PHNOM PENH —
America’s ambassador to Cambodia has said that the country’s young scientists will play a leading role in developing its agricultural sector.
William Heidt, a U.S. ambassador, made the comments after a meeting with Cambodia’s agriculture minister, Veng Sakhon, in Phnom Penh last week.
The ambassador was launching a new scholarship program with grants awarded by the Center of Excellence for Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Nutrition.
“Of course, farming is not just planting vegetables and rice. And it’s not just research projects either. It is also a business, one that is becoming more tightly connected to international markets and more dependent on international market forces,” he said.
“In this respect, agriculture is not much different than the manufacturing, tourism, or technology sectors. For success in all these fields, Cambodia needs smart, young, dedicated people like yourselves,” he said.
He noted that while Cambodia was an agricultural country, it faced shortages of fruits and vegetables, which had led it to import 70 percent of these goods.
“Cambodia should feel proud that it has produced enough rice for its people for over 20 years now. That is a very important milestone. But Cambodia still imports a majority -- 70 percent -- of its fruits and vegetables, so one of the next key challenges is developing the horticulture sector as part of overall agricultural diversification,” he added.
More than 80 percent of Cambodians work either directly or indirectly in agriculture, which contributes about a third of the country’s gross domestic product.
At the award ceremony, Sakhon compared Cambodia’s agricultural sector to neighboring Thailand, which he said had sought to develop young talent in the sector “to reach the top in both quality and safety of exports.”
He pointed to crop-switching programs that had seen farmers change from producing rice to cash crops such as sugarcane, raising their income.
Pinn Thira, 30, who won a scholarship for a Ph.D. to research value chains in rural Cambodia, said his work would focus on the difficulties of access to markets for rural farmers.
“As far as I know, our farmers grow crops but there is no market for them,” he said. “So, this will be in the scope my research. We will study how farmers form groups to create networks for selling their products. After we found out this, we will publish our discoveries.”