– The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) will sign a project agreement tomorrow at the Cambodiana Hotel to directly support 10,000 of the most vulnerable people affected by COVID-19 in Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey Province to restore their livelihoods and improve their resilience to the crisis.
Funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), a 20-month project Strengthening livelihood recovery of COVID-19 most affected rural communities in Cambodia will help the most vulnerable groups, including poor and vulnerable households, small-scale farmers, returning migrant workers and unemployed casual workers, who have suffered from economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The poor and vulnerable households are facing severe income shocks, as most of them rely on diverse sources including on-farm activities, wage labour, non-agricultural activities, and national and international remittance. The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted all of these employment opportunities.
The Royal Government of Cambodia has launched the nationwide cash transfer progamme to help the poor and vulnerable people meet their immediate needs. The RGC has recognized the agriculture sector as the most resilient, strategically turning this crisis into an opportunity for further enhancements to boost quality of local produce to substitute import, and for improving and accelerating livelihood recovery of vulnerable households.
However, during this most challenging time, economically vulnerable groups strongly require extra support. A rapid assessment conducted jointly by MAFF, Council for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD), and FAO in April 2020 indicated their priority needs, including agricultural inputs and assets for production, capacity building in production techniques, improved communities’ infrastructure such as water storage facilities and access to markets in addition to a better access to financial assistance in form of grants, loans with low or no interest and delays in loan repayment.
Having acknowledged these priority needs, the project combines a variety of activities, including rehabilitation of basic community infrastructure, provision of agriculture inputs and assets for production, and improved access to financial service and strengthened technical capacity to enhance production.
“Ensuring access to nutritious food and livelihood diversification for the most vulnerable households are key,” says Markus Buerli, Director of Cooperation of SDC Cambodia, and added that, “this is the reason that the project aims to promote adoption of safe, nutritious and climate resilient agriculture with emphasis on short cycle agricultural production like vegetable, walking catfish, chicken or other small livestock, which I believe it is an effective approach to strengthening their short- and medium-term productive capacity and agriculture-based livelihoods to boost their resilience to this shock.”
H.E. Srey Vuthy, Secretary General of MAFF thanked to the project for responding to critical needs of rural famers to restore their livelihoods through building productive capacity and promote agriculture-based livelihoods. He commented that, “help from the project coupled with existing efforts and other collaborations will allow Cambodia to transform COVID-19 crisis into opportunity to increase agriculture productivity, promote local safe and quality agriculture produce for both household consumption and reduce import.”
Mr Alexandre Huynh, FAO Representative in Cambodia, explained that “this is an inclusive recovery project, which focuses its interventions on transforming agriculture toward nutrition sensitive, placing its significance on food-based approach to ensure a diverse nutritional rich foods is produced and consumed. Therefore, the project will also improve value chain system, connecting farmers to private retails outlets and better access to domestic markets, while raising public awareness on the quality and safety of local products.”
The SDC funded project will be implemented in parallel with two other FAO projects, which will be also launching on the same day. The two projects are to provide technical support to MAFF in improving economic empowerment for women and women-headed households in agriculture and strengthening institutional and technical capacity for food safety.
Rural women and girls have been disproportionately affected both in their productive roles – as producers, processors and traders – and in their reproductive role and family care functions. Also, layoffs and compounded economic impacts are felt especially by women and girls who are generally earning less, saving less, and holding insecure jobs or living close to poverty.
Joint efforts to support these vulnerable households to get through this crisis are urgently needed to avoid long lasting consequences for agriculture, food security and nutrition, and socio-economic development.
At the same time, Cambodia needs upstream support to strengthen policy and technical capacity to address food safety concerns. The project will work closely with the MAFF in the implementation of food safety measures and certification schemes for agricultural products such as Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Participatory Guarantee Scheme (PGS), to cite a few, and will support the development and implementation of street food policy, encouraging hygiene street food vending in some selected areas.
The three projects will complement to the existing International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) ‘s funded programmes, namely Accelerating Inclusive Markets for Smallholders (AIMS), Agriculture Services Programme for Innovation, Resilience and Extension (ASPIRE) and Sustainable Assets for Agricultural Markets, Business and Trade (SAAMBAT), which aim to improve all stages of agriculture value chain in Cambodia.
“These projects will enable recovery and resilience in agricultural value chains in a post-pandemic environment. For IFAD, the focus on sustainable livelihoods and on climate-resilient, nutrition-sensitive agriculture aligns with our priorities,” said Kaushik Barua, Cambodia Country Director, IFAD.” The project also has a clear focus on food quality and safety, an emerging priority in the country. We hope the project will contribute effectively to the considerable efforts made by the Royal Government of Cambodia to build back better after the pandemic,” he added.