Cambodian agricultural experts are suggesting a national standard for organic products.
Cambodian farmers are increasingly growing organic rice and vegetables in some places, but there is no official certification available.
Officials at an annual conference held by the Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, or Cedac, say such a standard would increase the market value of organic products, helping diversify the agricultural market and would also prevent the spread of fake organic products.
“Many don’t believe that the farmers’ produce is organic,” Cedac Director Yang Saing Koma said. “Yet, if there were a verified standard upon such produce, it would help strengthen the consumers’ confidence, while farmers could defend their produce as undeniably organic.”
A national standard would help define what organic means for farmers and consumers, including what kinds of substances could be used during the growth process, including fertilizer, but it would require verification, he said.
The Ministry of Agriculture is currently reviewing a proposal for such a certification, but it is unclear when or if it will be implemented.
Meanwhile, there are around 250 organic vegetable farmers and 2,000 organic rice farmers spread across four provinces: Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Speu, Siem Reap and Takeo. They supply local markets and export to the US and Europe.
Yem Sovannary, a 37-year-old organic rice and vegetable farmer in Takeo, told VOA Khmer a national standard would help Cambodia finds markets in an integrated Asean. “The neighboring countries favor organic farming,” he said. “They favor changing the quality of the soil. But for Cambodia, it’s still in a fledgling state. There’s training here and there provided by the government and NGOs, but it’s not nationwide just yet.”
In an effort to increase the growth of organic crops, Cedac has set up stores in eight locations in Phnom Penh, Tbong Khmum, Kampong Thom and Siem Reap. Another market is expected to be up and running in Prey Veng later this month.
Hean Vanhorn, director of the agricultural department at the Ministry of Agriculture, said the ministry is currently focused on a wider program called “good agricultural practice,” to increase yields, rather than organics. The development sector pushes for organics, he said, but they don’t provide as much benefit as GAP, he said.
GAP products aren’t harmful, he said, “so why do we need to resort to organic products that aren’t really scientific and not as accurate as GAP?” GAP ensures that food is safe to eat, he said. “What else should we be looking for?”
Kiem Makarady, Cedac’s environment and health director, said both standards should be worked on at the same pace, to follow the international trend toward organics. GAP produces food with chemicals, and such products from Thailand have been rejected by the European Union, he said.
Meanwhile, produce grown with certain fertilizers and other chemicals can be dangerous, leading to potential poisoning or even cancer, he said. “Thus, I think that there is an increasing trend toward organic agriculture.”