Much discussed, but little-understood, agro-tourism is a two-fold initiative that intends to spread tourist dollars currently going only to a small portion of the population, primarily in Siem Reap, according to Minister of Tourism Lay Prohas.
“Agro-tourism is a new term: Cambodia invented that, I think,” Lay Prohas said Monday.
Prime Minister Hun Sen had used the term to refer to organizing tour packages to the countryside, especially to farms, Lay Prohas said.
“Agro-tourism in this sense is about organizing home-stays and day trip activities. It is about the aroma of the paddy fields, the beauty of the green rice fields…
getting tourists to appreciate this,” he said.
But, he added, agro-tourism has another, possibly more profitable aspect that involves upgrading farms and helping locals produce and market their food and flowers for the country’s hotels and restaurants.
“The second part is getting the private sector to produce agricultural products to supply tourism,” he said, adding that the vast majority of hotels and restaurants currently use imported agricultural products from Vietnam and Thailand.
Lay Prohas said that with Cambodia’s membership in the World Trade Organization, Cambodian farmers may be hard pressed to compete with industrial farms in neighboring countries. But with an estimated $1 billion being spent by tourists in Cambodia, they have an opportunity that is not being realized at home, he added.
“The idea is to set up a cooperative, ” he said. “Mobilizing the village: One village, one product. One village producing a vegetable, one village producing the meat.”
Eventually a “green belt” could be functioning around Siem Reap, he said.
The minister said the government will conduct a survey to find out exactly what demand for food, beverage and services is by tourists. Then it will be up to the Agriculture Ministry and Rural Development Ministry to work with NGOs to begin production.
Dr Yim Voeunthan, secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, said Monday that a lot of work on basic production facilities needs to be done before agro-tourism can get off the ground, especially in the area of animal products.
“Our slaughterhouses need to be brought up to international standards,” he said. “We have health inspectors in some of the slaughterhouses but not all. Tourists do not want to buy Cambodian agricultural products until they know where they come from.”