As the world’s largest organic food producer, Cambodia is a major player in the organic food movement, which is growing rapidly.
Organic food has grown from a niche market to a $15bn market in the past five years.
It now accounts for around 60 per cent of the country’s exports, according to the Cambodia Organic Food Association.
With Cambodia’s market size now at $3.3bn, there are plans to boost the number of certified organic produce that are grown in the country.
But while the country is slowly moving towards a world of organic food, the biggest issue remains the lack of access to organic produce.
In 2015, Cambodia banned all foreign imports from a handful of countries, including Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.
These restrictions are widely seen as discriminatory, with the restrictions resulting in Cambodias poorest residents receiving less organic produce and the largest number of people living in poverty, according the Cambodian government.
“There’s not enough organic food to go around,” says Huy Khin, director of the Cambodians Organic Food Development Association.
“This is a problem that we are not getting an adequate amount of organic produce from, so we have to import more.”
So why is there such a shortage?
According to the World Food Programme, one of the main reasons for the lack is that Cambodia does not have the financial resources to make organic food a reality.
“We know that there are around 1.2 billion people living under extreme poverty in Cambodia,” says Choe Heng Pham, Cambodia’s minister of agriculture and rural development.
“Cambodia is not the only country that has problems, so why is the number that is there so low?”
Organic food production can cost up to $1.2bn to produce, according a 2015 study by the World Bank.
In addition, Cambodia has a lack of certification, so it is hard to know if the products are actually organic.
“A lot of Cambodians do not have access to the market,” says Khin.
“They can only buy organic, but that’s only for the local market.”
Heng believes that the biggest reason for the shortage is that most organic food is exported to the rest of the world.
“The export of organic foods is not as high as it used to be,” he says.
“Because of this, the supply chain is being affected.”
While it is hoped that organic food production will increase in the future, the demand for organic food can still be seen as a luxury item.
According to a recent report from the Cambodia-based think tank Demos, demand for imported organic food has been steadily decreasing over the past decade, with prices rising at an average of 20 per cent annually over the last five years, but rising at a much slower rate in 2017.
“It’s not as much a luxury product as it is an investment in the environment,” says Nongkham.
“If you’re going to grow organic food and you have to pay to produce it, then you’re not really making an investment at all.”
With the demand in the market shrinking, many businesses are also looking to sell organic produce online.
Khin says that many Cambodians who are concerned about their health and environmental impact are opting to purchase organic food instead.
“You have a lot of people who want to do that, so there’s a lot more choice out there,” he explains.
“I don’t know what’s more dangerous, having a product that’s not organic or having a health issue that is.”
While the organic market is growing, it is still not sustainable.
Organic foods are only certified organic by one certification body, the International Organic Food Council (IOC).
While the Cambodi government has acknowledged that the market is not sustainable, it says that organic farming can still grow if more Cambodians follow the guidelines.
“Organic food is a huge opportunity for Cambodia to become a major producer of organic products, but we have a long way to go,” says Pham.
“But with the increase of the number and variety of products coming out of Cambodia, the industry is looking at ways to grow organically.”
What can you do to help?
The Cambodian Organic Food Administration has launched a new website, Organic Food in Cambodia, to help the industry grow and develop in the near future.
It also has a list of companies that can help grow the industry, such as Cargill, United Organic Agriculture, and Cambodia’s largest supermarket chain, the Phnom Penh Supermarket.
“People have to take a step back and ask themselves: how many organic products are there?
And then they need to know where to get organic food,” says Ang Khun Thanh, the CEO of Cambodia’s organic food group, Cambodia Organic Foods.
“So, if you want to grow the business, then do it organically.
If you want more organic food available, then go organic.”
If you would like to support Cambodian organic food