Cambodia has made considerable progress in raising living standards but it remains one of the poorest countries in South-East Asia. About one-quarter of its population lives in poverty and income inequality is widening between urban and rural areas, where 90% of poor people live. The Australian aid program to Cambodia will concentrate activities in four key areas: rural development, health, infrastructure, and law and justice.
ACIAR’s strategy is to support the rural development component in line with the Royal Government of Cambodia’s (RGC’s) development priorities, as outlined in the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP). This plan brings together Cambodia’s Millennium Development Goal targets and the priorities of its national poverty-reduction strategy.
Agriculture remains a significant part of the Cambodian economy, with about 80% of the population relying on agriculture for their livelihoods. The Cambodian agricultural production environment is, in general, harsher than the fertile lowlands of other countries in the region. Soils are generally poor, often becoming waterlogged during the wet season, and three-quarters of the agriculture is rainfed. The predominance of rice-based farming systems on infertile, poorly structured soils means that Cambodia has rather low agricultural productivity on both a labour and a land area basis.
ACIAR’s program in Cambodia has three thrusts, all of which are in line with both the agricultural and water priorities under the NSDP and the newly promulgated RGC Rice Export Policy. First, ACIAR supports research that aims to increase and secure the productivity of rice-based farming systems and associated postharvest systems. This is important for both household food security, and national and regional food production. Second, the strategy supports applied R&D that underpins agricultural diversification, particularly into non-rice field and horticultural crops and ruminant livestock. A third thrust recognises the vulnerability of Cambodian agriculture, particularly rainfed cropping, to climate variability and change.
ACIAR’s programs have a focus on the southern provinces (Kampot, Takeo, Kandal, Prey Veng and Kampong Cham), two Tonle Sap provinces (Kampong Thom and Siem Reap) and two north-western provinces (Battambang and Pailin), mainly emphasising maize-based field crops. These provinces were selected on the basis of access to emerging domestic and international (Thailand, Vietnam) markets and as key production locations for the agreed priority crops and ruminant livestock.