Write-up taken from the IRRI's Rice Almanac (2013):
Cambodia lies in the Mekong Peninsula of Southeast Asia, with a total land mass of 178,520 km2, of which about 22% is arable. The country is bounded by Laos to the north, Thailand to the west, and Vietnam to the east; it faces the lower Gulf of Thailand in the south. Much of the country is taken up by a central plain, in the middle of which is the huge freshwater lake Tonle Sap. This plain is the country’s grain basket; it is bounded by mountain ranges in the southwest and northeast.
The climate is tropical monsoonal; there is a short rainy season, prolonged dry season, and irregular rainfall both from year to year and within years. Most rain falls from May to mid-November. Often, a 10- to 15-day dry spell (called the short dry season) occurs in July or August.
The population in 2011 was 14.3 million. An estimated 66% of the population is dependent on farming. Agriculture made up 36.7% of GDP in 2011. The main agricultural products are rice, rubber, maize (corn), vegetables, cashew, cassava, and silk. Rice is the country’s staple food, providing 65–75% of the population’s energy needs.
Cambodia’s economy has been driven more by other sectors in recent years, particularly garment manufacture, as well as construction and tourism. Oil and mineral deposits hold promise of future major contributions to the country’s GDP.
Recent developments in the rice sector
As a result of food shortages in the late 1970s, many Cambodian farmers were forced to eat their rice seed and traditional varieties were lost. In the 1980s, IRRI reintroduced more than 750 traditional Cambodian rice varieties to the countryfrom its seed bank in the Philippines—a vivid demonstration of the foresight that created the seed bank in the 1960s. With assistance from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), IRRI also introduced improved rice varieties, better crop management, and extensive training programs, as a result of which Cambodia became self-sufficient in rice in the 1990s for the first time in 30 years.
On average, Cambodia’s rice yield has increased at 5.4% per year since 1994, from 1.6 t/ha between 1994 and 1997 to 2.3 t/ha between 2003 and 2008; average yield in 2010 reached nearly 3 t/ha. This yield increase has been largely attributed to improvements in access to fertilizers and other inputs. The productivity of dry-season crops is much higher than for those of the wet season, mainly due to the use of higher-yielding seeds and better water management during the dry season. However, rice is mainly produced during the wet season, which accounts for more than 75% of the total paddy output per year. Dry-season paddy cultivation remains an important component of rice cultivation, particularly for consumers with a clear preference for dry-season varieties.
Cambodia became a rice-exporting country in the late 1990s, with a modest export of 6,000 t in 2000, climbing to 51,000 t in 2010. However, the country imports more rice than it exports, between 30,000 t and 80,000 t annually since 1995.
Rice in Cambodia is grown in four different ecosystems: rainfed lowland, rainfed upland, deepwater, and irrigated. The rice area has been expanding since the 1990s, from about 1.9 million ha in 1995 to 2.8 million ha in 2010. The proportion of rice area under irrigation increased from 15% in 2006 to 25% in 2010.
The rainfed lowlands of Cambodia are bunded fields that are almost completely dependent on local rainfall and runoff for water supply. Rainfed lowland rice is cultivated in all provinces. The largest concentration is around Tonle Sap, the Tonle-Basaac River, and the Mekong River.
The rainfed uplands are unbunded fields that depend entirely on rainfall. They are generally found scattered on rolling lands, some of which are mountainous forested areas. They form only a small proportion of the total rice land in Cambodia.
Deepwater rice is grown in low-lying areas and depressions where maximum water depth can reach more than 3 m. The floodwaters originate from Tonle Sap and the Mekong and Tonle-Basaac rivers and their tributaries.
- Extremely low production and availability of improved rice seed compared with other Asian countries.
- Underuse and nonusage of arable land. Most Cambodian farmers cultivate one paddy rice crop each year.
- The lack of a farm credit system affects not only rice farmers but also the milling industry, resulting in low use of fertilizer and uptake of farm mechanization, at both the production stage (planters, harvesters) and processing stage (mills, grain dryers, storage facilities).
- Poor transportation and related infrastructure such as roads, railways, and milling and handling equipment for the rice sector.
- A lack of good and effective agricultural crop extension programs, primarily due to a lack of funding. This has resulted in a severe lack of educated and experienced extension officers, as well as insufficiency of on-farm technology transfer and farming systems training and assistance.
- Inadequate funding for scientific agricultural research. The government relies almost totally on international donors for crop research.
Cambodia has sufficient land and water resources to enhance productivity and increase rice production. Sufficient investment in irrigation infrastructure can further increase cropping intensity and crop productivity. International donors could be tapped for irrigation development, in line with the government’s goal of becoming self-sufficient in rice and a rice exporter.
The government recently adopted a new rice policy to promote growth in paddy production and milled rice exports to match the growth seen in the garment and service sectors. This new rice policy will aim to introduce new technologies,improve agricultural practices, and provide incentives to commercial banks to increase loans for agriculture.
Source: FAOSTAT database online and AQUASTAT database online, as of November 2012.