About 100 high-powered businessmen and officials listened Tuesday to a plan that could one day turn the dusty villages of Cambodia into roaring engines of economic growth.
“This is a great idea, which the government really needs,” said Sok An, minister of the Council of Ministers. “It’s an idea that could help people live better lives.”
The plan—or maybe it should be called a philosophy—was dubbed “one-village, one-product” by its creator, Morihiko Hiramatsu, the governor of Oita Prefecture in Japan.
Oita, in southeastern Japan, was in an economic slump in 1979 when Morihiko Hiramatsu convinced the people in each area to decide what they do best and concentrate on that.
That simple idea—plus a genius for marketing—increased the prefecture’s output from $369 million in 1980 to $1.8 billion in 1998, said Goto Sayoko, director of Japan’s International Affairs Division.
Oita is famous for dozens of products, from the pottery of Hita City to the scallops of Kamae. Other villages chose to promote their hot springs, or pickles, a fairy tale festival or an abandoned gold mine turned museum.
One example cited was Oyama, where farmers had struggled to grow enough rice to keep them alive; since switching to plum and chestnut trees, they earn more for less work.
Cambodia, which already has a city named after a specialty product (Kompong Chhnang, home of clay pots), could promote the silks of Kandal province and the temples of Siem Reap, organizers said.
The seminar at Hotel Inter-Continental was sponsored by the Ministry of Commerce, Phnom Penh Chamber of Commerce and Japanese NGO Jetro Cambodia.
Nakana Keiichi of Jetro said that although Japan is Cambodia’s biggest donor, it hesitates to invest here because of corruption and political instability.
Sok Siphana, secretary of state for the Commerce Ministry, said his ministry will work to let Japan and the world know that Cambodia has world-class products.