Having a tropical climate, 2.5 million hectares of arable land about (21 percent of total land area) and 80 percent of rural population, Cambodia is predominantly an agrarian society with agriculture serves as one of main drivers of the economy. Today agriculture sector contributes close to one-third of national GDP and employs more than half of the total labor force. However, lacking irrigation facilities and technology, Cambodia’s farming is largely subsistence oriented and heavily dependent on rainfall, which often affects its productivity as drought and flood are common.
Due to the lack of irrigation, shortage of male manpower, and the continued presence of land mines in the northwest region of the country which a major rice-growing area, Cambodia’s agriculture productivity was low and far below its potential. According to Cambodia Human Development Report 2007, only seven percent of the total agricultural land is irrigated.
Landlessness is another major problem that prevents agriculture from growing to its potential. PSIA (Potential Poverty and Social Impacts of Cambodia‘s proposed Social Land Concession Program) studies in 2004 on landlessness and land-poverty reveals that of the 22,193 families in the sample area 11.6 percent is landless (not owning agricultural land and not having the means to purchase it) and 4.6 percent is land-poor (not having enough land). Access to land is the most important social safety net in rural areas. Not owning a piece of land means losing an important food security dimension and contributes to families’ poverty.
Lacking market mechanism to support agriculture product is one of the challenges that need to be addressed. According to Cambodia Agriculture Sector Diagnostic Report, primary agricultural produce collected in the villages tends to be sold to local wholesale traders, processors and/or exporters who often offer a price well below market prices in urban areas. Lacking storage facilities and at the same time are in need of cash leaves the farmers with no other option but to sell at an offered price. With no proper market organization also implies that producers lack bargaining power centers. Institutional inefficiencies also limit establishment of efficient value-added agro-processing industries, which could potentially benefit producers and consumers alike.
With large arable land and a low population density (298 hectares per 1000 population), Cambodia has special advantages compared to much more densely populated rural areas such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, or Indonesia. However, due to the lack of irrigation, shortage of technology and male manpower, the sector is currently far below its potential. According to the World Bank study, Cambodia can achieve greater development and reduce poverty by investing more in agriculture sector. The challenge ahead is, therefore, to increase agricultural growth and generate more income opportunities in rural areas.
Enrich recognizes the importance of agriculture for Cambodia's economic growth and is committed to contribute to the growth of the sector by conducting research to better understand Cambodia’s comparative advantage and the available options to explore this advantage. Agriculture development requires a better understanding of the interactions between different growth options and growth outcomes in terms of income generation to the poor and food security and nutrition improvement. Finally, it requires prioritization and sequencing of public investment to promote agricultural growth. Enrich's research focuses on the following topics: