Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz chats informally with Cambodian Ministry of the Interior official Ev Bunthol (right) during a reception at city hall Thursday.

Chilliwack hosts Cambodian leaders

Chilliwack has been sharing its economic and agricultural expertise with two struggling communities in Cambodia.

Chilliwack has been sharing its economic and agricultural expertise with two struggling communities in Cambodia.

A Cambodian delegation arrived in Chilliwack Oct 4., and spent four days touring local success stories on the economic development front.

CEPCO president John Jansen, the lead Chilliwack rep, travelled to Cambodia twice so far, and officially hosted the visiting delegates this week with City of Chilliwack.

“What we wanted to demonstrate on the tour is what is possible in their own communities,” Jansen said.

The Cambodian delegation got to explore a state-of-the art dairy farm, a busy greenhouse, an innovative poultry farm, a large manufacturer and some world-class show gardens.

“Farming is one of their big challenges,” Jansen said. Environmental sustainability and gender equality are a couple of other goals, along with updating their agricultural tools.

The Cambodian economy is 60 per cent driven by agriculture, but the farming practices haven’t changed in decades. The poverty level is so extreme it’s measured by what people earn and how many calories that can buy.

Jansen learned that $2 a day can buy the equivalent of 1500 calories, but 27 per cent of the people can’t even afford that.

“Cambodia used to be one of the largest exporters of rice, but now they are net importers. So there are lots of issues.”

Some of the delegates were from the Municipality of Kampom Cham, while others hailed from the Municipality of Takhmao.

Ev Bunthol, deputy director general in Cambodia’s Ministry of the Interior, told The Progress he was surprised by several things he saw in Chilliwack.

“I was surprised by how well the city is managed, by the living standard of the people, and the good heart of the people,” he said.

He expressed appreciation for the support and knowledge extended by the City of Chilliwack to the Cambodian people, through the FCM program.

But what was most impressive was learning about Chilliwack’s agricultural practices, the Cambodian rep said.

“The seasonal use of land resources and livestock raising methods leads to better production,” he noted. “The way agriculture is run here is based more on technology.”

The tour was part of a capacity-building mission launched by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities with SIDA funding. Chilliwack was specifically chosen by FCM to be part of Municipal Partners for Local Economic Development (MPED) program.

The delegates also got a tour of UFV’s Trades and Tech Centre, RCMP scenario training at PRTC, Tourism Chilliwack, Heritage Park and City Hall.

“They’re trying to match up cities to help some developing countries with economic development,” said Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz. “John is really into agriculture and innovation. It’s both his passion and his expertise, and he taking it to the next level with this program.”

Gaetz said when Jansen toured the country the first time to choose program participants, he saw fallow land, and thought the issue was water. So he started talking about irrigation.

Then he found out the real obstacle to crop cultivation was the land mines buried underground.

“From our perspective, we wouldn’t even think of that,” Gaetz said.

Modernization of Cambodia is slow to be realized on different fronts, but family values and an entrepreneurial spirit are still strong in the places he visited, Jansen said.

“And that was good to see,” he said.

Jansen said he was honoured that Chilliwack was chosen for this project among applicants from across Canada.

“We’ve been given a tremendous opportunity to help out a nation that has gone through so many struggles, so if we can assist in even a small way, it’s worth it.”

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/CHWKjourno

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