Less than five months to commune elections, the ruling CPP and minor opposition parties are pointing to agriculture as key planks of their agendas, many echoing a desire to increase investment in farms and “find markets” for exports.
All parties counted farmers as a key constituency: according to the 2019 Census, about 53 percent of workers fall into the agriculture, forestry and fishery sector, though that’s a marked decrease from 2008, when 71.3 percent of Cambodians were employed by the sector.
Tai Song, a vegetable farmer in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district, said he had lost around $60,000 in the last two years as Covid-19 outbreaks prevented him from selling around 150 tons of his lettuce.
“There is no one to help,” Song said. “The growing is done by having an adventure along the way.”
Like Song, three minor parties — part of the fractured opposition left after the widely criticized dissolution of the main opposition CNRP in 2017 — and the CPP all said they believed in greater government intervention in farming.
Cambodian People’s Party
Sok Eysan, spokesperson for the CPP, said the party’s policy would continue from the current mandate and look to increase both cultivation and marketing of agricultural produce.
The government would directly reach out to large investors to connect them with local farmers, Eysan said.
“We attract investment, they provide capital, they provide seeds, and they have to cooperate with our farmers for production and export,” he said. “The first is to have capital, the second is to have seeds, the third is to have cultivation techniques, and the fourth is to export.”
Eysan touted the government signing agreements with China, South Korea and Japan to boost agricultural exports.
Grassroots Democratic Party
GDP leader Yang Saing Koma called for dedicated agricultural governmental offices to be set up at the district level, a return to a previous structure.
“The village chief, the commune council do not care much. There is no agricultural development program,” Saing Koma said. “In the past they had district agriculture offices … but now it is integrated with rural development, environment. Now it seems confused. Agriculture officials do not have a clear leader in their work.
He added that one to two agricultural experts should be employed in every commune to advise and organize farmers.
“It is necessary to strengthen the organizing of the farmers to sell agricultural products to the market for a high and reasonable price,” he said. “Commune leaders play an important role in agricultural planning and bring the concerns of farmers to the upper level to solve.”
Thach Setha, acting president of the Candlelight Party, said party policy had yet to be compiled into a formal document, but he had already drafted policies for the agricultural sector as it was the party’s top priority.
Many Cambodians were farmers, he said, and the party would push for modernizing agriculture and helping rice, cassava and rubber exports.
“First, we have to find markets for agriculture. Second, we have to set the price,” Setha said.
The government would set a price for rice millers, and the state would buy rice if the market price fell below that rate, he said. Farmers would avoid disappointment and businessmen would be held accountable, he said.
Officials had not done enough to help farmers, he added. “It is the duty of our Ministry of Agriculture and the government’s policy to provide support and especially provide experts for them so that they change their current agriculture to a modern agriculture to compete on the market.”
Khmer Will Party
Kong Monika, a former CNRP lawmaker who is now president of the Khmer Will Party, said in addition to training farmers and connecting them to investors and markets, his party also wanted to provide land, help farmers with debt, and empower authorities at lower levels.
For landless farmers, Monika said he wanted to see social land concessions provided to allow them to produce their own crops.
He added that farmers needed training in managing loans.
“As we know most of our people are farmers and in many communes, they’ve gotten loans from some microfinance institutions and banks,” Monika said. “They easily fall into microfinance debt.”
Currently, the Agriculture Ministry had offices at the provincial and district levels, but there was not much activity at the commune level, he said. Commune chiefs stay closest with the people, and they will understand their hardships, he said.
“The offices are quiet like an abandoned place,” Monika said. “The issues are based on the commune leaders, who are like the parents of the people, and they have not used their roles properly and their power properly.”