Gov’t Seeks To Supply Organic Produce to EU

International Labor Organiza­tion monitoring of the garment industry helped Cambodia develop a niche market with foreign buyers wanting to work with sweatshop-free suppliers.

The Commerce Ministry is now studying ways to capitalize on the European Union’s aversion to genetically-modified foods to the advantage of Cambodian farmers.

But their enthusiasm may be pre­mature, an independent analyst said, because Cambodia still needs to invest in basic agricultural infrastructure before niche organic products are ready for export.

“We are pushing for organic farming…to compete with neighboring countries that now already are involved in genetically modified organisms,” Commerce Sec­retary of State Sok Siphana said Tuesday. “If we export organic products to the EU, we will re­ceive higher prices than by ex­porting chemical-produced foods to other countries.”

GMOs are, for the most part, plants containing genes that have been modified by scientists in order to re­sist disease or insects.

Last year the EU ended a six-year ban on all new GMO im­ports into its estimated $1 trillion food market, but a com­plex and costly approval pro­­cess awaits any producers of genetically modified crops hoping to sell to the EU.

Currently no GMO rice has been approved for import in the EU, and recent surveys indicate that between 70 percent and 80 percent of Europeans oppose the introduction of GMO food into their markets. Europeans fear allergies and unknown diseases from crop seed that may contaminate the fields of native farmers.

Sok Siphana said the EU has com­mitted itself to no tax or quotas for organic food products by 2009. To be certified as organic, a product must also be produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.

Independent economist Kang Chandararot, director of the Cam­bodia Institute for Develop­ment Study, said, “Cambodian agriculture has no choice and no chance to compete with neighboring countries, because they have modernized agriculture, but with…chemicals. The Cambodi­an government sees that the only way to compete in…agriculture is through organic products.”

But basic infrastructure is still missing, he said.

“The government has to do many things,” Chandararot said. “The price of electricity and other costs have to be lowered in order to reduce the operation costs. Without the ir­ri­gation system in place, [an] or­ganic product campaign will not work.”

But agriculture Secretary of State Chan Tong Yves said Cam­bo­dia has been “familiar with or­ganic farming for many years…

and now the world’s consumers are back looking for natural food products.”

The government is beginning campaigns to promote chemical-free farming, and several prov­inces are ready to produce organic products using compost and cow dung, he said.

Birgitt Boor, a German Tech­ni­cal Cooperation Agency (GTZ) ex­pert helping the government draw up a national organic farming action plan, said this week that GMOs make no sense for Cambodian farmers.

“GMO seeds are more expensive…. GMO may be optimal for high-tech industrialized farming but not for small farming,” she said.

She said that some EU countries may in the future ban all im­ports of certain Cambodian products if GMO seeds are used at all here.

According to Sok Siphana only one company currently exports ag­ricultural products to the EU—Angkor Rice of Kandal Province began shipping to the EU last year.

Local NGO Chamroeun Cheat Khmer began an organic farming pro­­gram 3 years ago with 83 families in Takeo province. Director Um Sokhun said this week he plains to expand the program to 11 more villages. He also said that or­ganic techniques are more productive.

“With compost fertilizer, farmers increased their yield from 2.5 tons per hectare to 4.5 tons per hectare,” he said.

Hong Long, whose self-named company announced an $80 million farming joint venture in Bat­tam­bang in January, said that while Chinese experts will introduce high-yield rice seed into his plantation, the seeds will be GMO-free.

“Cambodia does not need pesticide to protect the crop because we have frogs, snakes and birds,” he said.

 

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