Former GDP leader presents agri revamp plans to Hun Sen

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Yang Saing Koma (left) and Lek Sothear (right) meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen (sitting) and agriculture minister Dith Tina to discuss the 12-point proposal to improve the agricultural sector, on November 28. SPM

Days after announcing an intention to join the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), former Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) board chairman and agriculture expert Yang Saing Koma met with Prime Minister Hun Sen and put forward a 12-point proposal to improve the agricultural sector in Cambodia.

Saing Koma and his colleague Lek Sothear – former deputy secretary-general and spokesman for the GDP – accompanied Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina during the courtesy call.

Saing Koma and Sothear each wrote letters separately last week requesting to join the CPP following Hun Sen’s recent measures aimed at improving various aspects of Cambodia’s agriculture sector.

Hun Sen confirmed the duo’s membership in the CPP in a social media post following the meeting.

“Agriculture minister Dith Tina and I have just met with Yang Saing Koma and Lek Sothear to discuss agricultural issues, after both of them recently joined the CPP.”

Tina welcomed both Saing Koma and Sothear on board with the CPP, saying they would all be united in their work to push the agriculture sector forward.

“For me personally, the participation [with the CPP] of these two figures reflects their keen motivation and strong willingness to help with the agricultural sector,” he said in a Facebook post.

Saing Koma said he and Sothear had a two-hour discussion about agriculture and the situation of farmers with Hun Sen and Tina during the meeting, which had “a good atmosphere” and addressed the government’s vision as well as planned measures for the sector, with a special focus on rice farming.

“In general, we have the same vision regarding the challenges and solutions in the agricultural sector in Cambodia, and we can work together,” he said.

Saing Koma confirmed to The Post that his 12-point plan contains proposed solutions for problems with agricultural production and rice markets, and that it was accepted for further examination by the premier.

He was confident that if his 12-point plan were to be successfully implemented, it would help more than one million farmers in the country.

The 12-point plan includes strengthening and expanding research on high-quality rice seed production and supply for farmers; training, guidance and counseling for farmers on seed; and input on the management of crops post-harvest, according to Saing Koma.

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Yang Saing Koma (left) presents his 12-point plan for the agricultural sector to Prime Minister Hun Sen on November 28. SPM

Also in his plan is a recommendation for making a database tracking the number of rice farmers that would be updated regularly; setting up and strengthening rice associations at the local level; and establishing a rice mill data system by working with the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF).

Saing Koma, who received his Master’s degree and doctorate in agricultural development from Leipzig University in Germany, proposed a contract system between farmers, rice mills and traders for purchasing rice; setting up standardised inspection measures and ensuring rice quality as well as appropriate pricing for each variety of rice.

He also suggested that the state-run Agricultural and Rural Development Bank (ARDB), Ministry of Rural Development and other relevant finance institutions work together to increase the available capital for lending to rice mills, rice businesses and farmer communities.

Saing Koma also proposed a system to review and evaluate the effectiveness of the projects that are set up, with the participation of relevant stakeholders.

“All of these ideas need at least five years for full implementation to make them reach across the country,” he said.

He said the goal of his plans is to empower farmers to produce good quality rice for the market at a reduced cost and then be able to sell it at a reasonable price, resulting in rice mills receiving high-quality rice for processing and sale to the local and international markets.

“To make this plan realistically achievable, we need cooperation across the sector in solving the issues that farmers are facing, and we must follow the old principle that ‘hardships facing farmers are hardships for the whole nation’,” said Saing Koma.