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Agricultural Production

National Food Balance

Average annual GDP growth rates in Cambodia have exceeded seven percent since the mid-1990s, driven by garment exports, tourism and urban construction. In 2006, Cambodia once again enjoyed double-digit economic growth, at an expected rate of 10.4 percent, which comes after a growth of 13.4 percent in 2005 and 10 percent in 2004 (EIC, 2007). Cambodia has increased its GDP more than fourfold since 1990.  This growth was mainly boosted by the continued expansion of garment exports, construction and the number of tourist arrivals in Cambodia, and came in spite of the consequences of sharp increases in the price of oil and other imported input costs.

Table 2.1: Cambodia's Real GDP Growth by Sector (%, 2000 prices)


Source: NIS FOR 2002-06, EIC projection for 2007

The growth of the agricultural sector expanded moderately, whereas that of non-agricultural sectors was 13.2 percent in 2006, 1 percent higher than in 2005. However, the country's overall economic growth rate for 2006 remained high, compared with an expected rate of 7.3 percent in Lao PDR, 4.5 percent in Thailand and 8.0 percent in Vietnam (EIC, 2007).

2006 was another rainy year, following on from an equally wet 2005. The agricultural sector remained natural resource-based and achieved 4.4 percent growth in 2006, down from 16.4 percent in 2005 (EIC, 2007). This growth was mainly boosted by the expansion of cultivated areas, aqua-fishing, and a continued increase in livestock production. However, agricultural productivity is still quite low for both labor (about US$170/worker) and land (US$ 518/ha) (Agrifood Consulting International and CamConsult, 2006).

Within the agricultural sector,  while the crop sector has grown considerably - 5.95 percent average annual growth, with the main boost in 2005, when paddy production soared 44 percent in a single year - other sectors have expanded relatively slower (livestock, 1.96 percent; fisheries, 2.99 percent; forestry, - 0.09 percent average annual growth) (UNDP, 2007).  Since 1995, the percentage of the work force employed in agriculture has decreased from 80 to 60 percent (though the overall number has increased slightly due to population growth) (ADB, 2007).  With 70 percent of Cambodia's population being engaged in the slower-growing primary sectors, mainly in rural areas, agriculture as a percentage of GDP has nearly halved since 1988, indicating the structural transformation of Cambodia's economy has been heavily tilted in favor of urban sectors, leaving the majority of the population under-represented in the economic growth picture. 

Notwithstanding recent gains the agricultural sector remains volatile. Effective irrigation and natural resource management systems are still urgently required in order to achieve sustainable agricultural growth and thus poverty reduction, since the agricultural sector is the main source of income for the country's poorest inhabitants. Based on current trends, the growth of the agricultural sector is expected to slow during 2007.

Cambodia's most important agricultural commodity is rice, the staple food of the Cambodian people, which provides an estimated 68 percent of daily caloric intake, with the remainder coming from fish, meat, tubers, vegetables and fruits.

Estimates made by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) indicate that Cambodia has produced a national surplus of rice production since 1995/96. The rice surplus was estimated at around 2.24 million mt equalling 1.433 million mt of milled rice in 2006/2007 after adjusting for per capita food requirement of 143 kg per year (Figure 1). Between 1995 and 2006, there was a significant improvement in food production, although production declined in 2000 due to severe floods and in 2004 due to drought.

Figure 2.1: Rice Production, Yield and Balance, 1995 - 2006


Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 2007.

Cambodian farming systems are largely subsistence oriented and most agricultural activity is based on low input and rain fed production systems centered on paddy rice production. In spite of Cambodia having achieved rice self sufficient and even an exportable surplus, the rice-based farming systems are characterized by low income. The typical farmer growing paddy gets an income per hectare ranging between $100 and $ 200 per year. With little diversification into other crops and agricultural activities and with an average landholding size of 1 hectare, poverty is pervasive (Agrifood Consulting International and CamConsult, 2006).

Furthermore, despite the overall surplus of rice production in Cambodia, food insecurity still remains a major concern in some parts of the country, especially at administratively disaggregated levels, such as province, district, commune and household, where droughts and floods have occurred frequently. According to 2007 MAFF report, 5 out of 24 provinces did not produce enough rice for self-consumption (Figure 2.2). Rice shortages can be observed as high (over 10,000 MT) in 3 provinces (highlighted red) and as low (0 to 10,000 MT) in 2 provinces (highlighted orange). A large number of households may not have access to adequate food due to either the lack of productive means or purchasing power.

According to the 2004 Cambodia Socio-Economic Survey (CSES), 35 percent of Cambodian population or about 4.6 million individuals are estimated as living below the poverty line. Of this group, approximately 2.6 million live in extreme poverty facing food deprivation.

Figure 2.2: Rice Production by Province 2006/2007


Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 2007.


Cambodia has a land area of 181,035 square kilometers in the south western part of the Indochina peninsula. The country is bordered by Thailand in the west and northwest, Laos in the north, and Vietnam in the east and southeast. The cultivatable area is approximately 26 percent of the total land area [1] . The country has a coastline of 435 km and extensive mangrove stands.

The physical geography of Cambodia shows gently rolling alluvial plains forming the centre. The Mekong River drains these plains. Cambodia is spanned by mountains on three sides and by a narrow coastal strip on the southwest side. The Dangrek Mountain ranges form the frontier with Thailand in the northwest. The Cardamom Mountains and the Elephant Ranges spread across the west. Stretching along the central part of Cambodia are the alluvial plains.

The principal inland water bodies are the Mekong River, the Tonle Sap (Great Lake) and the Tonle-Bassac River. The great Mekong River stretches across the country in a north-south orientation and forms a huge delta in the southeast region of the country. The Tonle Sap (Great Lake) lies at the heartland of the country in a northwest to southeast orientation and connects with the Mekong River at Phnom Penh. The Tonle Bassac River flows southwards from this point to the delta region. Together they form a network of river channels, levees and river basins that criss-cross the entire lowlands.

Water Resource

Water is essential for ensuring food production. Safe drinking water is a prerequisite for healthy living. The main sources of water are rainfall, surface water and groundwater. The main water bodies of Cambodia are the Tonle Sap (Great Lake) that lies in the heartland of the country and the Mekong River that runs in a northeast – south direction across the country. Table 2.2 shows the summary of Cambodia’s water resources.

Table 2.2: Summary of Cambodia's Water Resources


Source: MOWRAM 2003


Cambodia receives most of its rainfall from the South West monsoons, which occur during the period between mid-May and November. According to 2004 rainfall data from MOWRAM, the coastal regions received the highest rainfall of about 3,000 mm/year (millimeters per year), whereas the mountainous regions and plain regions received an average of 1,500 mm/year and 1,200 mm/year, respectively. Koh Kong received the highest annual average rainfall of up to 4000mm (Figure 2.3).

Figure 2.3: Average Annual Rainfall for 2004



The monthly distribution of rainfall has resulted in a wet season extending from April/May to November/December and a dry season from December/January to April. In 2004, the greatest amount of rainfall occurred between June and August (Figure 4).

Figure 2.4: Average Monthly Rainfall for 2004



Surface Water

The major water bodies are the Tonle Sap Lake, Mekong and Bassac Rivers. The Mekong River has a length of almost 4,000 km. It originates from the Tanghla Shan Mountains in the Tibetan Plateau in China. Total catchment area is 795,000 square km. Among its important tributaries in Cambodia are the Sesan, the Srepok and the Sekong, which drain part of Southern Laos, western Vietnam and northeastern Cambodia. The average annual flow in the Mekong at Kratie province is approximately 440 billion cubic meters, while the maximum and minimum discharge at Kratie are estimated at 66,700 m3/s and 1,250 m3/s respectively [2] .

The Mekong River flows across Cambodia over a distance of 486 kms and drains around 156,000 km2 or 86 percent of the country, representing 19 percent of total catchment area of Mekong basin as a whole. The Sesan is the largest Mekong tributary in Cambodia. It has a drainage area of 18,000 km2, of which 11,000 km2 are located in Vietnam from where the river originates. The remaining 7,000 km2 are drained in Cambodia before discharging into the Mekong in Stueng Treng province. 

The Tonle Sap Lake which is the source of the Tonle Sap River is the largest natural lake in Southeast Asia. The annual flow from the Mekong into the Tonle Sap peaks around 8,900 m3/s in September [3] . The inflow increases the area of the Great Lake from 2,600 km2 to up a maximum of approximately 15,000 km2 and raises its water level by about 8-10 meters. About 62 percent of the Tonle Sap wet season volume originates from the inflow, while the remaining 38 percent is generated within the Tonle Sap catchment. After the monsoon, when the floods subside, the water reaches a maximum flow rate of 9,700 m3/s in November [4] .


Cambodia is estimated to have groundwater resource of 17.6 billion m3. On the basis of limited investigations, about 4.8 million ha of cultivatable land appear to be underlain by shallow aquifers with the potential for exploitation by shallow tube wells for irrigation.  Generally, the water table is between 5 to 10 meters below the surface.

In summary, total water usage in Cambodia is estimated at approximately 750 million m3 per year, and by far the largest portion is used for irrigation. The use of water from both surface and groundwater sources is increasing for cultivation, industry, aquaculture, and domestic purpose. The pie chart shows the largest portion is used for agriculture [5] .

Figure 2.5: Water Use


Source : MOWRAM 2005 

Soil Classification

In Cambodia, about 11 major soil types have been identified in the rice ecosystems (adapted from White et al 1997)[6] . Cambodian rice cultivation ecosystems and soil types have evolved in response to diverse geomorphology, topography and hydrology. Three physiographic regions subdivide the rice areas.

  • Traditional Rice-growing areas: Soils developed from old alluvial and/or colluvial [7] plains. They are located in almost all the rice-growing areas and have moderate to low fertilities, as much of the nutrients and organic matter have either leached out or been swept away by erosion.
  • Upland soils and soils of the foothills: These soils are derived from both sandstone and shale, which formed the mountains surrounding the country during relatively recent geological activities. Soils formed in this manner are relatively young and fertile. Most of the upland soils and the soils in the foothills are made this way.
  • Soils of the flood plains: Soils developed on active floodplains of rivers and lakes. There are three types of flood plains: a) meandering flood plains formed from meandering rivers that migrate laterally and thus keep changing their course; for example, the Mekong River, b) extensive floodplains formed in the lower deltaic regions of the Mekong and Tonle Bassac rivers and c) lacustrine floodplains, formed in the areas surrounding the great lake that are repeatedly flooded. These soils are very fertile and are periodically replenished by the rice alluvial deposits carried by the floodwaters.

Figure 2.6: Soil Classification


Rice Ecosystems of Cambodia

The rice ecosystems are among the most important terrestrial ecosystems to the Cambodian population in terms of food security. As in any other ecosystem there are living and non-living components and rice is undoubtedly the most important living component of the ecosystem.

Rice ecosystems in Cambodia, as elsewhere, are influenced by rainfall/flooding patterns, soil suitability and the country's topography. As a result, Cambodian rice growing ecosystems can be grouped into the following broad categories[8] :

1. Rain-fed lowland rice or wet season rice

2. Deepwater or floating rice

3. Rain-fed upland rice or Chamkar rice

4. Dry season irrigated rice

Rain-fed Lowland Rice

Rain-fed lowland rice represents 86 percent of the total annual rice cropping area of Cambodia. It is characterized by flat bounded rice fields, which depend almost entirely on rainfall or surface runoff for their water supply. The varieties grown by farmers in the rain-fed lowlands are dependent on factors such as local traditions and practices and water depth in the fields. In the higher fields, where the water depth is 15-20cm, short duration (fast growing) varieties are normally grown, while in the lower fields, where the water depth is 20-60cm, medium and long duration varieties are normally grown. In general, farmers tend to match the variety of rice to the availability of water in the area.

Deepwater or Floating Rice

Deepwater rice areas can be classified as low lying areas and depressions that accumulate flooded water to a depth of between 50cm and a maximum of 3m for at least one month during the growing period. Deepwater period rice production area accounts for only 4 percent of the total annual rice crop area in Cambodia. These areas are located mainly around the Tonle Sap Lake and along the Mekong and Basac Rivers.

Rain-fed UplandRice

The area under rain-fed upland rice cultivation accounts for 2 percent of Cambodia's total annual rice cropping areas. Upland rice areas are unbounded fields in the mountainous and rolling hill areas of Cambodia(Mondulkiri, Rattanakiri, Kratie, Koh Kong, Kampong Cham and Kampong Thom). In the shifting cultivation areas of the Northeast of Cambodia upland rice is an integral part of the "chamkar farm". Ethnic minority groups in these areas practice this type of cultivation almost exclusively. Permanent upland rice production is commonly practiced by Khmers where a field of rice is grown annually either on its own or as an intercrop or in rotation with other upland crops. It is important to note that shifting cultivation, also known as swidden agriculture which is common practice of clearing and utilizing a plot of land for 1-5 years and then clearing another plot of land and is associated with burning and thus often termed as “slash and burn”, has destroyed thousands of hectares.

Dry season Irrigated Rice

Dry season production accounts for 8 percent of the total crop area in Cambodia. The distribution of dry season production is primarily in those areas close to the major rivers and their floodplains. Dry season rice production is associated with higher yields than wet season production because of higher solar radiation, better water control and the cultivation of more fertilizer-responsive varieties of rice.

Main Crops Cultivated

Note: The statistics for crop production in Cambodia has been sourced from the 2006  Agrifood Consulting International and CamConsult report prepared for AusAID (unless otherwise indicated).  


Rice production comprises 84 percent of total cultivated land, and provides 65-75 percent of the population’s energy needs. Average growth in rice production has been 5.9 percent for the period 1991-2000, but has been slowing down, with growth from 1996-2000 at 3.1 percent and 2000-2004 at 1.7 percent. Cambodia as only recently moved from rice deficit to surplus; while the actual volumes of surplus or deficit are under dispute, it is generally agreed that Cambodia moved into rice surplus in the 1995-96 cropping year.

Figure 2.7 Paddy yield rates (MT/ha), select rice producers/ exporters


Source: UNDP HDI, 2007 (data for 2004)

Note: The latest FAO data reports that overall rice yields in Cambodia increased from 1.98 in 2004 to 2.47 tonnes per hectare in 2005 – an increase of 25 percent. Thus while average growth in rice production has been slowing down; average yield of rice obtained from a hectare has seen a sharp surge in the period 2004 – 2005.

The main types of paddy production systems are upland and lowland rainfed rice, deep water floating rice and dry season rice. These can be generally classified as being wet season versus dry season rice. Dry season rice is usually improved varieties of rice grown for cash income purposes while wet season rice include traditional varieties cultivated for subsistence and food security purposes Over the period 1992-2004, most of the increase in rice production has come through increases in dry season area production (6.73 percent per year), and yields of wet season rice (4.36 percent per year). The yields of wet season rice increased from 1.2 tonnes per hectare in 1992 to 2.47 tonnes per hectare in 2005, but the three-year yield average for 2003-05 was lower, at 2.18 MT/ha. Yield rates achieved in other rice-producing and exporting countries are considerably higher (Figure 2.7). A large portion of the production gains in the last two decades has come from area expansion rather than yield improvements. Cultivated area has been estimated to expand at about one percentage point each year since the early 1980s (UNDP, 2007). Thus the increase in yield should be seen in the context of improvements from a very low base. Because access to better wet season variety seeds has been limited, this increase in yield has been due to better access to fertilizer and other inputs (rather than improved varieties of seed).

The total tonnage of wet season rice has increased from 1.87 million tonnes in 1992 to 4.97 million tonnes in 2006 (MAFF report 2007), compared with 0.35 million tonnes of dry season rice in 1992 to 1.29 million tonnes in 2006. This indicates that although dry season rice is becoming an important component of rice production in Cambodia(particularly for exports), wet season rice continues to be the mainstay of rice production in Cambodia.

Figure 2.8. Price movements of different farm products, diesel and urea fertilizer


Source: UNDP HDI, 2007


Maize production grew strongly at 28 percent on average during 1995-2004, but has been slowing down from 32 percent over 1995-2000 to just under 23 percent over 2000- 2004. However the period 2004 – 2005 saw a sharp increase in the national price index for maize and between 2005-06 there was further improvement (UNDP, 2007). In the course of a decade (1995-04) yield grew at an average of 17 percent while the increase in cultivated area averaged 7 percent. However, Yellow maize production grew by 45.5 percent over 1995-2000 (Agrifood Consulting International and CamConsult, 2006).   The strong growth of yellow maize is probably due to its increasing use as animal feed, which is associated with the rapid growth of the poultry industry.

Unlike rice, for the period 2003 – 06, Maize has shown no increase in yield. Indeed since 2003, average yields of Maize have fallen by 6 percent (FAO, 2007). However if Maize prices continue to maintain its current position then yields are likely to increase as farmers, assured of high returns, will invest in agro-chemicals and fertilizers.


Cassava production growth has been strong at 39 percent over the period 1995- 2004, helped by the increasing demand for the starch industry. Even though recent yield growth has been strong, averaging 23 percent, average yields for 2004 were still low at 13-16 tonnes per hectare for wet and dry season production. For the period 2004-05, Cassava has continued to improve both in terms of production and yield. Cassava production increased by forty eight percent for the period 2004-05 and average yields had improved to nearly 18 tonnes per hectare (FAO, 2007).

Sweet Potato

Sweet potato production has been declining, partly because more farmers prefer to utilize cultivated area to grow rice and maize (which have higher returns) partly because, unlike cassava, there has not been growing demand for industrial uses. Over the period 1995- 2004 average growth in production was around -0.4 percent. However, in recent years there has been resurgence in production, with growth averaging 6.2 percent over the period 2000-2004. Average yields are around 4.3 MT/ha for wet season production and 3.6 MT/ha for dry season production.


Over the period 1995-2004 there have been only 3 years where growth in vegetable production has been positive; 1995/96, 1999/00 and 2003/04 (29.4 percent, 7.7 percent and 28.2 percent respectively). The average growth over the period 1995 – 2005 has been far less with the period 1995- 2000 being 1.6 percent and 2000-2004 being -0.9 percent. It is possible that actual production is grossly underestimated because of home garden cultivation that goes unrecorded. Most of the increases in production have been due to yield, which grew an average of 3.1 percent over the period 1995-2004 compared with -2.2 percent growth in area under cultivation. Since 2004 vegetable production has once again experienced negative growth with a slight decrease in overall production between 2004 – 05. Average yields have seen a reduction of 12 percent for the same period (FAO, 2007).

Industrial Crops

Industrial crops occupy 3.5 percent of total cultivated area. They include groundnut, soybean, sesame, sugarcane, tobacco, jute and rubber.

Growth in production of groundnut was on average around 23 percent per year, for the period 1995-2004. During this period growth in production was only 4 percent, but since 2000 substantial improvements in yield and area planted have increased growth to around 47 percent per year. This increase in yield and production has continued through 2005.

Growth in production of soybean has been significant over the period 1995-2004, averaging 33.5 percent. Growth has been sustained, despite several periods of contraction over this period. From 1995 to 2000 growth was almost 24 percent, while in recent years from 2000-2004 it averaged 45.6 percent. The crop grew (in terms of production) by nearly 60 percent for the period 2004 – 05 with annual production increasing from 110,305 MT to 179,096 MT (FAO, 2007).  

The trends in production of sesame in Cambodia have had a similar behavior to soybean in that there has been rapid growth till 2004. The crop has exhibited a rapid growth in production (43.5 percent annual growth over 1995-2004), with an acceleration in the most recent past, mostly as the result of growth in area. Over the period 1995-2000 growth in production was around 24 percent (comprising 19.5 percent in area and 4.7 percent in yield), while over the period 2000-2004 it was around 67.7 percent (40.2 percent in area and 15.2 percent in yield). However unlike soybean 2004 - 05, the rate of growth in production and yield was almost negligible.

Rubber plantations in Cambodia have been for a long time a major source of foreign exchange for Cambodia. Rubber production in 2004 was around 25,900 tonnes, of which 26,000 tonnes was exported from the seven SOE plantations, around 0.3 percent of the world rubber production (MAFF 2005). Production was down by 20 percent compared with 2003 data, due to reductions in tapped area and a long dry season. Export value of rubber stood at just under US$30.6 million, an increase of 5 percent over 2003 due to a 33 percent increase in the average sale price (US$1175 per tonne compared with US$866 per tonne in 2003).

Land Distribution

Land is a key asset for poor people. Owning land provides a means of livelihood to many, facilitates access to credit markets, leads to higher investments in children’s education and gives the poor more voice in the political arena (World Bank, 2006) [9] . The importance of land is paramount in a primarily agrarian society, such as Cambodia’s, in which the majority of the population makes a living as small-holding farmers, meeting a majority of their food and income needs directly from the land. With low levels of education and constrained access to capital, rural Cambodians have limited off-farm employment or self-employment opportunities. This is changing with economic growth and diversification, but for the near and medium term land will remain a critical resource for the poor, 91 percent of whom live in the countryside (World Bank, 2007)[10] .

With investment and growth since the early 1990s, land in Cambodia has for the first time begun to acquire significant market value. In the past, a low population density and limited economic potential of land underpinned a traditional “legal” framework based on principles of usufruct: that is, a popular understanding that someone who cleared land and cultivated it was assumed to enjoy title. Since the 1990s, however, population growth and market integration have resulted in increasing competition for land, bringing this traditional concept of usufruct into conflict with commercial, state and environmental interests and claims (World Bank, 2007).

In Cambodia, the average farm size among the rural poor is 1.5 ha. However, 40 percent of rural Cambodians live off less than 0.5 ha (World Bank 2006)[11] .

The proportion of rural households lacking land for cultivation has risen from 13 percent in 1997 to 16 percent in 1999 and 20 percent in 2004. An additional and growing number of households are “near landless,” owning only very small plots. The rise in landlessness is nonetheless of concern because: (1) it is relatively rapid, given that land distribution was more-or-less equal (relative to household labor) when land was formally allocated to households in 1989; and (2) the economy is not growing sufficiently fast enough to provide poverty-reducing jobs or self-employment opportunities for the increasing number of landless households. Although not all landless households are poor (some have profitable non-agricultural sources of income), many are, as with few other rural livelihood opportunities, they have to rely upon low and variable income from wage labor (World Bank, 2006).

There are a number of forces underlying the trend towards increasing landlessness. A significant proportion of the landless (those who returned from refugee camps in 1993-94 and newly-formed households headed by a young married couple) have never owned land. There is also a natural dynamic away from equal distribution: population growth leads to smaller plot sizes in densely populated areas and, as mentioned above, as in any economy a proportion of households choose to sell land (either to finance investment in non-agricultural enterprises, or in response to a pressing need for cash for current consumption, most typically urgent health treatment). A small but increasingly important part of total landlessness is due to land grabbing, as more powerful actors displace current, generally poor owner-cultivators in order to acquire valuable land (typically those near urban centers or roads) (World Bank, 2006).

Land tenure in Cambodia remains insecure for most, with ensuing disincentive effects for productivity investments and access to credit. The benefits of property rights are widely recognized and well documented in the literature. Issuing full titles to the 4.5 million applications received after the 1989 land privatization (86 percent of which are outstanding) would have significant (positive) impact on farmers with existing land (World Bank, 2006).

Oxfam GB’s 2007 study found that 67 percent of owners hold land less than 1 ha and each owned only 8 percent of land, while 12 percent of owners hold land more than 3 ha and each owned a total of 72 percent of the land.

Figure 2.9: Landholding


Source: Oxfam, 2007

According to 2004 MAFF survey data, the percentage of landless households increased slightly from 8.41 percent in 2003 to 8.58 percent in 2004 in rural areas in Cambodia. However, at provincial level we can observe that the percentage of landless households in some provinces has slightly declined, while that in other provinces has slightly increased.

Figure 2.10 indicates that the percentage of landless households in 2003-2004 in provinces that are involved in agricultural activities increased, while the percentage of landless households in provinces that are not engaged in agricultural activities declined. It can be concluded that most land in agricultural areas is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of better-off households.

Figure 2.10: Percentage of Landless households 2003 and 2004


Source: MAFF crop data assessment 2003 and 2004

Overall, 48 percent of rural households in Cambodia hold less than 1 ha of agricultural land, though the difference between provinces can be drastic: 87 percent of rural households in Kratie province hold less than 1 ha of agricultural land, while only 7 percent of rural households in Ratanak Kiri province hold that amount (Figure 2.11).

Figure 2.11: Percentage of Household Landholding Less than 1 Ha in Rural


Source: MAFF crop data assessment 2003 and 2004 

Cropping Season

The majority of farm households are engaged in rice production. The most important rice growing areas include the provinces of Battambang, Banteay Mean Chey, and Siem Reap in the North West and Kampong Cham, Takeo and Prey Veng in the South East. In a normal year, these provinces together account for some 63 percent of aggregated rice production. Most of the rice cultivation in the country revolves around the wet season which extends from July to October. This crop is entirely dependent on rainfall and accounts for around 85 percent of annual food crop production, over 90 percent of crop area and almost 70 percent of dietary energy needs (FAO/WFP, 2000). Five different rice systems are practiced: three in the wet season and two in the dry season. These include the following:

           Low-land rain-fed rice;

           Deep water and floating rice;

           Rain-fed upland rice;

           Dry season flood recession rice with supplementary irrigation;

           Dry season lowland irrigation rice.

Within the wet season systems, floating, early, medium and late varieties of rice are cultivated, the growing period of which extends from 90 to 210 days.

The crop calendar for the various types and seasons of rice is indicated in Figure 8.

Figure 2.12: Crop Calendar



Apart from growing rice and crops, Cambodian farmers also raise livestock, such as cattle, buffalo, pigs, and poultry, which play a major role in Cambodia’s rural farming system. Farmers use cattle and buffalo in the rice field to plough, carry rice and perform other tasks. Farmers also sell their livestock in exchange for cash. In addition, most poor farmers raise a small number of chickens and pigs in order to earn some supplementary income.

Livestock production in Cambodia accounted for 4.6 percent of GDP (at current prices) in 2006 (NIS, 2007) [12] and was the second most important source of protein intake after fish. It is largely a household activity and provides useful income supplements. Raising cattle, pigs, ruminants and poultry holds high promise for growth. In addition, livestock often integrates well into the overall agricultural farming systems framework. Thus at present livestock production exists solely in the form of small-scale family farming; No large-scale cattle and buffalo production exists in Cambodia. Cattle and buffalo are raised as an integral part of the rural agricultural system. They are the most important sources of draft and transport in the fields, representing 90 percent of the power needs for tillage and transport in rural areas [13] . According to MAFF data, cattle and buffalo production has increased gradually in the last 10 years. The number of poultry has increased significantly from about 11 million in 1993 to 15 million in 2005 (Figure 2.13).

The strong demand for cattle and buffalo in neighboring Vietnam and Thailand represents a significant potential source of export earning, though the current system of weak border controls greatly impacts trade and management. According to the UNDP HDR 2007 report 80,000 to 150,000 head of cattle was unofficially exported in 2004. Official export numbers, however, are much lower – only 10,600 head of cattle, or only two percent of the total livestock exports of ASEAN. Although there is no official data on cattle export to neighboring countries, small and medium-scale export of Cambodian cattle is often reported to occur along the Thai and Vietnamese borders. Without an adequate system of trade and management though, the export of Cambodian cattle and buffalo to Thailand and Vietnam remains an untapped, though potential large, source of development in the future.

Figure 2.13: Number of livestock


Source: MAFF/NIS data (1993-2005)

Limitations to Agricultural Productivity

Cambodian rice farmers face serious constraints on increasing productivity and output quality. These include the lack of breeding-seed stock, many farmers’ lack of title to the land they farm (which discourages them from investing in improvements), and a lack of access to commercial credit, in part because credit application procedures are discouraging and not tailored for small loan sizes. Water-use systems, where irrigation is available, are highly politicized, with pervasive free riding. Many farmers struggle to subsist on rice production from plots that are just not suited to rice production[14] . According to Agrifood Consulting International and CamConsult (2006), agricultural productivity is still quite low both in terms of labor (about US$170/worker) and in terms of land (US$518/ha).

Increased public investment is needed to maintain the breeder stock of seed, particularly for the traditional rice varieties that the poor grow. This should be complemented through an appropriate institutional framework to ensure that research centers focus on basic research and varietal development, while private companies focus on the multiplication and sale of certified seed. Efforts also need to be redoubled to implement the land law and raise public awareness of land rights, while improvements in the functioning of water user groups would go a long way to raise productivity and returns. Those farmers who cannot profitably produce rice because of poor natural resource endowments should be encouraged to diversify into other products, helped by agricultural extension and advisory services (World Bank, 2003).

High cost of agricultural production

The prices of fertilizers and fuel have risen continuously and steeply in recent years, but the prices of farm produce have not kept pace (Figure 2.8). This deteriorating input-to-output price ratio for all crops, unless compensated by commensurate productivity increases, will squeeze farmers’ profitability. The direct fall-out of this is that farmers cannot afford to use fertilizers and hybrids in an effort to increase yield. Through the 1980s and 1990s the Government provided subsidized fertilizers but this practice was ended in 1997. While there are definite advantages in removing fertilizer subsidy (for e.g. in a country like India where fertilizer consumption is relatively high considering average land holdings); Cambodia’s farmers will definitely reap benefits if the cost of agricultural production is lowered, allowing them greater access to inputs especially organic fertilizers, and improved varieties.

Addressing problems of low soil fertility

Land is being constantly cleared for cultivation by felling forests. However the sudden and large-scale removal of forests is also resulting in the reduction of soil fertility. These recently cleared lands often are not fertile enough to sustain mono-crop cultivation. Low yields and high risks of crop failure in these areas are major causes of poverty and indebtedness. Many of these lands require soil treatments, while others, at least in the short term, are better suited for perennial crops (e.g., palm, papaya, banana) rather than annual crops. However as has been noted farmers are unable to afford fertilizers or practice multiple cropping (as returns for other crops are low).

Lack of Diversity

The UNDP HDR 2007 report notes that more than 90 percent of Cambodia’s farm land is allocated to rice despite the country having the environment to produce a number of crops in addition to a range of horticultural and tree crops. This lack of crop diversification is probably driven by the farmer’s fear of economic loss which prevents him switching to alternative crops. Among problems faced by individual farmers in growing other crops is that at most locations, the marketable supply is not large enough to attract other buyers. Further, this lack of a critical minimum supply volume of alternative crops also inhibits the agro-industry from establishing value chains of Cambodian food products.

Processors and Millers

Rice processing, too, faces some key constraints. A few millers hold a monopoly on rice processing, allowing them to capture higher margins than if the milling link was more competitive. Reliance on obsolete milling equipment results in high levels of broken rice, reducing the value of the crop. Poor paddy quality, in the form of mixed varieties of seeds and inadequate post-harvest handling, also increases the percentage of broken rice and lowers the price earned by most farmers. Millers’ lack of working capital, and the high cost of credit, limits their ability to buy paddy from farmers and update their machinery. This encourages the unofficial export of paddy to Vietnam and Thailand and prevents the country from capturing the value added from rice milling. Rice millers have limited access to foreign markets, given their inability to produce consistent amounts of standardized varieties of milled rice and their lack of information about foreign market conditions (World Bank, 2003).

Milling is the key bottleneck in the rice value chain in Cambodia. Millers and farmers have important unexploited opportunities for collaboration to encourage more productive cultivation of paddy as well as better sorting and post harvest handling; farmers’ associations have linked with millers and processors in Angkor Kasekam, providing a model that could be replicated elsewhere. More important still is increased competition in milling (to help reduce milling margins in Cambodia that are substantially higher than those in Vietnam) and an increase in prices for poor producers. Efforts to build capacity (both private and public) in marketing information services would be useful to improve knowledge among participants in the rice marketing chain[15] .

Distributors: Retail and export

Poor roads dampen production incentives and reduce market access. Unofficial checkpoints and port fees raise the costs of rice for Cambodian consumers and lower the competitiveness of all Cambodian rice products, including those bound for export. Nearly half of transport fees are unofficial costs. In addition, exporters are constrained by their inability to obtain consistent amounts of a standardized quality of milled rice (World Bank, 2003).

Increased investment to improve roads, railways, and ports, and to strengthen the market information system, would reduce transactions costs and raise the profits to actors along the chain. So, too, would efforts to put into place transparent rules for export clearance and to build capacity in legal institutions to facilitate export transactions. Reducing transactions costs and marketing margins can go a long way to improve returns (World Bank, 2003).

Agricultural Production at Household Level

The majority of farm households are engaged in agricultural production. According to CSES 2004, about 2,148,500 households (about 82.6 percent of total households) were estimated to work on crop production in the wet season and 874,154 households (about 33.6 percent of total households) in the dry season[16] . Table 2.3 shows that about 61.6 percent of total households are engaged in the production of cereals.

Table 2.3: Households engaged in crop production


Source: CSES 2004

Rice grown on uplands requires more fertilizer inputs since there is no natural nutrient left behind by receding flood-waters and the crop also requires transplanting, which raises the costs. These farmers have also been adversely affected by natural calamities. Excessive flooding in 2000 and 2001 prevented farmers from cultivating low-lying lands for two years. Some farmers face a rice shortage for up to three months each year because they are either landless or possess very small plots of land. Additionally, many have to sell all their produce at harvest time at low prices to pay back loans and/or to meet expenses. They buy food during the lean months. For such farmers, farming is not a profitable proposition. Chamcar crops (home garden, horticulture and fruit trees) are an important source of food, and are critical to maintaining the food balance during lean months. Farmers cultivate orange, banana, mango, jack fruit, papaya, guava and a variety of medicinal flora. Chamcar cultivation is subsistence agriculture as cash incomes earned from chamcar and most of the crop is for personal consumption or exchange. Chamcar land is more equitably distributed compared to rice land, which helps in strengthening the food security situation (Agrifood Consulting International and CamConsult, 2006)

According to an assessment on “Food Security and Livelihood” in Svay Rieng province [17] , agriculture is the major income source of better-off households (52%), while poor households have only 20 percent of income from agriculture and 40 percent from casual labor.

Table 2.4: Percentage of Annual Income of Households in Svay Rieng


Source: Oxfam GB's seasonal calendar in Svay Rieng province.

The seasonal calendar shows that households engaged in rice farming generally start land preparation in May, plant seedlings in June/July, and harvest in November/December. In addition, they do home gardening from January to May and fish and find craps and frogs from July to November/December. Poor households who are landless or have little land sell their labor for transplanting rice from August to September and harvesting from November to December.

Figure 2.14: Seasonal Calendar



Source: Oxfam GB's seasonal calendar in Svay Rieng province.

[2] Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorology, 2005, Summary Report on Integrated Water Resource Management Strategy in Cambodia.

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6]   White, P.F., Oberthur, T. and Sovuthy, Pheav, 1997, The Soil Used for Rice Production in Cambodia.

[7] Alluviation is the washing of sediments or erosion from the hills by rivers through gullies and ravines. Colluviation is the movement of weathered and loose soil down slopes through gravitational action. These deposited sediments in the course of time from gently undulating terraces.

[8] MAFF/UNCCD, 2006, 3rd National Report to the Convention on Combat Desertification.

[9] World Bank, 2006, World Development Report, Oxford University Press

[10] World Bank, 2007, Cambodia : Sharing Growth : Equity and Development Report.

[11] World Bank, 2006, Cambodia : Halving Poverty by 2015.

[12] NIS, 2007, National Accounts of Cambodia 1993-2006.

[13] CDRI, 2001, Agriculture Sector in Cambodia.

[14] World Bank, 2003, East Asia Integrates : A Trade Policy Agenda for Shared Growth.

[15] Ibid

[16] NIS, 2004, Cambodia Socio-Economic Survey : Crop Production.

[17] Oxfam GB, 2007, Food Security and Livelihoods Baseline Assessment Report.


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