Q&A session with Sok Sotha, Managing Director of Cambodian Farmer Federation Association of Agriculture Producers (CFAP)

What are the most significant impacts that COVID-19 pandemic has on farmers’ daily activity in your country?

Since its outbreak, the COVID-19 pandemic has already affected several of our farmer members as they need to go to markets to buy seeds, agro-inputs and other farming tools. The Cambodian farmers continue working on their farms, but problems happened for their supplying produces due to a quarantined measure with no exact deadline. Farmers faced challenges with daily incomes to continue and expand their farming. They find it difficult to sell their products on markets which it is required to find a better solution soon.

How are your farmer members making sure that sanitation measures are taken at the farm level?

The health on the farm is high-risk as most of our farmers live in the rural areas and they are poor; first, they need to be able to keep themselves alive with a little amount of money compared to before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Currently, our organisation is using a messaging app to share information with its members who have smartphones and invite them to keep safe, far away from the crowd and in quarantine. We have advised our farmer members to protect their farms by not allowing people to come inside. Furthermore, CFAP is helping the farmer members by providing them with at least sanitise such as soap and or alcohol to clean their arms.

What are the main challenges related to COVID-19 pandemic in the agricultural sector in your country, and what would farmers need to address them adequately?

Currently, in Cambodia, there are less and fewer people going to the market for shopping, when they usually need to go to the market daily. Farmers are also facing several challenges in selling their products as they have no collectors who come to collect their products from farms. It is more than painful in developing countries like Cambodia to bring products to markets as most of the farmers’ organisations, and farmers do not have their transportation means.
The Cambodian prime minister declared last week to make a new law to put the country under the emergency; like the use of martial law, the new law is expected to enact by the national assembly on Friday 3rd April (this week). Even though, of course, it is necessary, CFAP is also aware that this law can worsen the difficulties of our farmers as they are not ready to prepare themselves for sale/supply their products by themselves to markets. According to the declaration of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), only fragrant rice will be allowed to export. In contrast, the rest of other types of rice will be approved for sale in the country. In this regard, we are worried about the decreasing of agricultural products in Cambodia during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, from which almost all farmer members got negative impacts.

As a farmers’ organisation, what is CFAP doing to help Cambodian farmers tackle the COVID-19 pandemic challenges?

The Cambodian farmers’ organisations are still depending on external support, in particular CFAP that is in its transitional period to get access to self-financing, and we were in half of the journey when the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. Now, it is a big challenge for us to move forward. In this regard, we think of seeking external support from donor communities and fellow farmers’ organisations within WFO’s family for help on- 1). Net-houses for smallholders with completed farming tools, 2). Transportation means such as Mini Van to bring their products to clients directly by themselves in the COVID-19 pandemic and after, 3). Soap for sanitation for farmer members to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks and pandemic at the communities, 4). Advisory support online to farmer members, including COVID-19 information, agricultural technical support and linking farmers to markets and value chains.

What should your government do to support farmers under emergency conditions of COVID-19 pandemic?

What the government should do is:

– Keeping the farmers’ products’ purchase at a reasonable price so guaranteeing agricultural sustainability and encouraging farmers to continue working on farms.
– Helping strengthening businesses of farmers at farmers’ constituencies.
– Providing subsidy, including loan and grant, to ensure that farmers can keep their food-producing, processing/packaging and regular supplying of markets in an innovative way in the period of COVID-19 pandemic and after.
– Implementing a clear policy to support farmers and farmers’ organisations to ensure their sustainability to produce food as well as to provide services to farmer members and vice versa.

Is there any measure that food production value chains have implemented in Cambodia to address the challenges created by the COVID-19 outbreak and what are the results?

There isn’t yet a clear measure for food production value chains have implemented as farmers’ organisations and development partners still perform their duty commonly. So far, the only declaration of the government to banks and microfinance institutions (MFIs) considers the understanding of the difficult situation during the outbreaks of the COVID-19 in few areas, i.e. 1). Construction field, Garment field, Hotels, and …, but no mention is made of agriculture.
At CAFP, we expressed our concerns as most of our farmers in Cambodia are in debt.