The article “Under Fire, Rice Federation Vows Action” (March 10) exposes the crisis facing Cambodia’s rice sector. The looming collapse of the sector would have far-reaching economic, social and political consequences, given the population’s heavy reliance on agriculture in general and the rice industry in particular.
However, what has been discussed so far is only a reflection of the symptoms of the crisis, not its causes, and therefore cannot point to the appropriate remedies. Worse, some of the stakeholders have been led to suggest dangerous solutions, such as arbitrary restrictions on imports, which would only prolong and—in the long run—deepen the crisis by ignoring its true structural causes.
The current crisis is actually the result of decades of neglect by the government of a sector that is crucial for the country’s prosperity—not to mention survival, given the astonishing number of Cambodian farmers whose livelihoods depend on rice cultivation.
The key words for survival and prosperity are productivity and competitiveness. If we need to restrict imports just to survive, it means that we are not competitive. We are not competitive because our productivity is too low compared to other rice-growing countries in the region.
To address this regional productivity gap, we need to immediately implement long-overdue measures and adequate policies, which are contained in the CNRP’s seven-point political platform on agriculture: land reform and redistribution (instead of participating in land-grabbing, the government should ensure all farmers have enough land); small-scale, widespread and effective irrigation works to help farmers achieve several crops per year; a non-profit credit system especially designed to help farmers; agriculture technical centers to assist and guide farmers; the establishment of farm cooperatives, on a voluntary basis, that would increase farmers’ bargaining power; a government price-support policy to ensure decent selling prices for farmers; good communication networks (especially roads) to reduce the cost of transporting products from farms to markets, and the time it takes.
In the 1960s, Cambodia was the world’s third-largest rice exporter. Now it’s a net importer of this basic staple. This shocking change in status is not due to any natural disaster—it’s a man-made disaster. The current government’s failure to properly manage our agriculture can also be seen in the fact that hundreds of thousands of Cambodian farmers have become so destitute that they have no choice but to flee their country and become migrant workers in Thailand, a sad situation that Cambodia has never known before.
Sam Rainsy is president of the opposition CNRP.
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