An ineffective market system in Cambodia is keeping farmers pinned down with low capital, unable to invest in equipment or diversify their crops.
And these problems faced by farmers are what is keeping Cambodia’s agriculture exports low and imports high, experts say.
The Ministry of Commerce and the European Commission are hoping to solve those problems with a new market center in Neak Leung in Prey Veng that would serve as a model for the rest of Cambodia.
“The idea is simple,” said Khek Ravy, secretary of state for the Ministry of Commerce. “But the Cambodian way of doing things is complex. We have to change that.”
The proposed market would have 400 to 500 stalls, with 40 to 50 dedicated to wholesalers, according to a draft plan of the market. There would be sections for produce, fish, pigs and poultry.
But the market would be more than just a physical space in Neak Leung, said Manfred Staab, the EC’s co-director for the project. It would be a carefully organized move toward overall agricultural improvement.
Neak Leung, on the Mekong River, is a good midway point between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City and is a collection point for trade, Staab said. “Like a valley that catches water.”
In addition to better organization, the market will emphasize hygienic conditions and timely information on everything from international market prices to farming innovations.
Currently, marketplaces across the country are a mixture of wholesalers, semi-wholesalers, retailers, and farmers peddling their own goods. A farmer might spend half his time in the field and the rest of it moving his goods to the market and waiting for them to be sold.
It is an inefficient system that leads to instability for farmers, who have a difficult time either selling what they have, or knowing where to expand. For example, Khek Ravy said, fruits and vegetables that could be grown and sold locally are being imported from Vietnam.
The Neak Leung market would help put more control into the hands of Cambodia’s farmers, Khek Ravy said. The market will first be set up under the guidelines of the ministry, with low rental prices for space to encourage participation.
Day to day management of the market will eventually be placed in the hands of a national association of farmers, which the ministry is encouraging to help the flow of goods and information among farmers, and to give them a legal recourse against buyers who break their promises.
Rental spaces designed specifically for wholesalers—and including the necessary space for new technologies like grain dryers—will adhere to strict international hygienic codes so that, once a large mass of goods begins accumulating there, the potential for export will not be hampered by dirty food, Khek Ravy said.
An information office that lists international prices of goods will also be built into the market. Farmers will be able to tell which crops they could begin diversifying into and form cooperatives capable of growing crops in quantities high enough to make export feasible.
No construction date for the market has been set nor is the overall cost known, Staab said. Funding will come from a $34 million EC Support Program for the Agricultural Sector in Cambodia, Stabb said.
Project officials will meet with local businessmen in Neak Leung in coming weeks to discuss the market plan further.
Once the market is built, Khek Ravy said, it will serve as a model that could restructure how all of Cambodia’s markets work.
“If I can demonstrate with this project that it is successful,” he said, “it will catch all over.”