Farmer prosperity translates into food security: agriculture experts

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Agriculture minister Dith Tina meets with farmers in Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongkul Borei district on October 22. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Agriculture experts say that improving the living standards of people living in rural areas in the developing world is a top priority for ensuring food security.

Yang Saing Koma, an agricultural expert and founder of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), told The Post that ensuring food security is a necessary part of boosting agricultural production capacity and can be accomplished by supporting and encouraging farmers and the agro-industry.

Meanwhile, he said, strict measures should be implemented to protect agricultural land and maintain it as such while making sure that those lands are giving priority for cultivation of rice and mixed crops.

“Cambodia’s food security should be ensured by varieties within the country, meaning that both the government and farmers must support the researchers’ efforts by growing those quality varieties locally. The variety banks should be created in towns and districts to facilitate the supply of these local varieties to farmers,” he said.

According to Saing Koma, seed production and supply for rice and mix crops along with agricultural fertilisers must be provided to farmers, and authorities must ensure that all those seeds are high quality and suitable for the soil types and weather at each location.

He said black soil in the north-western provinces of Cambodia had great potential for increasing grain production and it was important in conserve those lands for agricultural use rather than developing them.

However, Cambodian farmers are still limited in their mastery of cultivation techniques, use of appropriate seed varieties and overall application of fertilisers. These issues result in high costs for them and they lost profits when their production costs grow too much.

On his mission to distribute rice and other crop seeds and other assistance to farmers in flood-afflicted provinces, Prime Minister Hun Sen told Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina to directly lead by urging expert officials to train farmers in planting techniques, use of seed varieties and application of fertilisers.

“Currently, our farmers’ cultivation techniques are limited. Some farmers use only 50 kg of rice varieties in one ha of land, but get almost the same yield as some farmers who use up to 100 kg. So, please, the agricultural minister must lead and encourage expert officials to disseminate and train farmers in planting and seeding techniques so that they can spend less capital, get higher yields and gain profits,” he said.

Hean Vannhorn, secretary of state at the agricultural ministry, said that increasing the profits of farmers does not mean increasing crop yields, rather it can be done by reducing costs so that farmers can grow their produce cheaply and then sell their harvest at a profit.

“Yield is just a figure per hectare. We think of it in terms of tonne per hectare in Cambodia. So, if farmers buy expensive agricultural inputs such as seeds, grains, fertilisers and pesticides, they cannot make much profit even if they get high-yield harvests. In order to profit from their plantations our farmers must spend less money buying those inputs,” he said.

However, Vannhorn acknowledged that most of farmers’ techniques and knowledge remained limited. They often believe false advertising perpetuated by some traders who are selling them seeds, fertilisers or pesticides at high prices and they have few resources available for finding out the truth of the matter.

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Farmers harvesting rice in Kampot province’s Kampong Trach district. Hong Menea

Theng Savoeun, director of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community, told The Post that in order for farmers to produce high-yield rice, cash crops and engage in animal husbandry at a profit, the government should facilitate cost containing measures for the main inputs required and help find markets for the animal breeders and farmers.

At the same time, it is necessary to encourage professional officers in the field of agriculture to train in the techniques of cultivation, maintenance and improvement of the quality of arable land and to organise irrigation systems that reach farmers in all areas.

“Currently, farmers are still paying high costs at their plantations because of the rising prices of seed varieties, fertilisers and fuel. So, to reduce the farmers’ costs the government must spend money to reduce the cost of agricultural inputs and fuel and to encourage experts to teach better cultivation techniques, how to use seed varieties, fertilisers and other methods to make farmland fertile,” he said.

At the same time, Savoeun also expressed his support for the government’s social protection programmes, which have released thousands of tonnes of rice and vegetable seed varieties from the government’s stocks and distributed them to poor farmers affected by floods, which helps not only the farmers but also helps ensure Cambodia’s food security while improving the living standards of the rural population.

Saing Koma, who holds a PhD in agriculture from Leipzig University in Germany in 1995, said that in order to improve agricultural land’s fertility in the long run, farmers must be diligent about harvesting straw and scattering small plant leaves in their rice field as soon as possible before ploughing the land.

“This method will help the crops grow well and prevent the erosion of fertile black soil from the fields,” he said. “It will also reduce the farmers’ costs for buying fertilisers and pesticides produced and imported from abroad.”

According to Saing Koma, the gradual improvement of the quality of the permanent cropland in the Kingdom for eventual conversion to high standard cultivars is essential to ensuring greater yields of arable land for the nation.

“High-quality farmland can turn mountainous areas – which rely on rain water – into high-yielding and stable farmland,” he said.

However, he added that agricultural machinery and equipment were still weak points in Cambodia’s agricultural modernisation efforts that have limited the agricultural production capacity of Cambodian farmers.

“We should further strengthen and support innovation using smart devices and agricultural machinery developed in Cambodia to sell to farmers at a reasonable price and contribute to reducing the farmers’ costs,” he said.

At the same time, Saing Koma added that agricultural techniques in field management and disease prevention were also important to maintaining the stability of grain production as climate change has caused diseases and pests to migrate to new areas and destroy crops unexpectedly worldwide.