Cambodia’s capacity for growing organic rice has increased rapidly over the last two years to meet growing domestic demand, industry experts said.
“Local people supported the production of better quality rice by buying more day to day,” said Lang Seng Horng, President of the Cambodian Center for the Study and Development of Agriculture Enterprise program.
According to Mr Horng, whose organization trains farmers to grow crops without the aid of chemical fertilizers, Cambodian farmers produced 30,000 tons of organic rice in 2008 and, in 2009, produced 40,000. Meanwhile, Mr Horng said, Cedac’s three retail shops in Phnom Penh have sold on average 70 tons of organic rice a month since 2009, an amount that is growing.
But selling healthier foods remains hard, Ministry of Commerce Secretary of State Mao Thora said.
“Of course organic rice sells at a higher price, but this means it is difficult to find a market,” said Mr Thora, adding the an organic rice growing program that began several years ago under the joint control of the Commerce Ministry and German Development Cooperation failed because of low demand.
New demand is coming from wealthier health conscious consumers like Saom Iet, who said that she buys organic rice because it has helped her stave off illness.
“My health has improved since I began eating organic rice two years ago,” said Ms Iet, who was shopping at a CEDAC store yesterday.
Ms Iet said that she would encourage more consumers to jump to organic rice because it does not contain the harmful residue of chemical fertilizers.
In order to keep customers like Ms Iet happy, farmers need to be closely monitored, said Mea Sao, president of a Kompong Speu province organic rice producing association.
“We set up team leaders to monitor the planting process, making sure that the produce is safe for the consumer,” said Mr Sao, adding: “If we find out that our members use chemical fertilizer, we will stop buying their rice.”
CEDAC President Yang Saing Koma said that his organization has even begun to export organic rice to the US: 30 tons in 2009 and a projected 40 tons this year.
Organic rice exportation, Mr Koma said, has remained relatively small because of Cambodia’s complicated rice exportation process.
Sok Siphana, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said that he is helping the Supreme Economic Council draft a new, less obstructive, rice export policy, which could more efficiently facilitate the foreign sale of both organic and traditionally grown rice.
“Cambodia has about 2 million tons of rice that we have to seek a market to sell,” Mr Siphana said.