Agriculture and Food Safety

Author: Ra Thorng

In Cambodia, while several food crops produce a significant surplus, about 38 percent of fruits and vegetables in the local markets are imported from neighboring countries. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Kingdom spends over US$200 million each year for imported fruits and vegetables to meet domestic demands.

To ease the heavy reliance on foreign markets, particularly in the time of COVID-19 where sources of supply have been disrupted and prices have skyrocketed, the Cambodian Government escalated programs to help farmers and agri-businesses increase their production, enhance their market strategies, and adapt food safety practices for sustainable and inclusive horticultural value chains.

A key element of the campaign is the involvement of the private sector to help standardize the quality and safety of horticultural products through investments in technologies and the institutionalization of postharvest management systems.
And this is where Mr. Neang Thai is contributing to the cause.
As the Quality and Safety Assurance Manager of Eco-Agri Co, Ltd., Mr. Thai has helped farmers and small businesses secure Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification. He and his team have also been traveling across the country to demonstrate the long-term gains of adhering to safe food practices to increase their competitive advantage in local, national, and regional markets.

Many farmers in Cambodia operate on a small-scale basis," he said. "To help them realize higher revenue, we have been helping them form into groups, adapt responsible postharvest management practices, upgrade their products, and link them with companies through contract farming schemes so farmers and their communities can thrive.

These efforts are now reaping gains. Mr. Thai reported that 20 producers’ groups and cooperatives, comprising of 3,000 farmers in the provinces of Kandal, Kampong Chhnang, Battambang, Kampong Spue, Kampot and Rattanak Kiri have secured their GAP certifications, resulting in a 10 to 15 percent markup in their prices.
In addition to increased financial revenue, he shared that many of these groups have adapted cost-effective and environmentally-responsible measures such as the decreased use of pesticides.  

Empowering Others by Strengthening Oneself

Mr. Thai stressed that much more work and learning still needs to be done. This is why despite eight years of being a trainer, he remains on a quest to learn new strategies and methods in safe food postharvest management.   

I joined Mekong lnstitute's (Ml) two PROSAFE trainings because these helped me become a stronger agriculture leader and food safety trainer

Other than gaining technical know-how, Mr. Thai shared that the camaraderie among other participants from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam during the Ml trainings helped build a wider network of food safety champions who are effecting transformative change in their respective countries.  

MI's unique approach is its emphasis on continuous knowledge-sharing and exchange long after the end of the actual trainings," he said before explaining that MI's required action plan implementation helped him initiate wider food safety information campaigns and train more farmers to apply for GAP certification.

“PROSAFE is effective because it is inclusive,” he said, adding that Ml and the New Zealand Aid Programme have been actively promoting food safety systems in his country since 2016 . Mr. Thai also stated that PROSAFE bridges proactive partnerships between the government and private sector to pool resources in stabilizing food supply chains for holistic gains .  

He hopes that more of these PROSAFE opportunities will be forthcoming, not just for himself but for many other trainers across the region who are committed to establishing a food safety culture in their lifetime.

Ra Thorng a Program Coordinator under MI’s Agricultural Development and Commercialization Department. Ra has been with Ml for the last seven years, contributing his expertise to help build a food safety culture in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam under the PROSAFE project. For more information on the project, contact: [email protected] .

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