Agricultural policies and migration

Agricultural policies may also influence migration and remitting decisions. The Cambodian government has been active in enacting policies to boost the agricultural sector and reduce poverty for those working in it. Given agriculture's important share in the country's GDP and labour force (Chapter 4), the agricultural sector is highlighted as one of six key pillars in its 2014-2018 National Strategic Development Plan (MOP, 2014). Specifically, the government's goals for agriculture include:

  • 1. improving productivity, diversification and commercialisation
  • 2. promoting livestock farming and aquaculture
  • 3. enacting land reform
  • 4. sustainably managing natural resources.

The largest and most dominant agricultural programme is the Rice Export Policy, enacted in 2010, which aimed to promote rice as a major export commodity from an export base of near to zero in 2010 (OECD and WTO, 2011). This ambitious five-year plan specifically aimed at increasing production and post-harvest processing by attracting foreign direct investment, using better and more efficient inputs, expanding irrigation, modernising farming techniques and improving land titling. In the end, Cambodia fell short of its objective of exporting one million tons of rice by 2015, but the programme served as an important boost to the sector. For instance, the national rice milling capacity rose from 95 tons of paddy per hour in 2009 to 854 tons of paddy per hour in 2015 (Thath, 2016; World Bank, 2016a). Many of Cambodia's programmes involve agricultural subsidies, which typically target subsistence or vulnerable farmers. For instance, the Emergency Food Assistance Project (EFAP), which began in 2008, offers productivity enhancement support by distributing subsidised quality seeds (among other things). The government has also provided subsidised rice seeds during crises, such as the massive flood that occurred in 2011 (FAO, 2014).

The survey collected data on whether households had benefitted from a variety of agricultural programmes, as well as recording each year in which they had benefited between 2010 and 2014. The question on participation in agricultural-related programmes was stated as the following: “In each of the listed years, did anyone in the household participate in the following programme?” In terms of subsidies, the questionnaire asked households whether they benefited from (1) subsidies for seeds, (2) subsidies for agricultural labour and (c) subsidies for other inputs. The results presented here relate to households that answered yes to any of the above types of subsidies.

Overall, 136 of the 1 671 agricultural households in the IPPMD sample (8%) had benefited from agricultural subsidies at least once between 2010 and 2014 - mostly for seeds. In addition, 322 households (19%) had a member participate in agricultural training. Very few households (less than 1%) had participated in an insurance-based programme. However, data on other types of insurance mechanisms were also collected. Among these, 137 households (10%) had received financial aid following crop loss, 423 arable farming households (32%) had the certificate of their agricultural land title and 31 (2%) were members of an agricultural cooperative.

Because of their pertinence to current policy in Cambodia, the analysis focuses on agricultural subsidies. It is not always clear whether agricultural subsidies have a net positive or negative effect on migration and remittance flows. By increasing the household's income, they reduce financial constraints. In doing so, they may reduce the household's need to seek income elsewhere, and thus reduce emigration pressure. On the other hand, they may provide enough additional income to cover the costs of emigration. Or they may provide the incentive for households to invest and channel funds towards agricultural activities, thus increasing the need for remittances, or they may make them less necessary, thereby reducing their flow. What does the IPPMD data analysis tell us about these effects of subsidies on migration?

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