CINCINNATI, Ohio — While Cambodia is continuing to improve its economy and infrastructure, farmers still rely on traditional agricultural practices to grow their products. However, public and private organizations are working to bring agriculture in Cambodia into the digital age.
Problems Farmers in Cambodia Face
For years, Cambodia’s poverty rate has declined, with a current rate of 18%; and the highest rate of poverty in rural areas, standing at 22.8%.
Around 75% of Cambodia’s population lives in rural areas as of 2021. Agriculture is an integral part of Cambodia’s economy. According to the World Development Indicators 2021 (WDI) by the World Bank, agriculture made up around 35% of Cambodia’s GDP and employed 31.2% of the population. Unfortunately, many Cambodian farmers face problems like unpredictable weather and climate, improper irrigation and poor market access.
Changes in weather and rainfall patterns greatly affect Cambodian farmers. Three-fourths of agricultural land in Cambodia is rain-fed and rainfall patterns are highly erratic. Floods and droughts occur during critical stages of the growing cycles of important crops like rice, impacting the size of farmers’ yields.
Dysfunctional irrigation is also a problem for farmers as many irrigation systems suffer from improper design and a lack of consideration for crop water requirements, water availability and hydraulic conditions, according to Asian Development Bank (ADB) report.
Many farmers lack adequate access to markets and lose money as a result, even if they produce large yields. Tai Song, a vegetable farmer in S’ang district in Kandal province located just south of Phnom Penh, lost $7,390 in 2021 after failing to find enough buyers for his lettuce. Digital technology can help with many of the problems with agriculture in Cambodia.
How Digitalization Improves Agriculture
Digital technology in agriculture includes smart farming and precision farming technology like drones, AI, soil sensors and robotics, as well as farming apps, e-commerce and blockchain software. This improves agriculture in several ways. Farmers can use soil moisture sensors to detect when their crops need water or nutrients and use smart irrigation systems to give them the exact amount of water and nutrients they need. This improves not only the number of crops but also their taste, nutrients and appearance, allowing farmers to sell more crops at a higher price. In addition, sensors and farming apps can monitor weather conditions, allow farmers to research information on their crops and check their market value.
Several Digital Innovations Have Been Introduced in Cambodia
A Cambodian group called Agri-Economiser created Smart Farm Assistance, a water conservation app that can help reduce water consumption by 20% to 50%. The app is internet-based and also uses a short message service (SMS), making it incredibly convenient for farmers.
A farmer can use the app to connect to and control a device set up in their field. Sensors are also set up to check soil conditions and the weather and control water systems. The device will send information to the farmer about the condition of their field, weather and crops, and if the farmer sees that their crops need water and no rain is coming, they can press a button and water systems will work automatically.
The team is also developing a solar-powered system to operate the devices for farmers who lack electricity.
Angkor Salad Project
In 2018, the Netherlands Space Office and the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) began the Angkor Salad Project to use geodata to help at least 100,000 Cambodian vegetable farmers increase production and save money. The project has five information services farmers can access via SMS, voice and mobile app. Farmers can access irrigation advice to figure out how much water they need to use for their crops based on geospatial data and their crop cycle.
Fertilizer advice uses soil analyses and information on the vegetables to recommend what kind and how much fertilizer to use. Crop planting advice allows farmers to look up information on the vegetables they want to plant as well as when to plant them. Farmers can look up the price of their products, logistics cost and information on buyers using market information. Khmer GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) Compliance offers farmers customized information based on their crop, location and farming system.
In 2019, Cambodia’s Ministry of Rural Development executed the Sustainable Assets for Agriculture Markets, Business and Trade (SAAMBAT) project to “sustainably increase rural connectivity, the productivity of youth and the rural economy.” Its goals include providing digital literacy and connecting members of the agribusiness, partnering with the private sector and providing grants to startups in the digital agricultural value chain.
In addition, the Ministry executed the Khmer Agricultural Suite (KAS), “an open digital platform for agricultural value chains,” which multiple service partners and the Cambodian government’s Techno Startup Center developed as part of the SAAMBAT Project. KAS uses satellites and other sources to collect and analyze data for members of the value chain. The project is intended to run until 2025 and intends to help 200,000 families.
Obstacles to Digitalization
There are still factors preventing the adoption of digital agriculture in Cambodia. According to a report from the Cambodian Centre for Policies Studies in 2020, farmers have limited digital literacy. In 2018, only 24% of rural farmers had access to smartphones.
In addition, rural areas can have slow internet connections and broadband internet services depend on fixed-line networks that are not easily available in rural areas, preventing wider internet penetration.
While the digitalization of agriculture in Cambodia is an ongoing process, it is well on its way to making farming more efficient, bountiful and profitable.
– James Harrington