A New Ceremonial Building
Today I am so happy to be here for the graduation and diploma presentation ceremony for students of the Royal University of Agriculture at Jamka Doung (RUAJd) and the Prek Liep Secondary School of Agriculture (PSSA) in this new ceremonial building instead of in open air as we did, if I could recall, in 2008. With my initiative, HE Chan Sarun, Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), and other generous fellows have offered their resources to build this ceremonial hall for RUAJd.
I would like to express my sincere thanks for the welcoming report of HE Chan Sarun as well as of HE Ngo Bunthan on the development and activities of the RUAJd. It is indeed a pride for the University to have graduated 2,850 students, of which 1,727 of them are from the PSSA and 1,132 are from the RUAJd itself.
Agriculture – Important Task after Being PM
I shall have your attention that on January 1985, I was here at the RUAJd, which was called the Agricultural Institute at that time. It was two weeks actually after I became Prime Minister on January 14, 1985. I am so glad that between then and now, the RUAJd has made constant progress, even after the former Soviet Union could no longer sustain its support. That was also a bad situation for the Institute of Technology, which was supported by the former Soviet Union, too. However, with great and enduring efforts, the two schools have gone on and made noticeable progress.
I also would like to share with you a fact that I then signed, in my full right capacity as Prime Minister and not as acting Prime Minister, in establishing the National School of Agriculture at Prek Liep, which is currently called the Prek Liep Secondary School of Agriculture. I am so glad that the RUAJd and PSSA have incorporated my recommendation for students to write a thesis at the graduation by going to certain agricultural base. This has become a useful practice that thesis have become handy and practical for agriculturalists in that particular area.
At the same time, it has been a great opportunity for our students to have practicum in the field. In fact while coming to share your study achievements, I also have chances to go through some your thesis as well. Thesis not on one topic but on numerous relevant topics have been studied and written on many perspectives – like soil condition, microclimate, etc. on a particular issue, and in a particular area. It is indeed a great interest for our agriculture.
Agriculture – Highest Priority Area
I may stress for you that agriculture is indeed the highest prioritized area for our country. As a country enriched naturally by potential for agriculture, it would be a huge mistake in national leadership if we were to neglect the need for developing agriculture. It is true that this has to be done without negligence on developing strongly industry and service sectors. As I mentioned many times already that several developed countries have had a smaller share of agriculture in their GDPs. However, because their GDP is big, like in Japan for example, a small share like 1 and even less than 1% from agricultural sector has the potential to feed the people already.
As for the case of Cambodia, agriculture takes a share of some 30% now compared to between 50% and/or 60% before, thanks to bigger shares in the industry and service sectors. The share of agriculture has gone smaller now but the amount of rice produced, for example, has in fact increased.
From a Rice Deficit to Exporting Country
It should be noticed that Cambodia has evolved from a rice shortage to rice exporting nation. In response to this development, last year, Cambodia has just issued a policy for support of rice production and export. It is remarkably satisfactory that in the latest years, as HE Chan Sarun has reported, we have scored many great successes. Last year cultivation has been what we wanted. We have noted that our plan to increase rice yield from 2.8 tons per hectare by 2012 has in fact been fulfilled in 2010 already. I mean in 2010 cultivation, our rice production has reached a level of 2.8 tons per hectare already. This has been a speedy achievement and our rice farmers for instance must be making profit from their efforts.
Scoring one ton or a little over one ton per hectare, as was the case in the past, would not be subsistent for our rice farmers. Income from rice would not even sufficiently cover the costs of production, which ranges from seed, land preparation, labor cost, care, etc. to harvesting. It is an operation at loss. However, the latest development has proven that the situation has changed indeed. With more rice produced, Cambodia’s position in terms of food security and export has grown capably strong.
While implementing one cultivation calendar per annum, on currently available land, Cambodia achieved an average amount of 4.5 million tons of rice for export. While this year, we are recording 4.7 million tons of rice available for export. This amount of paddy can be translated to 2.5 million tons of milled rice.
Agriculture Cushions Economic Crisis Impacts
In time of world financial crisis and economic downturn in 2008-09, it should be noted that agriculture was a huge impetus in the national economy. Its growth has played a pivotal role in cushioning the crisis impacts. It has dealt not only with direct impacts but also indirect ones such as job losses as majority of workers have got backup support from parents who are still employed in agricultural sector. They lost jobs in factories but they could find supplementary employments at their household agricultural activity.
As industry in our country is a new development sector, the majority of our workers are still keeping connection with agricultural activities with their families. It is this reason that as the factory closed doors (because of the economic downturn), workers have mostly returned to their rice fields and taken up cropping jobs again. From its part, the Royal Government of Cambodia has also offered them opportunity for retraining that would assist them in looking for new careers.
Intensive Vs Extensive Cultivation Practice
The agricultural situation in Cambodia has changed. I have said on many occasions that we have changed and will continue to practice intensive rice farming in place of extensive method. It is now time for us to increase feeding capacity of the same land size rather than opting for expanding area of cultivation as this would eventually bring our country to deforestation for land to cultivate food crops. On existing cultivation area, by intensive farming, we can improve irrigation system and inputs such as new seeds, technology and cultivation timing for example.
I could recall that this has been the Royal Government’s attention and consideration since when HE Kong Sam Ol, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Royal Palace Affairs, was Minister for Agriculture (of the former People’s Republic of Kampuchea) and the late HE Chhea Song was Head of Department of Agronomy. They worked on producing new varieties of rice and on model rice cultivation farm. Now, HE Chan Sarun continues the method for the sake of instilling confidence among our people in new seeds.
People living along the border areas with Thailand or Vietnam are changing their farming practices with the introduction of new varieties and technology, but those farmers in the central plane area are quite conservative with their farming practice and rice varieties. There have been plenty of reasons for them too to stick to old ways in farming rice. However, decision must be made on criteria of geographical condition and location, flood level and harvesting pattern. Some rice varieties, despite high yield and adaptation to local condition, have not been our farmers’ choice because it is hard to hand-thresh grains off the stalks.
However, I am so happy that the MAFF has put out a list of rice varieties for our people to be familiar with and to grow, as well as for international market to be acquainted with Cambodian rice varieties. This will eventually be streamlining endeavors to get Cambodian farmers to grow the specified varieties for national purpose of rice export. We have come up with hybrid seeds such as Sen Pidor, a short term rice variety and which is very popular among our farmers.
Zoning for Cultivation and Human Resources for Agriculture
When we are talking about changing farming practice and clinging on to intensive culture, we need to address issue of water for irrigation. Water or irrigation has been in fact one of the four priorities listed in the Royal Government’s policy. With better irrigation capacity and facility, Cambodia will stand a better chance to increase export.
As I said already, with one time cultivation on existing rice field, Cambodia already achieved a surplus of 4.7 million tons of (paddy) rice for export. With better irrigation and when our cultivation pattern changes into twice per annum, hopefully, the amount of surplus would be bigger. If our people increase their farming productivity to similar levels of those in Thailand and Vietnam, surely the country would then be breaking a new record in its rice export. Again, this is possible only when we solve issue of water for irrigation.
In another aspect, I am sure you all know better than I do about this, because some areas in our country are difficult or impossible to provide water with, I would urge you and the MAFF to consider zoning for cultivation and also rotating crop cultivation. For instance, in certain area where rice would not be a viable and economical crop to grow, we should study as to what crop can be grown instead.
Human resources in the field of agriculture are also a key in this endeavor. Let’s take an example, Vietnam used to be rice insufficient but because of able agronomists and experts in agriculture, Vietnam has become not only rice sufficient nation but also exporter of some 5 million tons of rice per annum if I am not wrong. I urge that while we need human resources in other fields, we must not overlook the importance of more human resources in the field of agriculture.
Climate Change and Responses by MAFF
It is a good thing for our people who grow rubber as latex price has gone high, like 5,700 USD per ton. We have about 50,000 hectares of land under rubber and this size will not be expanded to one million hectares or so like our neighboring countries. I do not agree with idea to deforest our jungle to replace them with rubber. Huge trees possess colossal value that we have to maintain and care for. We are working on measuring the amount of carbon from these trees, which would eventually contribute to bettering condition in context of climate change and could be a source of income too in the future.
Yesterday I have received an Aide Memoirs of MAFF that HE Chan Sarun kindly sent to me on Climate Change: Impacts and Responses. It illustrates so many inter-related challenging elements. In this climate pattern, things have changed. We could not afford to depend solely on fish from natural system, for instance. Actions have been taken to promote fish culture, which has, according to my observation, become an active movement. Therefore I would stress on the need for training and technological attainment for fish breeding as appropriating fish babies from natural system would not be a viable option./.