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Quote: Margaret Slocomb on the role of agriculture in the Cambodian economy

I was planning on writing up a short review and recommendation on Peg LeVine’s book Love and dread in Cambodia: weddings, births, and ritual harm under the Khmer Rouge today.  But then I finally got to a point in my writing where I picked up another book, Margaret Slocomb’s An economic history of Cambodia in the twentieth century, and at the end of it was this wonderful, refreshing quote:

As the following chapters will demonstrate, agriculture, which has always been the main occupation of the people and the mainstay of the state surplus, has consistently failed to fulfill its potential as the designated catalyst for the sort of economic development that Cambodia’s modernisers envisaged. It is equally true, however, that after each catastrophe that befell the nation, it was traditional agriculture that revived the national economy and salvaged the people’s livelihood. (p. 29)

Yes, yes, and again yes:  the role of agriculture as a foundation for economy, culture, politics, and ritual imagination, has never been genuinely appreciated in Cambodian studies (or indeed among Cambodian ideologues).

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Quote: on Cambodia’s economy

I just discovered this quote on a notecard from January, when I read the wonderful edited volume published by the Center for Khmer Studies.  This quote is by Jeremy Ironside, from his article, “Development – in whose name? Cambodia’s economic development and its indigenous communities – from self-reliance to uncertainty.”  It sums up a lot of Cambodia’s developing economy’s structural problems in a very few words:

For every $100 of exported garments, $63 is spent on improving materials and $4 on utilities. Value added is thus only 1/3 of the total value, with labour costs estimated at $13 and ‘bureaucracy costs’ at $7, with total gross profits at 13%. Three-quarters of these profits are repatriated [abroad; away from Cambodia]. Therefore, only 25% of the sale prie of the garment is net value added which stays in the Cambodian economy.”

p. 123, n.6.  Ironside is citing data from M. Beresford, S. Ngoun, R. Rathin, S. Sisovanna, N. Ceema. 2004. “The macroeconomics of poverty reduction in Cambodia.” The UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Programme on the Macroeconomics of Poverty Reduction.

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