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Cambodia hope for organic farms

By Guy De Launey
BBC News, Phnom Penh
4 March, 2005

Cambodia's government says it wants to make the country the "green farm of South East Asia".

It has just launched a campaign to promote organic farming - in conjunction with the European Union.

Cambodia wants to reduce its reliance on the garment industry, which accounts for about 80% of its exports.

The garment industry has been able to compete by attracting ethically-minded customers, because of the good working conditions in its factories.

Now the government is looking to repeat that success with agriculture.

The country urgently needs to diversify its economy. With much of Cambodia still rural and undeveloped, agriculture is an obvious area for expansion.

But its tiny size compared to that of its neighbours Thailand and Vietnam means that Cambodia must find a novel way to compete.

For Secretary of State for Commerce Sok Siphana, organic products are the obvious answer.

"As a new player, one cannot go straight into competition hands on with mechanised competitors, when you are not mechanised," he said.

"But I find that the global trend in organic agriculture is very, very conducive for our niche marketing."

Birgitt Boor, the European Union adviser to the project, said Cambodian farmers would be able to see immediate advantages from going organic.

"In Cambodia, many [people] are in debt because they take credits at the start of the season to buy agro-chemicals," she said.

"If they see that organic farmers don't need to buy external inputs because of the change in the system, then other farmers pick it up."

For some farmers, organic production is already a reality.

Cambodia's first crop of certified organic rice is about to go on sale.

The government hopes others will soon follow that example.