An Introduction


Cambodians have been growing rice since the time of the great Angkor Empire almost 1,000 years ago. Today most Cambodians still live in rural areas as farmers, and still produce rice. Though Cambodia has an abundance of land and sufficient water, farming practices have not progressed with time, resulting in low yields and persistent poverty.

Requested by the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has supported agriculture in Cambodia for over 20 years. In 2010, DFAT started implementation of its latest support, with an agricultural program that combines support to irrigation, agricultural businesses and to Cambodian government institutions. The Cambodia Agricultural Value Chain Program (CAVAC) promotes modern farming practices and a better business environment for poor farmers.

Over the five year and three quarters implementation period the program expects to have improved the lives of at least 250,000 rural households with improved production and income.

DFAT requested the implementing company, Cardno Emerging Markets, to apply the latest and best development practices, insisting that small farmers should not become dependent on the Program but rather after completion, have better options to buy quality inputs, access to irrigation and information and be able to sell products for higher prices.

These design principals were developed by listening to the needs of local farmers living in rural Cambodia. When asked what they really need to grow more high-quality rice and vegetables to live a better life they said: dependable sources of water for irrigation, good seeds, fertiliser and pesticides that work as well as practical advice how to produce better yields. Farmers also requested better opportunities to sell their produce in markets.

This focused CAVAC on working with seed producers, companies that sell fertilizer, pesticides and tools, irrigation schemes managers, millers, traders, associations and of course the RGC to improve farmers access to quality goods, services and advice. CAVAC aims to work with existing Cambodian companies, institutions and the government to achieve these goals.


CAVAC is an Australian aid project, funded by DFAT in cooperation with the Royal Government of Cambodia, specifically the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology (MOWRAM) and their provincial departments. It was agreed that both sides would contribute to the costs: the Cambodian Government through in-kind support and the Australian Government with an initial budget of AU$43 million. Following a thorough design process, the current stage of CAVAC began implementation in March 2010 and was initially set to end in June 2014. With DFAT support, CAVAC has since been extended for 18 months with an additional budget of AU$15 million. CAVAC is due to end on 31 December 2015.

Both Ministries chair a National Steering Committee that oversees and approves activities. This group meets at least once a year. Both Ministries have also appointed a focal point to assure close collaboration between CAVAC and the Government.

CAVAC works in three rice producing provinces: Kampong Thom, Takeo and Kampot. Activities conducted within the provinces are closely linked to the priorities of the Provincial Government, and the provincial arms of MAFF and MOWRAM. In each province CAVAC has a small office which acts as a focal point for provincial activities. Later in the program CAVAC extended its agribusiness activities to all other rice growing areas in Cambodia.

A team of around 30 Cambodian specialists is supported by a strong administration, finance and procurement team, provincial representatives, training specialists and drivers. International specialists including: Team Leader, General Manager, Irrigation Manager, Agribusiness Manager as well as a Procurement Specialist oversee the activities.


Cambodians are capable farmers; however, internal conflicts in the 70’s and 80’s have isolated the country from the rest of the world in adoption of improved farming practices. With sufficient land and water resources there is great potential for the millions of poor Cambodians that live in rural areas to have a decent life; however, farmers need to improve practices; they need to innovate.

But practices alone are not enough. When new elections were held in 1993 there was hardly any infrastructure left within Cambodia and the country was relying largely on subsistence farming. Great progress has since been made in infrastructure and in education. Cities have developed but agricultural markets lag behind and existing irrigation schemes are not able to bring the available water to the farmers when they need it. These issues are what CAVAC tries to resolve. It works with the government, businesses and farmer associations to stimulate agricultural markets.

The advantage of stimulating agricultural markets to produce adequate inputs and final products, advice and services rather than supporting farmers directly is that the Australian investments last. Stimulating or developing markets is more difficult than helping farmers directly however, by the end the Program the farmers still have access to all the goods and services they need to increase their livelihoods.

The Approach section of this website explains how CAVAC staff analyse how markets for fertilizer, seeds, pesticides, irrigation, agricultural tools and vegetables work. It also describes how Cambodian Technical Experts examine how farmers get information or how crops are processed, traded and sold. For all these ‘markets,’ the Program finds critical shortcomings and opportunities before it engages with input companies, traders, millers, media, farmer groups and the local and national government. It offers these companies and institutions assistance to perform better. The brief on Working with the Private Sector explains this in more detail.

Developing agriculture is not simply about finding technical solutions for example: developing a better seed is only a first step in the process. These seeds then need to be produced and marketed, farmers need to be convinced these seeds are better than the ones they are currently using and they then need to know the best way to cultivate the new crop. To make it even more difficult, farmers do not like to take risks with seeds they do not know and companies do not want to produce seeds that farmers may not buy. It is within these complexities where CAVAC can make a difference.

Similarly in irrigation it is not only about designing irrigation schemes and paying a company to construct them. Famers need to work together, involving local and provincial government to manage irrigation schemes and to collect enough money for maintenance. This has proven to be very difficult in Cambodia as understandably- farmers like ‘free’ irrigation schemes paid for by the RGC or by countries like Australia. However, if farmers don’t feel they own a scheme then maintenance will not happen and the schemes will become dysfunctional within a few years of construction. CAVAC has both technically competent engineers to design schemes as well as agricultural specialists who can assess if schemes are profitable now and into the future. CAVAC also has organisational specialists who work with farmer representatives, local government and local businesses to ensure the irrigation schemes are owned by local communities and therefore well managed and maintained.

Working with companies, institutions and markets to introduce innovations and new ways of working requires a special type of organisational structure. CAVAC does not impose solutions, but just offers support. Improvements and innovations in markets are often unpredictable and initiatives never completely go to plan.

To perform optimally CAVAC has hired Technical Experts with not only technical skills, but also analytical skills. CAVAC Experts are creative and able to work with small and large business to make a change in the markets that they work in. Experts follow initiatives closely and make adjustments where needed. To assist this cycle, CAVAC has developed a modern monitoring and evaluation system supported by two Monitoring Specialists and has an organisational structure which enables teams to have a high level of authority to guide their work. Analytical and entrepreneurial staff, flexibility and continuous learning are the basis for CAVAC’s success.


With 18 months to go, CAVAC’s progress is encouraging. Internal projection indicates that it will positively impact the lives of approximately 250,000 farming families in the provinces CAVAC works in. Farmers’ incomes could go up as much as seven times the cost of the program.


In this website there are a number of theoretical briefs that explain how CAVAC works in more detail. These cover the topics including outlining the program approach, how CAVAC works with the public sector and the government, integration of gender and disability, promoting irrigation, environment, reducing poverty, monitoring and evaluation, and providing guidance on expected results including impact.

For those who want to know how things look in practice CAVAC has produced descriptions of activities under the Case Studies section. In the Video section you can find stories of farmers who have benefitted from CAVAC activities. Some of our materials can be downloaded from the website for more flexible access. Please feel free to contact us for more information as we are always happy to share our achievements and lessons.


Some of the terminology CAVAC uses may be a bit unfamiliar. To help make sense of it we have included a glossary that explains many of the terms. For this please see the Further Reading section of our website.