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Groups See Lack in 2011 Agricultural Budget

Local Cambodian villagers plant rice in a farm field during the rainy season in Prakar village.

A group of development organizations found fault with the government's budget for next year, claiming the allocation of just $24 million in agriculture was too low for the burgeoning sector.

Agriculture has emerged as a main economic driver for Cambodia, propping up the country in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis as tourism and garments tanked.

So $24 million out of a budget of $2.4 billion was too small, said Chhith Sam Ath, director of NGO Forum, a consortium of organizations.

“The royal government should prioritize agriculture toward food security for farmers and for poverty reduction, by increasing the budget for agriculture,” he said.

More money could be spent at the provincial level and below on extension services, research and eduction, he said.

Cambodia has said it wants to up its rice production for export, to as much a 1 million tons per year by 2015. About 85 percent of the population lives in rural areas dependent on farming.

Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, said the national budget could be boosted by tens of millions of dollars for agricultural support programs, even if that money needs to come out of the budget reserves next year.

However, Cheam Yiep, the head of the National Assembly's finance committee, said the government has worked hard to strengthen agricultural policies.

Still, the budget is too small, said Yong Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture.

“We want government to increase the agricultural budget for the local agriculture officials working directly with the farmers to explain technical agriculture,” he said. “Our farmers are still facing a lack of knowledge and understanding about technical agriculture.”