Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission Julie Chung at the Agricultural Biotechnology Workshop Opening Ceremony

Phnom Penh
August 30, 2016

Your Excellency Ty Sokun, Officials of the Government of Cambodia;
Representatives of the agricultural sector;
Presenters, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen;

Good morning. I am pleased to be with you here today to open this important biotechnology workshop supported by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). As you know, biotechnology and regulatory development are cornerstone issues in developing a productive agricultural system in Cambodia. I want to extend a warm welcome to all of you who have come here today to advance your knowledge of biotechnology to help chart a way forward based on science and science-based regulations. As you know, agriculture is at the heart of Cambodia, so the lessons of today are to think about how to advance Cambodia’s agriculture capacity to the next level.

A diverse group of stakeholders have come together today to address these key issues, which have implications for Cambodia’s farmers. A productive agricultural system in Cambodia is essential to supporting the national economy in terms of higher productivity, lower production costs, and income benefits. Furthermore, a productive system makes agriculture more sustainable for both the economy and farming families. This is especially integral to food security in today’s world.

For more than 50 years, the U.S. government has partnered with countries around the world to fund research collaborations and regulatory framework development to improve agricultural production. The most famous example is the Green Revolution, which helped save the lives of over one billion people. When India was on the brink of mass famine in the 1960s, Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug worked with the Government of India to develop and promote a rice variety that led to a tenfold increase in yield. USDA and USAID supported both the research and the adoption of improved varieties.

Biotechnology also includes hybrids and other open pollinated varieties that can be reproduced by the farmers themselves. For example, USAID currently funds the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to work closely with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries to develop more productive varieties of rice that are high yielding in the face of drought and floods. Climate change is already having an impact on agricultural productivity, especially in Cambodia. While biotechnology may not be the singular answer to this challenge, it does have the potential to improve crop resiliency and it has already contributed to half of the improvements in agricultural productivity over the past two decades. That is an incredible contribution to agricultural development.

You will hear from experts today on case studies in Vietnam and the Philippines. Biotech success stories are no longer reserved for places like the U.S. and Europe- your own neighbors are using the tools and resources available to greatly expand their economies.

The U.S. Embassy and USDA have closely worked with many partners – including a number of ministries of the Cambodian government – to organize this workshop with the hope of moving Cambodia forward in its regulatory framework. Our collaboration with Cambodian officials, scientists and researchers affiliated with biotechnology development has been rewarding and we greatly value our ongoing partnership.

The roadmap that you will propose at the conclusion of this workshop will be a valuable tool for advancing the agricultural sector in Cambodia. I wish you all success and we look forward to hearing about the outcomes. Thank you so much for your kind attention.