While other sectors took major hits in the 2008 economic crisis, agriculture gained the attention of many economists as it helped prop up the country’s flagging economy. That could lead to a shift in focus toward more agriculture, economists here say.
“I think it did create a certain awareness among a lot of policy makers,” Peter Brimble, chief economist for the Asian Development Bank, told VOA Khmer. “Indeed, your focus and attention at least need to be partly shifted on the agriculture sector.”
Agriculture contributes more than 30 percent to the GDP and is valued at around $10 billion per year. The sector has shown growth of 5 percent annually, even while other economic drivers like garments and tourism were stunted by the crisis.
Brimble says he expects the sector to grow in 2011, especially thanks to more focus form the government and its long-term rice policy.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has called white rice “gold” and aims to boost its international export potential.
Neou Seiha, a senior researcher at the Economic Institute of Cambodia, predicts that Cambodia will see an economic growth rate of up to 6.5 percent next year, thanks in part to agriculture. But more, larger investment is needed in milling, he said.
“The trend over the past few years is that we saw big investors coming,” he said. “So I expect more will come, as we still have a large surplus of paddy.”
Meanwhile, he said, “unofficial payments” are also hurting the export potential of agricultural products.
Kang Chandararot, director of the Cambodia Institute of Development Study, said the sector will serve as a strong base for more food processing in the coming year.
Nearly 80 percent of Cambodians rely on farming to earn their livings, but the sector is limited by a lack of substantial farms and modern equipment or techniques.
Brimble says the improvement of rural infrastructure and the right kind of irrigation can help.
“The other part is going to be to put in place the environment of support, of programs to assist new entrepreneurs, new business people coming up, and create the environment where those kinds of activities can grow,” he said.