Key agricultural commodities and products include rice, rubber, corn (maize), vegetables and fruit, and cassava (tapioca). More than 90 percent of Cambodia’s agricultural exports in 2015 were unprocessed.
The country’s agricultural gross production grew by 8.7% annually over 2004–2012, one of the highest growth rates in the world. This growth largely came from big jumps in crop production of paddy rice (9% annual growth), maize (20%), cassava (51%), sugarcane (22%), and vegetables (10%).
However, in 2013–2014, agricultural growth slowed down to 1%. Cambodia’s 2014 export of about 387,100 tonnes of rice was an increase of just 2% over the 378,850 tonnes shipped in 2013. Prices were down around 30%. The government’s target of 1 million tonnes of rice exports in 2015 (set in 2010) was not met. There have been reduced prices for other products too, including rubber and corn.
High quality, big challenges
A number of Cambodian products have an international reputation for high quality. For three years running in 2012, 2013 and 2014 Cambodian premium jasmine rice won World’s Best Rice award. Kampot pepper has Geographical Indication (GI) status, a World Trade Organization initiative that links the quality of a product to its origin.
Yet there are big hurdles to overcome in developing the agricultural sector, building processing industries and securing large export growth. Some of the issues:
- There is a severe lack of processing facilities for many products including rice, rubber and cashews.
- A lack of storage facilities for many agricultural commodities, including rice, corn and rubber, means they must be sold when they are harvested, regardless of the market price at the time – they cannot be stored until prices rise. There are still many areas of the country where there is no electricity supply, and power prices are high compared to some other countries in the region. This makes it harder to develop processing industries, and makes operating costs higher.
- Global food and commodity prices have fallen, and are not forecast to rise significantly.
- Some producers talk about transport and infrastructure problems, such as the difficulty of getting large volumes of rice exported through the port.
- There is an extremely limited budget for promoting Cambodian products overseas.
- Some agricultural products are only exported to neighboring countries, and demand and prices can be volatile.
Agricultural development, particularly the growth of processing, is a big element of the Cambodia Industrial Development Policy 2015–2025 that was publicly launched in August 2015. A key target in the policy is increasing processed agricultural exports to 12 percent, a 4 percent increase on the figure for 2015.
Commodities and products
There are big differences in what can be earned from different crops, and World Bank research indicates that different margins may be driving some changes in Cambodia. The share of total area planted under paddy rice declined from 86 to 74 percent from 2002 to 2011, while the share of area for maize and cassava production increased significantly. In 2013, average farm gross margins (and returns to labor) were $506/ha ($9.4/day) for cassava, $303/ha ($8.8/day) for maize, and $1,393/ha ($7.2/day) for vegetable production, compared to $245/ha ($4.6/day) for wet season rice and $296/ha ($9.6/day) for dry season rice.
Within rice production there are changes too. More farmers are producing aromatic paddy, which is more profitable. Production is estimated at 10 percent of the rice cultivated area and 30 percent of total production.
World rubber prices hit a peak of $4,850 per tonne in 2011, but then gradually fell down to $1,100 per tonne at the start of 2016. Deliberately reduced output from some major rubber-producing countries led to an improvement in price to $1,580 per tonne by October 2016.
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries data shows that exports for the first 9 months of 2016 were 82,825 tons, up almost 11 percent from the same period in the previous year. The land area under cultivation has also risen, to 402,310 hectares in September 2016. This means that the government's target of 400,000 hectares by 2020 has already been exceeded.
Source: Singapore/Malaysia rubber price
The area under cassava more than doubled in the years 2005–2013.
A lack of processing factories in Cambodia means there is little value added, however. Instead of exporting products such as cassava chips, mostly unprocessed cassava and cassava flour is exported to Thailand, Vietnam and China. Cambodia’s raw cassava is processed in these countries and reexported.
Cambodia exported 173,387 tons of unprocessed cassava and cassava flour in the first quarter of 2016, Ministry of Commerce figures show. (In 2015, Thailand exported 7.46 million tons of cassava chips worth $1.56 billion to China alone.)
Corn has faced falling prices and falling export demand in recent years. Prices in 2014 were 40 percent below those of 2013. Battambang leads Cambodia’s corn production with over 27,000 hectares. On average, farmers are producing up to 4 tonnes of corn per hectare. Lack of storage silos is a major problem.
Last update: 14 December 2016