Mid-Project Meeting

Documentaries on Cambodia

There are a great many documentaries on Cambodia, with the majority exploring the Khmer Rouge period. Many of these productions are illuminating, but also incredibly distressing. There are additional, specific explorations of the Khmer regime, including the Killing Fields and the Po Chrey Massacre.

More pleasantly, there is also a large number of documentaries on Angkor Wat. There are also many travel and tourism documentaries.

More recently, many Cambodian-focused videos and documentaries have focused on NGO activities or development organizations. These publications focus on many development topics: school attendance and education, the garment industry, child homelessness, orphan tourism, gambling along the borders and the role of China, living in slums, and the sex industry (caution, very distressing).

There are numerous recent news outlets who have focused on the challenges facing Cambodia, including Al Jezeera, ABC news, with a great deal of focus on present leadership of the nation.

As is the case for cassava throughout the grey and academic literature (as well as government and non-governmental) there is always an article about the price – up and down. For the vast majority, the sources are never cited and readers cannot trace back the claims to check the validity of the claims.

Cassava in the Media: Context for the Meeting

Very recently, the ASEAN Post reports that the Cassava Mosaic Virus has begun to affect Cambodia, and that Thailand is considering banning imports in order to limit transport of the virus. The government response did acknowledge its existence, but emphasized that it is not (yet?) in Western Cambodia. The article goes on to list the importance of cassava for Cambodia, and to note the actions the government is taking or planning.

The Phnom Penh Post reports that cassava production is declining nationally, and that the declines were despite the increased area of cultivation. Cassava has long been known as a crop that requires inputs to maintain yields, and this report is reckoning with the implications of long-term production. Despite this, the article emphasizes climate change, disease, and the poor application of pesticides as the primary causes of lowered production.

The ‘opendevelopment group’ (affiliated with USAID) presents some useful trends (drawn mostly from UN data, which tends to rely on official government figures) for understanding the rapid increase in Cassava production. Like almost all news articles, the emphasis is on the lack of national processing, with the ‘90% exported’ figure repeated.

An article discussing the National strategy for Cassava. Key points to consider are the desire to improve refinement of cassava (as opposed to exporting raw product) and recognition that farmers are not benefiting and continue to suffer. The issue of production reliability is juxtaposed with the extreme volatility of the cassava market.

The World Bank reports on the risks (and opportunities) of cassava production in Cambodia. While there is recognition for the progress made in the Cambodian agricultural sector, there is also an appreciation that much of these gains have come at the expense of expanded acreage; there is no mention of deforestation. The emphasis is on productivity, but there is little critical attention to the lives of farmers or what evolution in the sector would entail.

In the Phnom Penh Post, there is an article about the ‘second rate’ attention paid to cassava and its implications for farming families – though the article appears to be driven by a relatively wealthy Pailin consortium of producers. The article is critical of government for neglecting the industry, with multiple claims about its significance to the nation (i.e., second most important agricultural crop after rice). Farmers’ vulnerability is associated with their reliance on foreign traders who transport the root for processing in Thailand and Vietnam, with repeated mention of price volatility. The government response was to dismiss the claims and to emphasize contract farming as a way of addressing price fluctuations.

Research Reports on Cassava in Cambodia

CIAT (the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture) is a key hub for research of cassava in Cambodia, as well as across the Asia and the world. There are several key projects on cassava production in Cambodia, including emphasis on seed production and circulation to combat pest and disease transmission; ACIAR-funded efforts on marketing systems; work on Cassava Mosaic Virus (CMV); and work on the Cassava Genome.

The UN Food and Agricultural (FAO) is another excellent source for information on Cassava production and challenges, with Cambodian-focused activities. The FAO’s ‘Save and Grow’ manual is an outstanding publication, with in-depth presentation of cassava production and its associated challenges. The FAO has a global cassava strategy, which emphasizes cassava’s malleability. The ‘fact sheet’ is a useful point of reference to begin exploring cassava as a crop, especially the ‘myths’ that shape how it is understood. This includes cassava’s reputation for soil degradation.

A key expert in the context of Cassava in Southeast Asia and Cambodia is Jonathan Newby, whose work at CIAT is an essential source for information on Cassava.

Time and Location of Mid-Project Meeting

In September of 2019, we will host a mid-project meeting in Battambang, Cambodia. We will hold the meeting at the Hotel Stoeng Sangke, with meetings and discussions held at cafe Eden.

Dinner on the 16th will be held at Jaan Bai, while excellent coffee is just around the corner at Kinye.

Plan for the meeting

Participants will arrive on September 16th, with the meeting beginning with a field visit on the morning of the 17th. The 18th will explore the project findings to date, with the 19th discussing extension, engagement, and interaction with farmers in the region over the remainder of the project.

I will do my best to record a presentation before the meeting, with the goal of providing the background information, summary of the objectives, and team biographies. PLEASE SEND ME A PHOTOGRAPH THAT YOU DON’T MIND ME USING.

Schedule

A preliminary schedule can be found downloaded below. The schedule is (mostly) organised into 1 hour blocks, which I envision to include 20-25 minutes of presentation, 20 minutes for discussion and questions, leaving us with enough time between blocks for the bathroom, water, and to address any matters that arise.

Speakers and Abstracts

Brian Cook — 1) Title: Introductions, Background, Research Questions: Problem-Solution Pathways. 2) Title: Where to from here: the perpetual challenge of impact?

Kunthea Nou — Title: Data Collection: (Survey, village chief interview, household interview)

Sophanarra Phan —Title: Farming systems options to enhance the production and sustainability of cassava in Northwest Cambodia.

Manika Yim — Title: Transcription, Translation, and Farmers’ Questions

Stephanie Montgomery — Title: Cassava agronomy trials and transition to fruit tree orchards (ACIAR Project ASEM/2013/003)

Vanessa Lamb and Sabrina Kathleen — Title: From Sapphires to Cassava: A village case study in Pailin

Bob Farquharson — Title: Best practice management for Cassava production and economic incentives for change: initial evaluations in north-west Cambodia.

Le-Anne Bannan — Title: Debt and indebtedness: Cassava, land, labour and their costs (preliminary findings)

Paula Satizabal — Title: Mismatching perspectives: cassava farmers’ problems, solutions, and pathways

Andreas Alexander and Tin Aye — Title: Pest and Disease knowledge exchange: measuring the impact of collaboration