While industrial and service sectors are growing much faster than the agricultural sector, agriculture still dominates Cambodia’s economy. More than 70% of the population earn their livelihoods from agriculture and farming contributes significantly to food security on the countryside. 51% of Cambodians are actively employed in agriculture and in 2014 agricultural exports contributed to USD 758 million of the country’s economy (Open Development Cambodia and Human Development Index 2015).
Crop production dominates the agricultural sector, followed by fishery, livestock, and forestry. Within the agricultural sector, rice is the main crop (2.98 million ha), followed by cassava and maize (RGC: The Fifth National Report To The Convention On Biological Diversity).
Crops by area, 2012
Family livestock by head, 2012
Drawing on the importance of rice for Cambodia, in 2010 prime minister Hun Sen set a target to reach rice exports of 1 million tons annually (Economist Intelligence Unit). In the first 9 months of 2015 however, rice exports only came to roughly 370,000 tons, still an impressive increase of 39% over the same period the previous year. While this “white gold” policy focuses on rice, the country’s Rectangular Strategy pushes for a diversification into other crops such as corn, sugarcane, cashew nut, rubber and cassava. The land area for these crops has expanded from 210,000 ha in 2008 to 770,000 ha in 2012 (Open Development Cambodia).
In the light of climate change, an agricultural nation such as Cambodia faces increasing threats of droughts and flooding, leaving the population vulnerable to changing weather patterns. Slow growth is also considered a result of inadequate infrastructure, especially irrigation, and declining soil fertility. Small-scale producers often have little access to markets and thus difficulty to increase their incomes from agriculture. The worsening soil quality is partly due to the increased usage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides by small scale farmers without proper training or instructions, raising environmental and health concerns. Large producers are limited by a lack of infrastructure and skilled labour force, and often are embroiled in land and natural resource disputes with local communities (Open Development Cambodia).