MoU signing facilitates farmers working and learning in Australia
The farm labour shortage being experienced regionally and globally has hit Australia’s agri-sector hard and now its government is turning towards ASEAN to help fill the gap.
The country has long relied on foreign nationals for labour in the sector. It often employs migrant workers from Pacific Island nations and grants a special visa that allows students to temporarily work on farms.
Approximately 70 percent of the country’s agricultural production is exported and the current shortage of some 260,000 seasonal workers could result in food insecurity in Asia, experts have warned.
“Last month, one [Australian] banana plantation valued at $2.26 million had to be destroyed because [there were] no workers. Watermelons are rotting. Strawberries are very difficult to keep. So, the department of agriculture and home affairs in Australia is designing a plan to give about 22,000 places to 10 ASEAN countries to allow workers from these countries to come and help farmers,” Robert Chelliah, chief executive officer (CEO) of Lexmin Pty Ltd (Cambodia) said at the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Kingdom’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on Friday.
Agriculture accounts for about 22 percent of the Kingdom’s gross domestic product and at least 65 percent of the country’s population relies on the industry for their livelihoods.
During the pandemic, the industry was the only sector not to be shaken by the economic fallout. It registered growth of 0.9 percent while the industrial sector contracted by 2.2 percent.
However, improved understanding of cultivation and good farming practices would almost certainly improve the country’s ability to fully capitalise on the industry’s potential, Ngin Chhay, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries director-general told Khmer Times.
“We are aiming for a mutual benefit, not just the benefit of one country,” Chhay said. “When [our workers] come back to the country, they can start to develop an agricultural enterprise or small-scale businesses aimed towards the international market.
“We already know that Australia is facing some difficulty in terms of their labour shortage in farming and Cambodia is an agricultural country. The majority of the population here are farmers. It is better to train and equip them with knowledge and experience from farms in Australia and send them to work there for a short period based on Australian rules and regulations,” he continued.
Chelliah is also CEO of Australian Migrant Agents. People familiar with the matter say that he may be able to help farmers get the correct visas so that they may travel to the country.
“They may need help filling out forms or securing financing for lodging or food. Having an expert in that field in Cambodia, with a vested stake in ensuring that a good portion of the quota is comprised by Khmer farmers, will be important,” said a source familiar with the matter.
The second part of the MoU is focused on the development of organic agriculture and horticulture.
Chelliah’s Lexmin farm in Kampong Speu specialises in high-density, high-yield production.
The Australian national explained that his team had worked tirelessly to analyse soil samples and determine the ideal proximity that plants should be planted at [from each other] to increase efficiency.
His farm grows organic malinga, chili peppers, black turmeric, ginger and onions, among other produce.
Chhay said that the country is currently pivoting towards higher value-added organic goods, including rice, cassava and cashews so that the country will have a competitive advantage when exporting agricultural goods to the international market.
Already, Preah Vihear province has committed to exclusively growing organic rice to improve the value of international exports.
“Cambodian farmers use very little synthetic chemicals and pesticides on their crops so we have a vast advantage in this area. Another point is about competition in the global market. If we discuss volume, for example in terms of rice production, we cannot compete with Thailand because they have better infrastructure and their industry is more mature in the technical aspects of trade volume, but the niche products are in organics,” Chhay said.
He added that, “Farmers will net higher profits when growing organic as compared to chemical conventions since the price premium for organics is very high,” he stressed.
Source from: Husain Haider and Mike Firn(2021). MoU signing facilitates farmers working and learning in Australia. Retrieve from: Khmer Times(August 9, 2021). https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50911828/mou-signing-facilitates-farmers-working-and-learning-in-australia/