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Rice Body Elections Come at Crucial Time

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Rice farmers and millers are in financial doldrums due to the prolonged drought and have sought government help through a $30 million emergency loan. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Elections are due in the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) for the second term of its president and council of board members. The elections come at a crucial time as the government considers an emergency loan request from the CRF to help protect the rice sector that is reeling from a fall in production due to the prolonged drought hitting the Kingdom.
The election of CRF’s new president and council of board members is scheduled to take place on July 2, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Commerce on Tuesday.
Candidate nominations for the president and 17 board council members will commence today and close a week later, said the statement.
In March, the CRF asked the government for an emergency loan of between $20 million and $30 million to help rice millers and exporters and prevent them from going bankrupt due to the acute fall in rice production because of the drought. This request was made to prevent the collapse of the rice sector.
CRF’s vice president Hun Lak said yesterday that the federation would receive the emergency loan from the government before the rice-harvesting season from October to November.
“We have discussed this with our current board council members and we have prepared all the necessary loan application forms and submitted it to the government though the Rural Development Bank and relevant officials,” said Mr. Lak.
However, Mr. Lak said that though more paperwork still had to be done with regard to the emergency loan, the federation, however, was hard pressed for time as it was preparing for the elections.
“But it is important that we prepare a detailed plan for the use of funds from the emergency loan and also do a proper risk assessment for the rice sector,” he said.
The CRF and rice millers will work together to accelerate the procedures to get the emergency loan as fast as possible, ahead of the upcoming harvesting season, said Mr. Lak.
Kan Kunthy, CEO of Battambang Rice Investment, said that he wanted to see the government move fast on the emergency loan which was promised by the CRF.
Mr. Kunthy also called government to reply to the CRF proposal urging the Ministry of Commerce to reduce electricity tariffs and pump in an additional $200 million for rice millers. The rice millers also want the government to stop imports from Vietnam, citing unfairness due to cheaper rice from the neighboring country flooding the market.
“We cannot sell in the domestic market because we cannot compete with Vietnamese rice,” he said.
Speaking about the CRF elections, Mr. Lak said that 213 federation members are eligible to vote and 30 new companies have sought federation membership, pending approval with the Ministry of Commerce, to take part in the voting.
He clarified that the election was solely for the second term of the president and board council members and not to select vice presidents. There are five vice presidents in the CRF, and they are chosen by the board council members.
The Cambodia Rice Federation was formed in May 2014, with 213 founding members representing exporters, the rice-farming community, millers, agro-industry and transportation companies.
Mr. Lak, managing director of rice exporter Mekong Oryza, said the achievements in the president’s first term included laying the foundation for a working group, collaboration with non-government partners and strengthening the brand and marketing of members’ products.
According to Mr. Lak, the first term achievements can be further consolidated in the second term of the president and the board council members.
“What we did in the first mandate during the past two years, we have already completed. In the second term we will continue building what we have started. The progress will be good,” he said.
But Khan Kunthy, CEO of Battambang Rice Investment, was quite critical.
“Some issues which were raised in the first mandate have not been resolved yet. There are a lot of promises regarding the reduction of rice production, finding finance and new markets. These still remain promises and nothing more,” he said.
He said that the situation of rice exporters as well as farmers was still critical due to the drought and because of the weather, many of them are in financial doldrums.

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