Aerial shot of fish pens in a lake. [Image: Alexey Komissarov / Pexels]

Cambodian Aquaculture Industry Thrives Under US Food for Progress Program

The Mekong ASEAN Asia

Last month, the United States’ leaders from the United Soybean Board (USB), the American Soybean Association (ASA), and the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) visited Cambodia to witness the growth of US soy in the region. This strategic partnership between the United States and Cambodia relies on the Cambodian aquaculture sector's use of American soy to enrich fish feed using nutritive protein. All three programs are based in Missouri, the sixth-highest soybean-producing state in the United States. with 276.9 million bushels produced in 2021, and have observed significant progress in the US-Cambodia soy relationship via their efforts.

The ASA-WISHH’s semi-annual report on the Commercialization of Aquaculture for Sustainable Trade (CAST), released in June 2022, provides thorough information on the accomplishments of the U.S.-Cambodia cooperation and other programs. As a US Department of Agriculture-funded Food for Progress project, CAST aims to accelerate production of high-demand fish species for the Cambodian market. The initiative achieves this by providing soy-based feeds to Cambodian fish farms in order to aid in the feeding and growth of fish species with the goal of developing a more robust aquaculture industry.

In association with the CAST project, Cambodian fish farmers participate in training and other workshops run by programs like ASA-WISHH that help raise awareness of the aquaculture sector in Cambodia and enhance productivity and revenues.

The initiatives have also had a positive influence on the lives of Cambodian women agricultural leaders and entrepreneurs. In March 2022, Rathada Fish Farm and Hatchery, a key beneficiary in the CAST Project, welcomed the US Ambassador to Cambodia, W. Patrick Murphy, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Senior Agricultural Attaché Benjamin Petlock, and USDA Agricultural Specialist Sokkea Hoy. During the tour, owner Keo Yada showcased her implementation of new aquaculture technology developed by ASA-WISHH to improve the water quality of the farm’s wells. In honor of Women’s History Month, Ambassador Murphy highlighted the challenges facing women’s role in the business and their efforts to provide healthy food to the Cambodian market.

The US-ASEAN agricultural cooperation persists even after the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the East-West Center's ASEAN Matters for America report published last year, ASEAN is the Indo-Pacific region with the second-highest imports of US food and agricultural goods after China. The United States exports about $13.7 billion in food and agricultural items to ASEAN, including $2 billion in soybeans.

The CAST project, which is in line with the Royal Government of Cambodia's Strategic Plan for Aquaculture Development, has seen progress in a variety of ways during the past three years. The program connects trade and development through foreign investment in US soybean-producing states, while also assisting Cambodia's aquaculture industry's growth through access to inexpensive fish protein, new technology, and increase entrepreneurial opportunities for locals.

Maria D. Corte is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a second-year graduate student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University studying International Security, Human Security, and Tech Policy, with a concentration on Asia.