Leverage migration for agricultural development

The Cambodian Government has placed agriculture front and centre in its 2014-2018 National Strategic Development Plan (MOP, 2014). With agriculture continuing to play a substantial role in Cambodia, it is paramount that the country ensures that migration helps, rather than harms, the sector. Yet the IPPMD data show that migration has little positive effect on the sector in Cambodia. Emigration has not changed the use of household agricultural labour in emigrant households. unlike in other IPPMD partner countries, where emigration from agricultural households is revitalising the rural labour market through the move to hire in farm workers, in Cambodia emigrant households are even less likely than those without emigrants to hire in external farm labour. This highlights a missed opportunity to revitalise the sector's labour market. Migration has also not led to investment in the sector. Remittances and resources brought home by return migrants do not seem to be invested in agricultural assets or in diversifying farming activities. In fact, government policies, particularly those related to agricultural subsidies, seem to be encouraging migration. Recommendations for policy include the following:

  • • Ensure that agricultural households can replace labour lost to emigration by ensuring better coverage by labour market institutions in rural areas. Without such institutions, the agricultural sector, food security and poverty could all deteriorate further in areas where emigration rates are high.
  • • Make it easier for remittances to be channelled towards productive investment, by ensuring money transfer operators are present and affordable in rural areas, providing households with sufficient training in investment and financial skills and putting in place adequate infrastructure that make it attractive to invest in rural areas. Bottlenecks that limit investments in the agricultural sector result in a lost opportunity to harness the potential of remittances and return migration for development in the sector.
  • • Make agricultural subsidies conditional on subsequent yields rather than providing them in advance. This should avoid stimulating more emigration while also maintaining the link with increased remittances. The analysis of Cambodia’s agricultural subsidy programmes suggests that if they are not contingent on some level of output or outcome, or do not provide a nontransferable asset, such as land, they may help spur more emigration. This may run counter to the objectives of the programme if its aims are to keep farmers in the country and in the sector.
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