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Future is bright for nation’s rice farmers

Sok Chan / Khmer Times Share:
A worker stacks sacks of grain in Kandal province. KT/Chor Sokunthea

In the wake of concerns about the detrimental impact of the European Commission’s partial EBA withdrawal on Cambodia’s rice export industry, there is positive news.

As the country’s most important crop, around 600,000 tonnes of jasmine and fragrant rice are exported every year, according to the Cambodia Rice Federation. Grade A fragrant rice fetches $900 – $950 per tonne and it’s estimated that around three million Cambodians rely on the grain for their livelihood.

And at the inaugural Sustainable Rice Summit 2020 in Siem Reap province, around 200 representatives from key stakeholders in the industry gathered to discuss ways to further increase export figures.

Co-organised by the Cambodia Rice Federation, Amru Rice and the Cambodian Agriculture Cooperative Corporation Plc, with the support of the General Directorate of Agriculture, the event’s main focus was to raise awareness in the agriculture sector around the Sustainable Rice Platform. The multi-stakeholder partnership, founded in 2011, promotes resource efficiency and sustainability in trade flows, production and consumption operations and supply chains in the global rice sector.

Poeung Tryda, director of Preah Vihear Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, addressing attendees at the event, including agricultural cooperatives, financial institutions, rice millers and related stakeholders, backed the SRP, saying that its recommendations will increase output and profit within the rice industry.

“The implementation of the SRP’s principles will increase the quality of organic rice and lead to easier trading for the farmers. With a ready market awaiting after each harvest, the farmers who engage with SRP will also gain added value from their yield, when compared to those who haven’t joined the platform,” he explained.

Also under discussion at the summit were ways to progress the cooperative partnership model, especially in terms of producing sustainable and organic rice, and how to address challenges in the sustainable agriculture value-chain.

Another important aspect to ensure the continued future success of the rice-growing industry was also explored. This involves encouraging stakeholders, particularly farmers, to engage and develop modern agriculture techniques.

CRF president Song Saran highlighted the importance of the industry working together to make this happen.

“This summit helps to identify the financial and technological resources that are available. By linking everything together in one bloc, we can help each other,” he said.

A worker scoops grains of rice in Kandal province. KT/Chor Sokunthea

“All agriculture cooperatives should seek partnerships with financial and technological institutions and be open to innovative ideas. While farmers are worried about climate or external issues, it’s important for them to find exporting companies to sign contracts with. The farmers have to become more entrepreneurial and that includes crop diversification,” Mr Song added.

Mey Kalyan, Senior Adviser of the Cambodian government Supreme National Economic Council, said that the recent slow growth of the agriculture sector in Cambodia needs to be addressed urgently. “If the slowdown of the agriculture sector continues, it threatens the stability of the country,” he said.

Mr Kalyan added that the migration from rural to urban areas and emigration to other countries is caused by the current stagnation of the agriculture sector. “Agriculture is the engine of Cambodia’s economy and it needs to grow faster,” he said.

Mr Kalyan also suggested that by concentrating on the agricultural sector, Cambodia will be able to move away from its reliance on the industry sector.

He noted New Zealand has done this successfully. He also suggested there should be collaboration with the tourism sector to help increase visitors to the Kingdom.

The government’s work in recent years, improving roads, electricity supply and the country’s infrastructure means that the conditions are favourable for Mr Kalyan ’s vision. However, he stressed the importance of getting the system right, saying, “We need three key things —first is more income and proper income, second is the stability of the production process, and third is reducing risk.”

Mr Kalyan said it is also essential for farmers to move towards crop diversification. “Not only should farmers be self-reliant, they should really think about the way they are doing business,” he said. “If their current crops aren’t making them the profits they need to survive, they need to switch to other lower risk crops to create stability.”

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