Cambodia, in southeastern Asia, covers an area of 181,000 km² and is home to a population of over 15 million people. Its neighbors are the countries of Thailand, Vietnam and Laos and, to the southwest, it is bordered by the Gulf of Thailand in the Pacific Ocean. Cambodia has a rainy season (May to October) and a dry season (November to April) and experiences tropical monsoons. The country is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, with rural coastal communities prone to floods, mudslides and storms and, potentially, lack of access to clean water. Cambodia has one of the fastest growing economies in the Asian region, and this growth has helped pull people out of poverty. However, many in the population remain susceptible to changes in their circumstances.
The agriculture sector contributes about 26.6 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs about 43 percent of the total labor force (2016). The majority of people involved in agriculture are smallholder farmers with less than two hectares per household. The area of land in cultivation is 3.7 million hectares, 75 percent of which is turned over to rice production. Rice is the country’s main crop and consequently the main source of income for most farmers. Industrial crops (primarily rubber) and other food crops represent the remaining 25 percent of agricultural land use. Over three million people are employed in the fishing industry.
Challenges for agriculture in Cambodia
The comparatively low productivity associated with Cambodian agriculture arises from issues of both labor and land. Low productivity leads to insufficient income and food security. The land farmed in Cambodia is generally harsher than the fertile lowlands of other countries in the region. Three-quarters of agricultural land is rain-fed, but although poor soils increase the likelihood of the land becoming waterlogged during the wet season, the rainfall is often insufficient to enable a double rice crop. Intensification is only possible when access to water is not a problem – this is most likely in lowland areas where canal irrigation or on-farm irrigation facilities are available.
The uptake of new crop production methods is hindered by other challenges besides poor-quality soils and access to the right amount of water. Farmers may not have access to affordable agricultural inputs, such as rice seed of suitable varieties and legal, correctly-labeled fertilizers and chemicals; they often face costly financing and sub-soil constraints; low market prices are an issue, and farmers can be disadvantaged in negotiations with buyers; they may lack access to machinery in the main cropping season, and run the risk of cattle grazing in fallow fields in the dry season or uncontrolled or intended burning of crop residues. Furthermore, farmers may have insufficient skills and training, compounded by a poorly funded education and extension infrastructure, which hamper efforts to implement intensification and diversification options.
Work of Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture in Cambodia
The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) is working on a research project with the University of Sydney in collaboration with the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). The research project is about finding solutions for Sustainable Intensification and Diversification in the Lowland Rice System in Northwest Cambodia. The project’s components intersect and build on each other to create a sustainable whole-of-community intervention that will improve the knowledge, practices, productivity and profitability of lowland rain-fed farms.
The project is innovative in that it will generate and collate evidence-based research and apply it through a participatory approach driven by the whole community. Participation will be achieved through the creation of groups of farmers interacting with the public sector and private sector suppliers of knowledge and innovation. Innovation uptake will eventually be through market mechanisms and commercial channels, which will make it sustainable beyond the end of the project.