As increasing numbers of Cambodian’s buy smartphones, it is changing the way that people across the country get their news and knowledge, entertainment, and interact with each other.

According to a recent study by the Cambodian Agricultural Value Chain programme, between 2015 and 2017 mobile phone penetration in the country increased by 20 percent. While not all of this was with smartphones, a growing number of residents are spending between $100-200 on phones to get access to the internet. This is allowing people to go online, often for the first time, and use social media and communication channels they haven’t had before.

Rural farming communities have often relied on the radio and television for news and entertainment, but the report found that both dropping in popularity, while social media is growing quickly, with Facebook and Youtube being far and away the most popular options.

While only 24 percent of rural farmers own smartphones, that number is much higher among younger people — 80 percent of smartphone owners are under the age of 35. And although phone usage in Cambodia is lower than the global average, the use of social media through smartphones is higher than the global average. While Facebook is seen an entertainment platform in much of the world, 65 percent of Cambodians turn to it for news and events, which is causing businesses in the country to find ways to boost their communication to Facebook audiences.

The study looked at the viability of different methods of reaching rural farming audiences with targeted messages about farming technology, seed types, and market information. Fifty-two percent of respondents cited in the study said they presently use social media, mainly Facebook, to try to find information on market prices for their goods, but only 15 percent said they actually found the information they sought.

With the clear challenges in obtaining farming information, 88 percent of respondents were supportive of an agricultural app, 82% for a Facebook page, and only 73% for an agriculture-specific television programme. Most wanted such information in Khmer rather than English.

How the results reported in the study are used by those involved in Cambodia’s farming sector will be interesting. Developing an app that rural farmers are willing and able to use would seem like the obvious option, but the failure of past efforts points to the pitfalls in this approach.

We wish the best of luck to whoever decides to take on the challenge of providing Cambodian farmers with the information they seek, and we are confident that the Kingdom’s vibrant tech and startup sector is the perfect place for such a valuable resource to be developed.

Edited By: Peter Ford