Food Security Isn’t an Issue, Officials Say

Two senior government officials on Friday denied the UN World Food Pro­gram’s assessment of Cambodia’s food security situation, which stated that the global economic crisis was seriously threatening food security and ranked Cambo­dia in a group of 40 nations most vulnerable to increasing levels of hunger due to the crisis.

“I don’t believe this survey…. Cambodian people don’t die from the global economic crisis, because Cambodia has more than 2 million tons of surplus milled rice,” Senior Minister Tao Seng Huor said, dismissing findings of the survey by WFP’s headquarters in Rome, which listed Cambodia in the vulnerable nations group.

Mr Tao Seng Huor, who was chairing a government and donor agency food security forum in Phnom Penh, said food security in some areas could be affected be­cause those parts had poor rice growing conditions or were prone to natural disasters.

“For these areas Samdech Hun Sen ordered the Ministry of Agri­culture and Water Resources to intervene,” he said, adding that the prime minister was proud of the agriculture sector, which had in­creased its yield by 2.3 million tons of milled rice a year over the past decade.

The WFP study—like the recent survey of the Economist Intelli­gence Unit’s report, which said global economic decline had put Cambodia in the top five of countries at risk of political unrest—was wrong, he said.

The minister added that recently appointed WFP country representative Jean-Pierre de Margerie should study Cambodia’s agriculture and food situation more.

Mr de Margerie, who attended the forum, said he was unaware of Mr Tao Seng Huor’s comments.

“The only thing I can say is that he told me that he is anxious to co­operate more with me,” Mr de Margerie said later.

On Thursday the WFP director said the 2008 spike in food prices had increased the number of food-insecure people in Cambodia to 2.8 million during the latest “lean season”—lasting from July to Novem-ber—and that the economic crisis threatens to push even more people into hunger and poverty during the upcoming lean season.

Senior minister and second vice-chairman of the National Commit­tee for Disaster Management Ly Thuch said he did not believe 2.8 million people went hungry in 2008, adding that he had visited rural areas recently and the situation was not as bad as the WFP claimed.

“I want to ask WFP how did they survey hunger? Did they go to all 10,000 villages and ask families one by one?” Mr Ly Thuch said.

The economic crisis would not seriously affect people’s standard of living, Mr Ly Thuch said, adding that people’s income and state revenue would be reduced, but Cam­bodia still had an abundance of rice, which it could even export.

“[People] should cut down their expense for things that are not necessary,” he added.

Only vulnerable groups such as widows and the elderly and disabled who could not farm had food security problems, the minister continued, adding that local authorities and the government monitored these groups.

“The local authority report to the NCDM and the Red Cross, who always conduct intervention,” he said.

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