to be licensed, but do not follow the clearly defined business practices which a license demands,” he added.

He said licences were issued by he ministry for a particular company and should not be leased to others, as doing so would translate into more expense.

The ministry has also announced a new information system which will connect producers and buyers. An app to collect data about the agricultural sector is also in the planning stages, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

“Through the new system, before a farmer starts growing any kind of crop, they can share their plans in advance. As their crops grow, they can take photos and post them on the app with indication of their location, estimated quantity and timeframe of cultivation. Buyers can see the updates and communicate with each other,” said Tina.

According to the agriculture ministry, from January-October 2022, agriculture produce exports to international markets accounted for more than $3.06 billion. The export of dried sliced cassava was the largest export, at over 1.67 million tonnes.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said he expected that GDP per capita in Cambodia would increase to nearly $2,000, while economic growth would increase by 6.6 per cent this year.

He said that three sectors – industry, services and agriculture – support the country’s economic growth. The agriculture sector is expected to increase value by 1.1 per cent this year, compared to just 0.7 per cent in 2022. Crop cultivation, animal raising and fisheries are all expected to increase.

Agriculture specialists recently urged all institutions working in the field to work together to encourage farmers to pursue “smart farming” practices. They said farmers should embrace new technologies, as it will improve their ability to compete at both national and regional levels, while also responding to climate change.

They also encouraged the government, especially the agriculture ministry, to provide training to people working in the agriculture sector.