ADDING VALUE TO CAMBODIA’S AGRICULTURAL SECTORPublished: Apr 28, 2021 Reading time: 4 minutes
Despite Cambodia’s rich agrarian tradition, the percentage of the population employed in the agricultural sector has declined from over 83 percent in 1999 to just over 31 percent in 2020. While there are many young people working in agriculture, the bulk of this work is done on an informal basis on family farms, leading to low numbers of youth employed in the formal sector, and impacting the country’s economic development.
With the goal of developing Cambodia’s agricultural sector to foster economic growth, People In Need (PIN) is implementing a year-long project, “Partnership for Employment and Skill Development” (PESD), at the National Vocational Institute of Battambang (NVIB), with funding from the Czech Development Agency (CZDA) and in partnership with The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). The Cambodian Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MLVT) is also providing support for the initiative.
The project aims to improve the employment opportunities and financial situation of young people in Battambang by strengthening the quality of secondary technical and vocational education and training (TVET), and bridging the partnership gap between NVIB and private actors in the food processing arena. Throughout the project, special attention will be paid to agro-food processing.
The initiative is in line with some of the main priorities of the Cambodian government, which include sector diversification and value addition to agricultural products, as stated in the government’s Rectangular Strategy – Phase III and the Cambodia Industrial Development Policy (2015-2025).
The implementation of this project is built on PIN’s experience from its work on other CZDA- funded projects, including Fostering Transition to Employment for Youth (FTE4Youth, 2019–2021) and Agro-processing Career Development, Technical Training and Improved Vocational Education for Youth (ACTIVE4Youth, 2018-2020), implemented in Kampong Chhnang province.
Den Nhov, PIN’s TVET Project Manager, says: “In Battambang Province, over 70 percent of the population is engaged in the agricultural sector, so this project has the potential to help a large number of people. The project also intends to support the MLVT’s commitment to strengthening the country’s food processing curriculum. We have partnered with NVIB, a highly qualified technical institution, for their work in piloting agro-food processing programmes.”
Ngounhort, the director of NVIB, adds: “Adding value to raw materials will create a new market for products. That will help pave the way for the engagement of youth in the agro-food processing sector in Battambang Province.”
NVIB offers up to 10 courses, including a short course on food processing, and has enrolled more than 900 students in the past three years. Last year, however, only 120 students enrolled in the food processing course. While successful courses require a high standard of hygiene and specialised educational materials, dilapidated infrastructure and poor facilities demotivated students and lead to low enrolment. Poor quality training programmes also resulted in unprepared and unqualified graduates, who later have problems entering the workforce. For these reasons, one of the project’s focus areas is improving conditions for food processing courses.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has disrupted schooling in Cambodia, putting many of the project activities on hold. Despite this obstacle, the team has been able to continue with plans to renovate the food processing lab and installing machinery needed for the course. Repairs to the building are almost complete, and air-conditioning and water systems have been installed.
Ngounhort says, “The new processing lab and equipment will enhance the quality of the programme, and help attract more students. We believe that thanks to the upgrades, they will be highly skilled once they graduate.”
Dr. Stefan Hanselmann, Head of Programme at GIZ Cambodia, visited the institution and noted: “I am impressed with the progress of the upgrades to the food processing class. Once the COVID-19 situation improves, this work will enable more students to attend the course.”
Despite the difficulties posed by the postponement of classes due to the pandemic, Ngounhort remains positive: “COVID-19 is a global challenge, as we are all aware, but it is also an opportunity. New problems push us to seek new solutions, and it is a chance for us teachers to explore new ways of teaching. We have adapted to the situation by setting up distance learning. Though practical sessions are impossible via online learning, the teachers have provided theoretical lessons until the students can come back and turn their knowledge into practice.” Ngounhort adds: “We can’t wait for students to experience the new food processing programme and use the new processing lab and materials.”