Rice Surplus But Many Still Go Hungry

Though the Ministry of Agriculture boasted a 2.3 million ton rice surplus for 2007, that doesn’t mean everybody is getting enough to eat, the World Food Program’s director for Cambodia, Thomas Keusters, said recently.

Cambodia has been gradually producing more rice than it consumes since 1996, Keusters said, but with that increase in production, the gap between rich and poor has also grown, creating uneven food distribution.

“The benefits of the increased production are not spread evenly,” Keusters said. “The gap is increasing between those who are able to benefit from improved agricultural structures and those who do not have access to irrigated land.”

The WFP provides rice to lactating mothers, people with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, orphans and schoolchildren in food-insecure areas of the country, particularly Kompong Speu and Pursat provinces.

According to a 2006 analysis by the Food Policy Research Institute, an estimated 2.6 million Cambodians live in extreme poverty and face food deprivation due directly to the poor management of agriculture resources.

According to the World Bank’s 2008 World Development Report, growth in the agriculture sector of a country is known to automatically reduce poverty.

GDP growth from agriculture can benefit the income of the poor two to four times more than GDP growth from the non-agriculture sector, the report stated.

“Agriculture has the huge potential to fight poverty, but at the moment that potential is unrecognized,” World Bank country manager Nisha Agrawal said last week at a conference in Phnom Penh.

“You cannot reduce poverty today without looking at agriculture,” she said.

Cambodia, however, lags behind Southeast Asia in tapping the benefits of agriculture, as only 4 percent of all bank loans in Cambodia, totaling $1.1 billion, went toward agriculture in 2007, Ministry of Economy and Finance Secretary-General Hang Chuon Naron said by telephone.

In contrast, 33 percent of bank loans last year went toward the hotel industry, 23 percent to trade, 12 percent to manufacturing, 9 percent to real estate and 8 percent to construction.

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