Exporter Accused of Cultivating Protected Thai Rice Strain

The country’s largest rice exporter said Wednesday that it has resolved allegations made last month by Thai rice millers and farmers that it was growing Thailand’s nationally protected rice seed, though DNA tests commissioned to resolve the dispute are not complete.

“The story is over,” said Chieu Arnusorn, vice president of Ang-kor Kasekam Roongroeung, also known as Angkor Rice. “We have spoken to the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh. We understood each other.”

The company will continue planting and exporting “as normal,” he added.

Last month, the Ministry of Agriculture announced it was conducting DNA tests to determine whether Angkor Rice was cultivating the protected Hom Mali 105 rice, also known as jasmine rice. The president of the Thai Rice Mills Association said at the time that tests on rice sold from Angkor Rice showed it was actually “100 percent” jasmine rice.

Cambodian agricultural officials, along with Angkor Rice, maintain that they use Neang Mali rice, which is similar to jasmine rice.

Repeated calls to officials at the Thai Embassy on Wednesday were not returned, and Chieu Arnusorn would not reveal the nature of the discussions, saying only that there is “no more problem.”

Cambodia exports only a small amount of milled rice compared to its neighbors Thailand and Vietnam. The DNA tests on the rice seed are being conducted overseas and the results have not been returned, agriculture officials said Wednesday.

“The DNA will be the evidence to show the court,” said Men Sarom, director of the government-run Cambodian Agricultu-ral Research and Development Institute. He does not expect legal action from Thai authorities, adding that the controversy stirred up last month by Thai rice farmers and millers seems to have died down.

“I do not see anymore articles in the Thai newspapers about the rice seed,” Men Sarom said, confident that no foreign rice has been planted on Cambodian soil.

“Our ancestors were able to build Angkor Wat, so I don’t th-ink we lack rice seeds,” he added.

Along with the Ministry of Agriculture, CARDI is drafting a law to protect Cambodian rice seeds. The government has already registered hundreds of rice seeds with the International Rice Research Institute in Manila since the 1960s and plans to register thousands more, Men Sarom said.

Chan Tong Yves, secretary of state at the Ministry of Agricul-ture, said he believes jasmine rice and Neang Mali “are totally different.”

“Even their names sound different,” he said Wednesday.

Nevertheless, the Cambodian government is now researching the history of all Khmer rice seeds by asking provincial farmers to recall the origins of their rice seeds.

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