His Excellency Mr. John Murray McIntire, Vice President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development
Her Excellency Ms. Hoonae Kim, Director for Asia and the Pacific Division of the International Fund for Agricultural Development
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished guests
All the Participants,

Today, I am honored and delighted to participate in the regional workshop on “Transforming Rural Areas: Strategic Vision for the Asia and Pacific” which is co-organized by the Royal Government of Cambodia and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. I would like to extend my sincere thanks and high appreciation to the International Fund for Agricultural Development for initiating this workshop and collaborating closely with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to make this important event possible in the Kingdom of Cambodia.

On behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia, I would like to extend my warmest welcome to all the participants from development partners and civil society and all the foreign friends from the Asia Pacific region. Your participation and contribution of views, knowledge, experience and recommendations are important for the success of this workshop and help strengthen our cooperation in identifying the common priorities to achieve the sustainable development.

This regional workshop, which is important for both national and regional levels, is organized in the midst of the rapid trend of rural transformation in the context of global threats posed by climate change and the needs for household development. Climate change is projected to have adverse impacts on agricultural production and soil degradation is taking place while the fertile land is limited. Natural resources continue to deplete day by day. More importantly, Asia is going through this transformation, clearly reflected through the current high pace of urbanization. Other trends such as demographic trends and change in traditional demands are barely visible but indeed taking place. Around 70% of the world population is projected to live in urban areas in 2050. In this sense, urban food demand will increase while the number of food producers in rural areas will decrease, therefore, an imbalance and a challenge for food supply.

On this basis, global food production must be increased by 70% in 2050 and food production in developing countries must be nearly doubled to ensure enough food supply for the estimated 9-billion world population at that time. We must achieve this target even though the cultivated areas can be expanded by only 5% in the world and by only 12% in developing countries. If we fail, people will face starvation. In this sense, our attention to the rural transformation will help us create opportunities and benefits for the rural communities, especially rural youths.

Overall, transforming rural areas is the answer to these challenges. Smallholding farmers contribute not only to ensuring the global food security and rural socio-economic development, but also protecting national bio-diversities and promoting the reduction of and adaptation to climate change. Once the farmers can fully participate in promoting economic, social and environmental development, there will be enormous benefits for the communities, nations and the whole world. Therefore, transforming rural areas is a crucial and long-term assignment for the Asia and Pacific.

Robust and sustainable transformation of rural areas must focus on some important sectors that include agriculture, health, education, infrastructure, water resource, environment and private sectors. This will ensure new opportunities for rural dwellers, especially the creation of social safety net for rural people and a new driving force for the development of rural households. Investment in agriculture and smallholding farmers ensures not only food security, but also job creation that will help promote development, harmony and poverty reduction in rural areas.

Transforming rural areas has long been a priority of Cambodia because this work not only helps reduce poverty and address rural challenges, but also maintains the important social cells, the living stock of Cambodia’s rich culture and proud identity. Indeed, in implementing the Rectangular Strategy-Phase 3, the Royal Government has laid out the vision to modernize the agriculture sector because of its important role in promoting economic growth, equity, food security and rural development. Thanks to this effort, Cambodia previously perceived as economically underdeveloped and mired in high poverty and food insecurity, is now a food exporting country with robust economic growth during the last decade and makes good progress in improving the social indicators. Poverty rate declined from 47.8% in 2007 to 19.8% in 2011. Average rice yield increased from 2.74 tons per hectare in 2008 to 3.13 tons per hectare in 2012, while the total paddy production increased from 7.17 million tons to 9.31 million tons during the same period. Moreover, Cambodia has ambitions to become an upper middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050. To realize these ambitions, the Royal Government of Cambodia will launch the “Cambodia’s Vision 2030” along with the “Industrial Development Plan 2015-2025” and other supporting policy documents that will become a package of policies and strategies for transforming Cambodia in terms of both qualitative and quantitative aspects. The recent launch of the National Strategic Development Plan 2014-2018 is also part of our commitment to realizing those ambitions. In addition, the Royal Government of Cambodia will continue to focus on investment attraction to help diversify the production and improvement of logistics system to move Cambodia to a higher ground in the regional and global production chains. To this end, we clearly understand that rural development is indeed one of our priorities aimed to grab opportunities for poverty reduction and this priority will continue until rural areas have been developed and poverty has been eliminated.

I fully support and appreciate this regional workshop for its aim to address rural challenges, in particular, to highlight the importance of rural development in the Asia Pacific. I am convinced this workshop will provide inputs to and complement each nation’s development policies and reaffirm our commitment to rural development. This task is even more important for Cambodia as it is joining ASEAN Economic Community in 2015. As you might be aware, the AEC brings about both opportunities and challenges; therefore it is necessary to have concrete plans to enhance our capacity and ability to effectively interact with each other. In this sense, I think this workshop is a good opportunity for Cambodia to think about strategies that can contribute to building farmers’ capacity to adapt to the competition in the ASEAN framework.

To achieve the real transformation and sustainable development of rural areas and in the face common challenges, it is necessary for us to stick together and jointly find solutions at the regional level so that we all can complement, assist and benefit one another. The Royal Government of Cambodia is looking for partners like the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to play a leading role in this transformation. Currently, IFAD is helping transform rural areas in a sustainable and equitable manner by upholding pluralism to ensure the great flexibility in addressing different socio-economic and political issues. Moreover, IFAD has given constant attention to helping the rural poor so that they are more able to enhance own food security, nutrition, income and resilience as well as supporting the education of the rural poor in the pursuit of a hunger-free and malnutrition-free Asia Pacific. These aspects are the wishes we expect from our partnership with IFAD. I also believe that the establishment of IFAD office in Cambodia will help facilitate Cambodia’s leading role in transforming the rural areas.

As mentioned above, regional transformation is already taking place. If we do not act quickly, we will miss the opportunities created by this transformation. Thus, it is necessary to promote rural transformation by setting up the strategic vision for the Asia Pacific region for our shared benefits.

In this sense, I would like to raise some important points which I think will enrich your discussion on rural transformation as follows:

  1. We need to find measures to further promote economic growth and rural job creation in both agricultural and non-agricultural sectors especially the youth group. Rural and urban linkage must be ensured by focusing on investment in energy infrastructure and flows of goods, knowledge, technology and finance to the rural area.
  2. We need to improve rural dwellers’ access to necessary resources and enable capacity building aimed at promoting sustainable transformation of the rural areas.
  3. We must invest in smallholding agriculture in rural areas to ensure food security and sufficient nutrition in the region and the world. Smallholding farms play a key role in the inclusive agricultural development in rural areas, including food production, while the rising food demand will create opportunities for farmers and increase business activities in rural areas. In this context, it is necessary to ensure farmers’ rights to natural resources and access to credit and market and so on. Meanwhile, we also need to further encourage private investment to help expand the market for agricultural products and fast-track the rural transformation.
  4. We must enhance the resilience of the rural poor households. Rural dwellers are vulnerable to immediate and severe climate change, which will push them to poverty or keep them trapped in poverty as they are not able to seize new opportunities. To this end, our responses can be: (1) encouraging and providing incentives to investment projects that help reduce our vulnerabilities to immediate and severe climate change, for example, the construction of infrastructure that is resilient to climate change, (2) providing public goods and services designed to alleviate the adverse impact of immediate and severe climate change or strengthening risk management capacity including the provision of education and social protection services, and (3) promoting good agricultural market and ensuring good governance. These works require cooperation among all stockholders and at all levels. In this regard, some interventions for example the promotion of self-reliance and cooperation culture among rural communities can be the best practice that benefits us all.

Overall, we have to understand that proper planning and design will shape the rural areas where people make living and contribute to socio-economic development. In this regard, I believe that the discussion today and tomorrow will produce a fruitful result and help us all get closer to our vision.

Before concluding, I wish Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen great success in the discussion and please use this great opportunity to enhance our cooperation, learn from each other, create networking and make friends for our shared benefits.

Finally,along with the opening of the regional workshop on “Transforming Rural Areas: Strategic Vision for Asia Pacific Region”, I wish Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen good health and pleasant stay in this province of Angkor. May the workshop produce fruitful result for the shared development of the Asia Pacific./.