by Nguon Sovan, Mao Pengfei
PHNOM PENH, July 15 (Xinhua) -- China has played a key role in helping develop agriculture in Cambodia, Cambodian Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon said.
The minister said in an interview with Xinhua on Friday that since 2009, the two countries have signed over 60 memorandums of understanding as well as a series of agreements and protocols, covering a wide range of cooperation in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and animal health and production.
Under the bilateral cooperation framework, China has assisted Cambodia's agricultural sector through human resources development, laboratory establishment, donation of material, equipment and machinery, and research projects, he said.
"China has provided a lot of supports to Cambodia for agricultural development - almost all the entities under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries have received China's help," Sakhon told Xinhua.
"Most of China's assistance to Cambodia's agricultural sector is made in the form of grant aid, and the assistance is very important for us."
Agriculture, which is the backbone of the national economy, is vital to securing food security, he said, adding that more than 80 percent of Cambodia's population is farmers.
The minister said agriculture earned about 5.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2017, accounting for 25 percent of the Cambodia's gross domestic product (GDP).
Rice and cassava are the kingdom's main crops that generated more than 2 billion U.S. dollars in revenue last year, according to the Sakhon. The country produced 10.5 million tons of paddy rice and 14 million tons of cassava tubers last year.
"We have turned Cambodia from a country that was once in shortage of rice to a country that is now in large surplus of rice," he said.
According to the minister, China is the top buyer of Cambodian rice.
He said the world's second largest economy purchased about 200,000 tons of Cambodian milled rice in 2017, and is expected to buy up to 300,000 tons in 2018.
Commenting on the role of Chinese investors in the development of Cambodia's agriculture, Sakhon said their investments were "essential," saying that the Chinese investors had brought to Cambodia new capital, techniques and job creations, and had helped process Cambodia's agricultural products for exports.
Under the China's Belt and Road Initiative, more and more Chinese investors have expressed their interest in investing in Cambodia, he said, adding that the Southeast Asian nation is encouraging them to venture into building processing factories, especially cassava processing plants.
The minister said currently Cambodia has four cassava factories that process about 10 percent of the annual cassava output, as the remaining 90 percent of the output has been exported to Thailand and Vietnam.
For future cooperation, Sakhon said Cambodia and China are expected to sign a protocol on banana export in order to clear the way for export of Cambodian banana to China.
"We see China as a huge market for our agricultural produce," he said. "We also hope that in the future, we can export mangoes to China because we produce about a half-million tons of mangoes a year."