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Farmers Want Campaign Promises Kept

Cambodian farmers called on government officials Wednesday to keep to their election campaign promises to improve agriculture, as a two-day meeting among regional representatives wrapped up.

The farmers said they were promised increased irrigation, more technical training and fertilizer and seeds, but were disappointed by the sector’s meager portion of the national budget.

“The budget for agriculture is so small compared to the budgets of other sectors, like defense, when in fact 80 percent of the population are in agriculture,” Farmers and Nature Net, a national farmers’ association, said in a statement.

The government should prevent imports of agricultural products that local farmers can grow, and Asean members should to exchange agricultural products on an equal balance, the farmers said. The group also called on the government to provide low-interest loans to farmers to help them develop the sector.

The farmers made their appeal at the end of a two-day seminar of the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development, held in Phnom Penh.

The association hopes to propose to Asean leaders funding for developing regional agriculture, said AFA Secretary-General Esther Penunia.

“In December in Thailand, we know there will be a summit of Asean leaders,” she said, referring to the 14th Asean Summit, scheduled for mid-December in Chiang Mai. “We are planning to hold a dialogue with some Asean agriculture officials for an initial presentation of this recommendation. The recommendation includes the establishment within Asean of an agriculture development fund, establishment within Asean of a services council and Asean regional policies.”

Cambodia has some competitiveness in free trade, much of it rubber, as well as rice. Cambodia is also importing rice and “surprisingly” cigarettes, said Riza Bernabe, an AFA researcher.