A recovery response to horticulture farmers’ crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic
In September 2021, it will have been seven months since COVID-19 spread widely in Cambodia. Known as the ‘February-20 incident,’ this resulted in the country entering into a lockdown in early April 2021. For over three weeks, Phnom Penh and some key provincial towns started imposing travel restrictions. The pandemic has had a serious impact on farming and horticulture in Cambodia. Food production and internal markets within the entire food chain have fluctuated during this crisis.
COVID-19 impact on small-scale farmers
During the April lockdown people were asked to stay indoors, a few big and small marketplaces were shut down, and transport was restricted. Although the supply of fresh vegetables was temporarily disrupted, this was quickly resolved through special permits for large food and transport companies. Small-scale farmers were, however, faced with extreme logistical challenges. Due to a lack of access to transport, stifled market access, and restrictions to business activities, small-scale farmers were unable to bring their produce to marketplaces. Consumers were also afraid to shop for fear of contracting the virus, causing demand in provincial towns to decline considerably.
In consequence, some farmers lost their entire vegetable harvest while others were forced to sell their vegetables at greatly reduced prices, resulting in economic loss.
As COVID-19 continues to spread across provinces, consumer confidence is plummeting, resulting in a deeper contraction in demand. Recent lockdowns in border provinces have aggravated this market contraction, so has the continued drop in tourist arrivals, most noticeably in Siem Reap province. Producers in Siem Reap and Battambang provinces have survived by been sending vegetables to other provinces, but this surplus supply has displaced local producers in receiving provinces.
The Government of Cambodia has responded to the impacts caused by COVID-19 by implementing various interventions to help stimulate agricultural recovery and support the greatest affected households through cash transfers, while prioritising a country-wide vaccination drive.
During this time, SNV and the General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), in coordination with PDAFF, provided small-scale farmers with recovery assistance, i.e., cash coupons for horticultural inputs. Small-scale farmers with an interest to revive commercial production were eligible for this subsidy. This arrangement was made possible by the Cambodia Horticulture Advancing Income and Nutrition (CHAIN) Programme, supported by the Swiss Development and Cooperation (SDC).
Around 300 severely affected farmers in four target provinces (Kratie, Stung Treng, Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey) received cash coupons between June and July 2021. The subsidy arrangement enabled farmers to exchange their coupons for items such as vegetable seeds, trellis net, fertiliser, plastic mulching, compost, and drip irrigation lines in participating local suppliers.
‘I had already raised the bed layout and planned to take out an additional loan for plastic mulching from a local private supplier. But I was always hesitant about taking out a loan, especially during this unstable situation. I was happy to hear that CHAIN would help us,’ said Pich Sam Eng, a 58-year-old farmer living in Ou Russey village, Oddor Meachey.
He continued, ‘In July, I received a cash coupon valued US$ 100. With this coupon, I purchased four sets of plastic mulching and some fertilisers for my three-hectare vegetable farm.’
Farming recovery intervention
SNV and partners’ farming recovery intervention supported farmers in re-establishing their farm production to deliver a regular supply of vegetables to markets and earn a short-term income. The intervention also supported partners in the delivery of post-disaster services to farmers and farmer groups with additional short-term human resources.
The CHAIN team and PDAFF officers identified a list of (semi)commercial small-scale farmers who suffered losses due to the pandemic and lockdown. Recipients of the subsidy arrangement were classified into three categories: ‘totally lost’ (loss of over US$ 250), ‘some lost’ (loss between US$ 125 and US$ 249), and ‘very little lost’ (less than US$ 125 loss). Each eligible farmer received US$ 100, US$ 50, and US$ 25 respectively.
The farmers cashed in the coupons in project-identified agricultural input supplier or lead farmer, each of which had been vetted using a competitive price comparison.
‘This US$ 100 coupon means a lot to me; it was more than I expected,’ said Mrs Reum Rim, 50, living in Kompot village, Rohas commune, Roveang district, Preah Vihear province_._ She added, ‘With this coupon I could buy many things, including fertilisers, vegetable seeds, plastic net, and plastic mulching. I thank CHAIN and all partners, and I hope that they will continue their support in vegetable production as we farmers need more support.’
CHAIN works indirectly with semi-commercial vegetable production groups through the PDAFF and market actors to establish market system changes in targeted provinces. As a direct result of CHAIN support, both semi-commercial and commercial farmers can start re-establishing their farms to grow vegetables based on projected market demand and company order plans, and to avoid surplus in supply during the peak season of vegetable production.
Though farmers have already suffered a lot throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the CHAIN team hopes that the rainy season will bring in enough water to sustain farming and income generation during the dry season; but not so much so that flooding will occur, particularly in high-risk provinces situated along the river. To build resilience to the dry season, some farmers received additional CHAIN assistance, such as on-farm ponds for water storage or boreholes and pumps, in anticipation of possible water shortages during the dry season.
Contributors: Heang Thy, with input from Rik Overmars
Photos by: Mr UN Raeun, SNV/CHAIN Provincial Market Facilitator
For more information on this item, contact Heang Thy at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about the CHAIN project, contact Lim Sokundarun, Business and Market Development Advisor and Deputy Project Manager of CHAIN at email@example.com