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Cambodia goes organic.

The Cambodian government recently announced plans to become the "green farm of Southeast Asia" by supporting organic farming. The shift, which is receiving funding and technical support from the European Union (EU), was prompted by concerns about pesticide poisonings in rural areas as well as an interest in reducing the country's heavy dependence on the garment trade, which accounts for roughly 80 percent of Cambodia's exports.

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In a BBC News article, Secretary of State for Commerce Sok Siphana said the soaring demand for organic foods worldwide "is very, very conducive for [Cambodia's] niche marketing," as it offers an alternative to competing with Vietnam, Thailand, China, and other mainstream agricultural powerhouses.

Although much of the production would be for export, Birgitt Boor, the EU advisor to the project, said that going organic would help farmers on the ground. "In Cambodia, many [farmers] are in debt because they take credits at the start of the season to buy agro-chemicals," she said.

An article in The Cambodia Daily noted that the minority of farmers already farming organically is making more money. In Meng, a resident of Prey Veng province outside of Phnom Penh, stopped using pesticides and artificial fertilizers four years ago and says her family generated about US$147 the first year selling organic produce at the local market. This income nearly doubled the following year and continues to rise, while costs have declined dramatically. "[P]eople laughed at me for giving up the rice fields," Meng told the Daily. "Now, they've stopped laughing and are praising my efforts."

An estimated 2,000 farmers in Prey Veng have participated in a local program to learn how to use compost as fertilizer, brew their own organic pesticides, and avoid harmful chemicals. Farmers who concoct their own insecticide--for instance, by stewing lemon grass, tobacco, and bark from the bitter sdao plant--report fewer headaches, nausea, and other health problems.

Organic farming remains small in Cambodia, and farmers only recently harvested the nation's first certified organic rice crop. Still, hotel owners, restaurateurs, and grocers in Phnom Penh already favor the homegrown organic produce over imports. "We'd like to support the local industry and local farmers," said Robert Maurer-Loeffler, executive assistant manager of the city's luxury Hotel Cambodiana.
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Title Annotation:ENVIRONMENTAL INTELLIGENCE
Author:Halweil, Brian
Publication:World Watch
Geographic Code:9CAMB
Date:Jul 1, 2005
Words:373
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