Experts, Officials Discuss Rural Poverty in Region

More than 200 rural development experts and government ministers from across Asia gathered in Siem Reap City on Tuesday to discuss ways to address rural poverty in the region and improve profitability in the countries’ agriculture sectors.

The regional conference, hosted jointly by the Cambodian government and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), aims to set out a strategy “to transform rural areas into vibrant and economically viable communities,” according to a statement released by IFAD Tuesday.

“In rural areas of the region the agricultural sector is still the best option to generate income, and yet a chronic lack of access to improved technologies and sustainable investment opportunities make it hard for rural people to improve their living standards,” IFAD vice president John McIntire said in the statement.

Speaking at the opening of the event, “Transforming Rural Areas—Strategic Vision for Asia and the Pacific,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia was facing similar challenges to much of the rest of Asia, including the effects of climate change and the need to ensure agricultural production can meet growing demand for food.

According to a transcript of his speech, Mr. Hun Sen said that transforming rural areas through measures such as improving infrastructure and creating jobs for young people was the answer to these challenges.

“This will ensure new opportunities for rural dwellers, especially the creation of [a] social safety net for rural people and a new driving force for the development of rural households,” he said.

Benoit Thierry, IFAD country program manager for Cambodia, said the conference aims to address Cambodia’s low productivity and its need to gain better access to export markets.

Mr. Thierry stressed that Cambodia also needed to encourage more small enterprises, such as rice mills, which can add value to products and offset the influence that larger companies have over farmers.

“You have to link farmers with enterprises of a small size. They can’t be linked with big companies because farmers cannot negotiate with them,” he said.

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