Experts are urging Cambodian farmers to diversify their crops.
Most farmers in Cambodia grow rice. Many also may grow cassava and maize. But very few farmers in the country grow other vegetables.
And more Cambodians are demanding organic produce.
Sem Chantha is an organic vegetable farmer in Cambodia’s Kampong Speu province. Her vegetables are pesticide-free. Depending on the season, she grows spinach, cauliflower, lettuce or collard greens on her six-hectare plot of land.
She says farmers earn money growing vegetables instead of rice. She also says locally grown vegetables taste much better than imported vegetables.
“Vegetables can be sold for a higher price than rice and it takes only one and a half months to yield, then it is ready to harvest, while paddy rice takes six months to yield,” Sem Chantha said.
A recent study from the World Bank shows strong growth in Cambodia’s agriculture industry. This has helped reduce the number of people in poverty from seven million in 2007 to three million in 2012.
Part of this growth has come from increased land cultivation for rice farming. But growth has slowed in the past two years. The World Bank says farmers need to increase their yield and grow more kinds of crops, such as vegetables.
The bank says vegetables earn average returns of $1,575 per hectare for small farmers. This compares to $544 per hectare of cassava and only $307 per hectare of rice.
Chan Sophal is the director of the Center for Policy Studies for Cambodia Development. He says it will be difficult for farmers to change crops. Many of them may lack the skills, technology and investment money to grow vegetables.
Most vegetables sold in Cambodia are imported from Vietnam and Thailand. The local competition means that there are no quick gains for Cambodian farmers.
“You don’t have the time for learning and trials; the poor can’t do that," Chan Sophal said. "If they lose a crop, they lose a lot, they will be in debt.”
However, Mr. Sophal says that support from the government and private investment could help improve the situation. That support would also help farmers get more of the training they need.
“We can hopefully increase our production to the level where prices are brought down, so products like vegetables that are good for people’s health are more affordable,” he said.
The Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC) supports Cambodian farmers with training. The center also provides growers with a connection to the market. It has eight organic food stores in Phnom Penh as well as farmers’ markets held in rural areas.
The center's president Yang Saing Koma says Cambodia is seeing more demand for organic vegetables. The demand is greater than local farmers can supply.
Mr. Koma says that it would take about 10,000 trained farmers to meet market demand. He says the government would have also have to help with promotion of organic vegetables.
“Through that, we can send out 200 experts nationwide to assist and facilitate farmers in vegetable farming, forming farmer communities and linking farms to the market,” Koma said. “If this can be achieved, it will benefit the national economy.”
This would help keep the hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year on vegetable imports in Cambodia. He said it would also create work for local people.
Farmer Voun Chem switched from growing rice to organic vegetables eight years ago. He says he believes Cambodian consumers are choosing organic vegetables more and more, even though they are more costly.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
VOA correspondents Daniel De Carteret and Chan Muyhong reported this story from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Ashley Thompson adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
diversify - v. to change (something) so that it has more different kinds of people or things
organic - adj. grown or made without the use of artificial chemicals
pesticide-free - adj. not grown with chemicals used to kill animals or insects that damage plants or crops
yield - n. the amount of something that is produced by a plant, farm, etc.
affordable - adj. easy to pay for; cheap.
promotion - n. the act of helping something happen, develop, or increase
Is organic produce popular in your country? Will people pay more for it because it is a healthier choice? Tell us in the comment section or on 51VOA.COM.