As I learn more about the Khmer language, I am amazed by the number of proverbs that relate to agriculture. One of my favorites is “Riding a buffalo across mud is easier than swimming,” which essentially means that you should take advantage of the resources at your disposal rather than making things more difficult for yourself. That proverb kept running through my mind during a recent U.S. Embassy-organized seminar that focused on the challenges facing the agricultural sector and possible solutions using modern technology. How can Cambodia “ride the buffalo” towards increased production, higher incomes for farmers, improved nutrition, and better food security?
Agriculture is the most important sector of the Cambodian economy. It employs almost 80 percent of the population and in 2012 amounted to 36 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Yet over 34 percent of Cambodian children are malnourished and 70 percent of producers are engaged in near-subsistence farming. While Cambodian jasmine rice won the award for World’s Best Rice at the 2013 World Rice Traders Conference in Hong Kong for the second year in a row – a terrific accomplishment – much of the sector’s potential remains untapped.
One of the primary constraints to increased productivity and profitability stems from the limited use of modern farming technology, equipment, and inputs. For example, although effective irrigation technology is available, Cambodian agriculture continues to rely heavily on fragile rain-fed systems focused on paddy rice production. The use of modern equipment could also make harvests more efficient and help to move produce to market more quickly and in better condition. Finally, modern agricultural inputs such as seeds, agro-chemicals, and fertilizers can dramatically reduce losses. I recently read that up to 40 percent of the world’s potential crop production is lost annually due to the effects of weeds, pests, and diseases.
These solutions are within Cambodia’s reach. The adoption of modern technology such as “precision farming” – a new technique that boosts crop yields and reduces waste by using satellite maps and computers to match seed, fertilizer, and crop protection applications to local soil conditions – can pay for itself. This is farming in the 21st century, and it is technology that is accessible to all farmers, not just those in the United States. Precision farming also offers greater export opportunities as we’ve seen in the United States, where one-third of farm acres are planted for export, resulting in over $140 billion in U.S. agricultural exports in 2013. Moreover, modern farming does not necessarily mean corporate farming – 97 percent of all American farms are still operated by individuals, family partnerships, or family corporations.
So how can Cambodia ride the buffalo across the mud? By utilizing proven modern farming techniques and science-based solutions, which are readily available in Cambodia, farmers can increase productivity, efficiency, and profitability as well as reduce malnutrition and enhance food security. These techniques also pay for themselves. The increased productivity, even for small land holders, means that they can afford many of the needed inputs. For more expensive equipment, farmers have the option of pooling their resources to share ownership.
The United States is also providing scientific expertise and assistance to Cambodian producers. Under the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative, USAID is assisting Cambodian farmers to diversify their incomes with different crops and seasonal rotations and engaging the private sector to provide services and agriculture inputs such as fertilizers and farming tools. Over the past three years, USAID programs have led to increased productivity and incomes for thousands of small-scale rice farmers. USAID also supports the global research of the International Rice Research Institute, which is helping to develop new rice varieties and crop management techniques to improve production and sustainability worldwide. All of these efforts are helping the agricultural sector grow into a sustainable business model based on modern technology.
What can be done to further promote agricultural technologies in Cambodia? Please leave me a comment!
When I talk with young Cambodians, a common theme I hear is the challenge of finding a fulfilling career. Naturally they want a job that provides financial security, but just as important, many also want a career that allows them to have a positive impact on Cambodian society. To these young, ambitious, and resourceful Cambodians, I recommend that they strongly consider becoming an entrepreneur.
The U.S. Embassy promotes entrepreneurship as part of our efforts to help expand Cambodia’s middle class. Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. They find new ways to improve our lives. They design innovative solutions that raise productivity. They start new businesses that create jobs. These activities drive economic growth, lift people out of poverty, and improve the standard of living. Encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship is vital to achieving economic development.
Last month the international community celebrated Global Entrepreneurship Week, an initiative that aims to inspire and develop innovators and entrepreneurs through networking, mentorship, and business plan competitions. The U.S. government actively participates in Global Entrepreneurship Week each year by hosting hundreds of events around the world. As part of this effort, the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia hosted a series of workshops and lectures at high schools and universities in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap that delved into the dynamic role entrepreneurs play in solving problems and advancing progress. The workshops were led by Steve Mariotti, a renowned educator who has been teaching and inspiring young people about entrepreneurship for 30 years. I was impressed by the enthusiastic response of the young Cambodians who participated in the workshops, many of whom are clearly destined to be future leaders of their country.
Speaking at the Global Entrepreneur Summit in Malaysia in October, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear that societies thrive when entrepreneurs are allowed to flourish. Secretary Kerry said, “The places where citizens have the freedom to dream up a new idea, where you have an opportunity to share that idea freely with other people, where you can be you own boss – and even, importantly, where you are free to fail – these societies are both the most successful and they are the most cohesive and the most satisfied.”
In the United States, entrepreneurs have played an indispensable role in building a strong and dynamic society. People like Bill Gates, who revolutionized the personal computer, and Steve Jobs, who changed the way we use our mobile phones, are admired for nurturing their unique ideas into life-changing businesses and industries. Their drive and determination are qualities that I also see in the young Cambodians I talk to. I firmly believe that this entrepreneurial energy and spirit are important keys to Cambodia’s future success.
What do you think about entrepreneurship? Do you know of an everyday problem that could be solved by a creative entrepreneur?
You may know that Americans celebrated a favorite holiday this week – Thanksgiving. The tradition of expressing our gratitude as a nation goes back to our nation’s earliest days, when our first President, George Washington, designated a day in November, 1789, for the American people to express their thanks:
“…for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed…for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness…for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed… and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.”
Thanksgiving is also a yearly reminder to be grateful for blessings closer to home. This year, I am especially thankful for the opportunity to represent the United States and work alongside so many wonderful people in Cambodia to strengthen the bonds between our two countries.
Thanksgiving brings warm memories of family gatherings and delicious food. For many of the American families in our Embassy community, Thanksgiving in Cambodia was a new experience, and very different from any Thanksgiving they knew back home. For one thing, it may be their warmest Thanksgiving ever! In the United States, this time of year is typically a lot cooler, and this year much of the U.S. is enduring a winter storm with snow and ice.
Being in Cambodia also presents a unique opportunity to be more creative in our celebration. For Thanksgiving, many of our American staff came together for “potluck” dinners, during which everyone brings a favorite dish to share. While certain elements of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner can be found, the potluck dinners this year included some creative fusion of American and Cambodian dishes. For some of us, fish amok and prahok made it to the Thanksgiving table along with the turkey and stuffing!
Creating the authentic feel of Thanksgiving goes beyond the food, however, as friends serve as extended family. Newly minted “uncles” and “aunts” play with the kids, everyone joins in the kitchen to help with clean-up, and talks continue long into the night. The warmth and camaraderie of friends and family allow everyone to count their blessings.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our colleagues and partners for their important contributions to our work. I am especially grateful for our local Cambodian staff whose support is so critical to our mission. I am really proud of all of their efforts and accomplishments this year.
Which Cambodian holiday do you think is most like Thanksgiving?
Thanks to all of you who have commented recently on the U.S. Embassy’s Facebook page and on my blog. I am delighted to see all of your positive comments about the U.S. government initiatives mentioned in previous posts. Since U.S. engagement with the Cambodian people spans a wide range of issues, I will be sure to pass on your words of encouragement to my colleagues from the various U.S. government agencies represented at the Embassy.
Throughout the past year, the Overseas Humanitarian Disaster Assistance and Civil Aid program (OHDACA) completed seven construction projects of rural schools and clinics in Cambodia. OHDACA projects highlight the important international development contributions of the U.S. military. This year’s projects included some at remote locations in Battambang, Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Speu, Pursat, and Siem Reap provinces. Five schools and clinics were completed with two more scheduled to open in December. These facilities have a direct positive impact on improving access to education and health care for rural Cambodians.
OHDACA projects also offer additional support to the local communities. For example, the construction of Sror Lau Chum Primary School in Battambang included the installation of a bathroom facility and water well with a filtration system – both for use by the entire community – in addition to a six-classroom school building. Given the schools remote location, the OHDACA program is also constructing a clinic that will ensure students receive better health care. Labor for these projects came from local community members which put money directly into the local economy. The OHDACA projects certainly maximize the benefits for local communities.
During the ceremonial ribbon-cuttings for each of these projects, U.S. Embassy representatives heard from local residents about how these facilities will immediately improve their lives. I believe the projects will also help the communities meet their long-term development goals. Like all development assistance efforts of the U.S. government, the OHDACA schools and clinics are investments in the Cambodian people, grounded in the belief that people can best shape their own future once basic needs like education and health care are met. Every day, Cambodians prove that they are resilient and focused on achieving a better future, and the United States is proud to lend a hand to Cambodians in their efforts to improve their lives.
What else do you believe can be done to support education and health care in Cambodia? I’m very curious to read what you have to say so please leave a comment below.
In conversations with my Youth Council and with Cambodian youth all over this country, I consistently hear that their paramount concern is finding a good job. The typical young person wants a job that will provide a measure of fulfillment and an opportunity to contribute to Cambodia’s progress. With nearly 70 percent of Cambodians 30 years of age or younger, it is clear that Cambodia’s future success depends on ensuring that the youth of the country can secure good jobs. To do that, they need the skills to succeed in today’s global economy.
I have made it a priority of the U.S. Embassy to promote the type of economic growth that will produce good jobs for Cambodia’s young people. As part of that effort, the U.S. Embassy hosted a discussion forum this month on “Promoting Vocational Training as an Economic Driver.” Vocational education and training prepares people with specific skills for careers in trades, crafts, or professional positions. Coming together at the forum were educators, business people, members of civil society, and government officials for a discussion about how vocational education and training will play a critical role in propelling Cambodia to the next stage of economic development.
The speakers at the forum shared a variety of insights from their diverse backgrounds and perspectives, but they all agreed on the importance of vocational training for Cambodia’s continued economic development. High quality vocational training will produce an energetic skilled labor force that will give Cambodia an advantage in the region, and in the global economy. Insufficient development of Cambodia’s human capital would waste Cambodia’s most valuable resource, its people.
A skilled labor force will not only improve Cambodia’s productivity; it will attract foreign investment, which has proven to be a key driver of economic growth for developing countries. The preparedness of the labor force is a major consideration for investors when they make decisions to open new business operations abroad. When they find that a country’s labor force cannot meet their needs, they take their investment dollars elsewhere, or opt to bring in skilled workers from outside the country. Thus, the readiness of Cambodia’s labor force will determine whether many new businesses and jobs are created here.
Many participants at the forum agreed that training programs must reflect the demands of the job market. Business representatives explained that they are often in the best position to provide information necessary to bring training programs in line with expected employment opportunities. Such targeted programs would be able to guide Cambodia’s young people to high-quality jobs and productive careers.
There were many other valuable contributions to the forum. Government officials were able to outline current planning objectives, while educators described some innovative approaches for improving school programs. Civil society organizations also brought value to the forum with their independent ideas and recommendations. I was glad to see individuals representing so many different sectors come together to promote economic opportunities for young people in Cambodia. Their involvement reflected a shared understanding that we all benefit when young people are able to acquire the skills to be successful.
What are your thoughts on ways to increase opportunities for Cambodian youth?
Strengthening the economic and commercial relationship between our two countries continues to be one of my key priorities as U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia. As part of this effort, I led a trade delegation in July to California and Washington, D.C. to promote trade and investment between our two countries. A highlight of the trip was the signing of a distribution agreement between the world famous American wine producer Ernest & Julio Gallo and Cambodia’s Hung Hiep Group.
On Monday night, I had the pleasure of seeing that trade mission bear fruit with the official launch of E. & J. Gallo in Cambodia. In the company of more than 100 wine enthusiasts, Gallo Regional Director Jonathan Chang, Hung Hiep Group Chairman Chiv Wong, and I opened the first Gallo wine tasting in Cambodia. Sales in Cambodia are expected to top $1 million in the first year, which is a terrific illustration of the potential for boosting trade between the United States and Cambodia.
Gallo is a company that symbolizes the entrepreneurial spirit of America. In 1933, brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo founded a small winery in Modesto, California. In a country where beer and spirits dominated the alcohol market, this was a bold step. At the time the Gallo brothers began their winery, wine consumption constituted less than three percent of the total U.S. alcohol market. Today, the United States is the leading market in wine consumption, with sales of wine roughly equaling beer sales, and Gallo is the largest family-owned winery in the world.
Gallo’s decision to enter the Cambodian market is a further testament to the company’s entrepreneurial vision. Just like in 1933, Gallo has recognized the potential of Cambodia’s market. Cambodia’s economy grew at about eight percent on average for the last decade, and growth is expected to continue at a rate of at least seven percent for the next few years. As the economy grows, the demand for quality wines in Cambodia will only increase.
The launch of Gallo wine in Cambodia demonstrates that more and more U.S. companies are recognizing the business opportunities that exist in this rapidly developing country. As with the trade mission to California and Washington, D.C., I intend to continue my efforts to forge closer economic and commercial ties between the United States and Cambodia because I believe our growing bilateral economic relationship will bring significant benefits to both Americans and Cambodians.
For those wine lovers out there, please keep an eye out for Gallo’s products and remember what Benjamin Franklin once said, “Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.”
It has been a week of celebration and remembrance at the U.S. Embassy. On Friday, the Embassy community and guests came together to celebrate the 238th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. And this week, on Veterans Day, we remembered all those who have served the United States in our armed forces.
On November 10, 1775, in the midst of the American Revolution, the U.S. Marine Corps was established. We celebrate the birthday of the Marines Corps because the Marines have earned a special place in the hearts of the American people. No matter how difficult and dangerous a mission may be, these courageous men and women are always prepared to serve when our country needs them. The Marines truly live up to their motto “Semper Fidelis,” which means “Always Faithful.”
In addition to their security role, our Marines contribute to U.S. engagement with the Cambodian people. My favorite example is the Marines’ Toys for Tots program. Last December, U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh’s Marine Security Guard Detachment collected over 70 toys from donations and delivered them to orphaned children just in time for the holiday season. We are very proud to have the Marines as part of our Embassy community. All of them serve our country with pride and integrity, and we are tremendously grateful for their service.
Yesterday, our attention turned from celebration to remembrance when we observed Veterans Day. This U.S. holiday is dedicated to all the men and women who have served in our armed forces. It is a day when Americans reflect on the sacrifices our veterans have made in order to defend our country, our citizens, and our values. On Veterans Day, I am always reminded of the words engraved in the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.: “Freedom is not free.” We owe a deep gratitude to the extraordinary and selfless service of our nation’s veterans, as well as active duty and reserve members of the U.S. military. As President Obama said in his proclamation this year, “We celebrate their immeasurable contributions, draw inspiration from their example, and renew our commitment to showing them the fullest support of a grateful Nation.”
To all of our Marines, to our Veterans, and to our active duty and reserve military personnel, I am truly grateful for your service to the U.S. Embassy, to the United States, and to the people of Cambodia.
You may have noticed from my blog that I care deeply about the conservation of Cambodia’s precious natural resources. As a fisherman, I am especially sensitive to the beauty and health of Cambodia’s rivers and lakes. If we expect future generations of Cambodians to be able to enjoy these fresh water resources, we have to be serious about taking care of them today. The construction of hydroelectric dams on the Mekong River, however, is causing alarm about the potential social and environmental impact these projects will have on the health of Cambodia’s fresh water resources.
The Mekong River is the lifeline for a significant portion of the population in the region, with over 60 million people depending on this mighty waterway for food production and economic opportunities. The Mekong and its tributaries also support an ecosystem that is second only to the Amazon River in terms of biodiversity. Concerns over potential harm to the Mekong River, therefore, should not be treated lightly. One critical lesson that the United States has learned the hard way is that correcting design mistakes after a dam is built can be very expensive, or worse, impossible to do. Before a dam is built, getting the plan right is essential.
Last month, the government of Laos announced the construction of a hydroelectric dam located two kilometers from the border with Cambodia. The project has drawn concern from scientists and experts, who warn about the risks of the dam disrupting the migration of fish and the flow of nutrient-rich sediment to areas of crop production. These risks carry serious implications for the food security of the region, particularly for Cambodians living further downstream whose main source of protein comes from fish.
The United States is committed to supporting the efforts of countries in the region to protect the resources and unique ecosystem of the Mekong River and the communities along its course. Under the cooperative framework of the Lower Mekong Initiative, the United States is funding the Climate Resilient Mekong Project, designed to improve planning and decision-making on hydropower development by promoting understanding of downstream impacts. Given how construction projects in one country can severely impact people in another country downstream, working together across borders is vitally important – the Mekong is truly a shared river, and cooperation is absolutely necessary.
I strongly believe that a decision to build a dam must not be rushed; rather, it should be made after careful deliberation of thorough scientific assessments and with the full engagement of the people likely to be impacted. I urge the Mekong River Commission to continue to take these factors into consideration when evaluating whether dam projects should proceed.
Do you agree? What are your concerns about the environmental impact of projects like the Mekong River dams?
For the past several weeks, my thoughts have often turned to the many people affected by the recent flooding throughout Cambodia. Heavy rains have caused devastating floods in many parts of the country. According to the latest reports, over 160 people have lost their lives and 1.8 million people have been affected in 20 of the country’s 24 provinces. The floods have destroyed over 300,000 hectares of rice fields and 275 miles of road with estimates of total damage at nearly $1 billion.
When a natural disaster strikes, we are reminded of our fragility. Like Cambodia, the United States must frequently deal with the effects of powerful weather calamities and other natural forces. In September of this year, Americans in Colorado suffered from the most destructive floods in decades, resulting in the loss of lives, missing persons, destroyed homes, and damages totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.
As we confront our own vulnerabilities, the U.S. government also recognizes the challenges that Cambodians face in preparing for, and responding to, natural disasters. That is why the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is providing $200,000 to help strengthen emergency preparedness in Cambodia. This funding is supporting the work of the Humanitarian Response Forum to coordinate disaster preparedness and response among international NGOs, U.N. agencies, the Royal Government of Cambodia’s National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM), and the Cambodian Red Cross.
Disaster preparedness is critically important in Cambodia because the country faces risk every rainy season when the Mekong River dramatically rises, threatening to overflow and breach its banks. Once flooding happens, victims must be reached quickly and effectively. To meet that challenge, USAID is also working with and training local NGOs to strengthen their capacity to deliver humanitarian assistance. In addition, the U.S. Pacific Command conducts regular bilateral and multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, NCDM, National Police, and local and international NGOs to prepare everyone to work together. I am proud that U.S. government support is helping to enhance cooperation, allowing us to pool our strengths in times of disaster when individuals often feel powerless.
For those of you who have experienced loss and hardship during this season’s flooding, my thoughts and prayers are with you. I would like to share with you something President Obama said to the American public after Hurricane Irene caused major damage to the eastern seaboard of the United States in 2011:
“Although we cannot always know when and where a disaster will hit, we can ensure we are ready to respond. Together, we can equip our families and communities to be resilient through times of hardship and to respond to adversity in the same way America always has – by picking ourselves up and continuing the task of keeping our country strong and safe.”
I believe Cambodians will demonstrate an equal resilience in the aftermath of this natural disaster. I wish you peace and safety as you recover from this difficult time.
Readers of this blog may already be familiar with the work of the U.S. Department of State and USAID in Cambodia. But did you know that other U.S. government agencies also run a wide range of programs to strengthen our relationship with the Cambodian people? I am particularly proud of one recent initiative that will directly contribute to the healthy growth and education of Cambodian children. Thanks to a $20 million donation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 150,000 children in Battambang, Siem Reap, and Kampong Thom provinces will receive daily school meals over the next three years.
Ensuring adequate nutrition for children is an urgent humanitarian and development priority. Although Cambodia has seen significant improvements in several health indicators in recent years, malnutrition rates among children remain painfully high at 40 percent. Malnourishment is not only detrimental to children’s health, but it also robs a country of its future growth. The USDA, in partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), aims to alleviate child hunger and to help Cambodian children develop to their fullest potential.
With USDA’s donations, WFP will provide school meals that give children the energy and nutrients to learn and grow. To further encourage parents to send children to school, a portion of the USDA-donated food items will also go to the homes of students who have an attendance rate of at least 80 percent. These efforts to keep children in school will support Cambodia towards achieving a universal primary education.
Since 2003, USDA has donated over $75 million to Cambodia for school feeding programs and agricultural development projects, making the United States one of the top five donors to WFP’s operations in Cambodia. Previous USDA-funded programs significantly helped increase school attendance and enrollment, as well as improve student performance.
The USDA’s school feeding program highlights the importance and impact of the U.S. international assistance efforts, which provide immediate help to the most vulnerable populations, like children. As a father, I know these concerns keep parents up at night. Cambodia and American parents alike want to see their children grow up healthily, succeed, and find happiness. These shared hopes lie at the foundation of America’s commitment to assist people elsewhere in their efforts to improve their lives. Helping to provide a healthy start for Cambodian children is an important first step towards that goal.
How else can Cambodia keep its children healthy? I would appreciate reading your thoughts on this matter.