During the steady growth of the agriculture sector in the past decade, farmers have been rapidly increasing the use of tractors, small power tillers and mechanical harvesters, an Agriculture Ministry official said Monday, explaining that farming machinery usage had seen a six-fold rise since 2001.
An agriculture expert, however, said much of this mechanization is concentrated in the western provinces, where many large-scale farmers operate.
Chan Saruth, director of the Agriculture Ministry’s department of agriculture machinery, said the use of farm machinery had started at a low base, with farmers in 2001 owning only about 1,000 tractors and 10,000 power tillers, also called two-wheel tractors.
According to Mr Saruth, now there are roughly 6,000 vehicles and about 60,000 tillers.
“From year to year, the number of agriculture machinery used for farming increased a lot,” he said, adding however, that the use of combine harvesters for rice harvesting has been limited to only about 800 combines.
During the past decade, the agriculture sector has seen slow but steady growth of about 5 percent annually.
A new government rice policy aims to drastically increase rice exports to 1 million tons by 2015—up from 50,000 tons in 2010—but it makes no mention of mechanizing agriculture.
Mr Saruth said increased rural incomes had allowed farmers to purchase machinery. This brought them a range of benefits: replacing draft animals and increasingly scarce rural labor, speeding up planting and a rapid, better-preserved harvest.
Yang Saing Koma, director of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, said mechanization had largely occurred in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces.
“Over there, people tend to have bigger landholdings and there’s a bigger problem with labor, as more people do jobs in Thailand,” he said. “But the cost of labor is still low in a lot of [other] places, so I don’t think people will rush to mechanize.”
Mr Saing Koma also said for farmers who own less than 1 hectare of land, purchasing a small, $1,000 power tiller is still not a proper investment, unless multiple farmers are able to buy it as a group.
Hout Sothy, provincial deputy director of Banteay Meanchey province’s agriculture department, said machinery usage among farmers there had risen to about 95 percent, totaling about 1,000 tractors and 18,000 power tillers.
Huot Sovann, executive director of Mekong Agriculture Tractor Co Ltd in Phnom Penh, said sales of tractors were soaring, and so far this year he had already sold 60 percent of the 2008 record of 500 new tractors.
“We have a lot of buyers,” Mr Sovann said, adding that five years ago, the average number of tractors sold was about 200 per year.
He explained that about 60 percent of demand for tractors—which sell from $24,000 and up—came from individual farmers and the rest from agro-farm estates such as rubber plantations.
Hul Khloem, a farmer in Battambang’s Bavel district, said he bought a power tiller 10 years ago, which had saved him a lot of time and the costs of paying laborers and tending to animals.
“Now there is climate change, and we plant crops twice per year. We cannot work slowly,” he said.