This is a pleasant day for me to join all of our people and monks here to officiate the physical infrastructural achievements at the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) for which the cost of building is somewhere near 2 million US dollars. It has now become the most important research center in area of agriculture in the country. I wish to take this opportune moment to express my sincere appreciation and thanks to the efforts made by staff of CARDI in fields of research and production of seeds for giving out to our people.
According to statistics out of over two million hectares of cultivation area, CARDI provides its seeds to about over one million already. I am so glad to see that our officials have made great effort not only in research but also in extension of rice cultivation with new seeds along with new technology and working pattern for our people. What impresses me is that we have started from 1,200 kg per hectare to currently 2,400 kg per hectare in average. It is twofold increase.
It is quite appropriate that I recall a few things about the beginning of CARDI. In 1986 Cambodia was still under unjust economic sanction and embargo for the “mistake” we made and that was the overthrowing of Pol Pot. Pol Pot in those days occupied the Cambodian seat at the United Nations and we – who were his regime’s victims – had to bear an unjust punishment. While the country suffered the sanction it was impossible to give heed to development. One day Mr. Svami Nathan of IRRI (International Rice Research Centre) came to Cambodia and as Prime Minister I suggested to IRRI to set up a Rice Seed Research and Development Center as well as other seeds for use by the Cambodian farmers. In one of my visits to Battambang I had a chance to see a Japanese assistance Rice Research Center at Tuol Samraong and it is so deeply impressed that I said to myself that I have to find a chance to build more of this.
I got a flat response from him that the IRRI at the Philippines is going to set up one rice research center in Vietnam for the three countries – Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. His argument was because Vietnam has more population. I wondered in my conversation why IRRI sees it is important to put it there since there is a large agricultural university already in Vietnam’s Cantho. I think it is a way to turn down one suggestion diplomatically. By 1987 we had a response from the IRRI Australia on this front but not through the Government channel. It is because this instance that IRRI Australia is heavily involved with CARDI.
I would have to mention one good thing the Australian did for Cambodia. When the Labor Party won the elections Australia withdrew its recognition of Pol Pot at the United Nations and I took a chance during my visit to Australia lately to also call on the labor Party.
The land on which CARDI is situated also has a long and complicated background. We had in the beginning reserved a size of about 170 hectares of land but in 1992 there was a complicated situation when we had this establishment of the Supreme National Council. There was ill-promoted demonstration whereby car tires were set on fire. In the end there is a need to reconcile and the land size was reduced to just 70 hectares as we have today.
In those days I said that I would never let CARDI die because it is indeed my own child. Its death is tantamount to mine. Now it has proven to be a correct sacrifice because it has now developed several rice species and its seeds have been cultivated in over one million hectare of land. I am grateful to CARDI for naming a rice species in relation to my name Sen Pidor or (Very Aromatic Rice) which is currently very popular as it can be cultivated in rainy as well as dry season. The fact that Cambodia has increased its export of rice could not bypass CARDI’s efforts.
It is not easy to just change people’s habit. I could take my parents for instance. They said why in the old days people could raise generations of people without having to bother about seeds. When HE Kong Sam Ol and later HE Say Chhum became Minister for Agriculture, we imported new seed from Vietnam. Thanks to appropriate showcase people tended to take turns to grow the new rice species. Later, as HE Minister Chan Sarun mentioned the other day, because of rice quality our people do not like to grow them anymore. New species is high in yield but lacking good tastes.
We still have food security as our main concern. Last year we had a surplus of about two million tons of paddy or about 1.3 million tons in husked rice. We have yet to come up with statistics of this year because we have to wait till April to do so. But we are sure that we will have a better yield this year compared to last because we have cultivated a larger area of rainy season rice. We also expect that dry season rice will be better as well. Yet, we still have problem of irrigation which is shown by the fact that some places people could grow only one crop a year or even hardly one crop because of water inaccessibility.
For those who have less land we should try and orientate their cultivation from extensive to intensive cultivation which means we have to help them increase its feeding capability over same size of land. In Kanstoeung district of Kandal province, with the Japanese assistance that provide water accessibility people should be helped to cultivate Sen Pidor rice and other vegetables. Positive experience of Kandal Stoeung should be replicated to other areas. My wish for the betterment of Cambodian living standard is yet to reach as I wanted to see Cambodian income for each person reaches 3000 US dollars per annum. I would stay on for the sake of people as long as they voted for me.
I would take this opportunity to share some of my following recommendations with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Ministry of Finance who are parental institutions of CARDI —
1) To provide further support on the investment in agricultural research because we all know that there would be no development without research. It is therefore important to consider providing financial resources for the encouragement in the fields of science, technology and development. Parental institutions should consider improving staff income in CARDI. I used to advise before to put the staff of CARDI in the Government’s package of priority which means they deserve to be encouraged with better pay;
2) To focus further on research as well as other activities so that effective production could be reached according to master plan. I wish to urge students of Agricultural School to focus their research on local needs, while expanding agricultural extension service to people aimed at increasing agricultural production in both quantity and quality for the sake of local consumption and export;
3) To study the possibility of expanding services by establishing subordinate stations where network should be established in all 24 provinces to make our people in large number understand the use of new seeds, composts and growing techniques.
4) For other institutions concerned – Phnom Penh Municipality and Khan Dangkor – to provide complete security to CARDI for the latter’s sake of full research activities. Clean water issue should also be addressed.
5) For international and donor communities as well as other development partners – to provide further assistance to CARDI.
6) For CARDI to strengthen and expand agricultural research especially in high-yield seed selection, soil improvement and sustainable cultivation on the soil. It should expand cooperation with national and international institutions for experience sharing and problem solving so as to make progress and advancement at an appropriate time.