French Group Marks 20 Years Of Development in Cambodia

Twenty years ago, the French government’s aid organization, French Development Agency (FDA), opened an office in Phnom Penh as part of international efforts to rebuild the country after years of conflict.

Since then, the FDA has invested about $354 million in Cambodia, making the agency the seventh-biggest bilateral funder, FDA officials said yesterday at a press conference marking the agency’s 20th anniversary.

However, since the FDA is working on eight projects totaling $130 million for 2013 to 2014 alone, this ranking may soon increase, said Julien Darpoux, FDA program officer in Phnom Penh. About 90 percent of this amount would be loans, which reflects the FDA’s new policy as the country’s economic recovery over the past decade has enabled the agency to increase loans, develop partnerships with the private sector and reduce grants in programs, he said.

Despite of overall improvements, a lack of qualified manpower stands in the way of progress in Cambodia, said Andre Pouilles-Duplaix, FDA director for Cambodia and Laos.

“There is a dire need for trained staff at every level: from middle managers to take over positions now held by foreign consultants, to technicians in every field,” he said.

He added that to help train staff, the FDA has lent the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia $3.9 million to create a training center, is developing a training program in tourism and hopes to do the same for agriculture.

When the FDA opened its office in Phnom Penh in 1993, the country was trying to recover from two decades of conflict. The agency’s projects reflected the situation.

Among its early projects, the FDA rebuilt the silk sector in northwestern Cambodia and “the Prey Nup polder program in Preah Sihanouk province to improve irrigation and increase rice production, which went from 1 ton to around 3 tons per hectare,” Mr. Darpoux said.

The FDA’s upcoming initiatives in­clude power access plans in three provinces, as only 24 percent of Cambodians have access to the electricity grid and affordable rates, Mr. Pouilles-Duplaix said.

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