In April it was touted as the country’s “white gold,” but with rice prices dropping by as much as 75 percent since then, the nation’s staple has lost its glimmer, and Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said farmers are grumbling.
Farmers have harvested about 40 percent of this season’s rice crop and are already facing difficulties because of the low price being paid at the market, Chan Sarun said Monday during a workshop organized by the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture.
“The farmers complained to me, asking why their paddy rice and mill rice is cheaper and cheaper,” Chan Sarun said, adding he had advised farmers to stockpile their rice in barns until prices improve.
“I myself believe that [prices] will rise because the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] forecasted that [1 billion] people would lack food in 2009,” the minister said.
“After harvest, you should plow your rice field and plant fast-growing vegetables and plants that need less water,” such as cucumbers and tomatoes in order to make quick cash, he added.
CEDAC President Yang Saing Koma said during the workshop that he agreed with Chan Sarun’s advice, but was uncertain whether farmers, set in their ways, would follow it.
Yang Saing Koma said rice prices have plummeted with high quality rice selling at 1,000 to 1,200 riel per kilogram in most areas, while low quality rice fetches 600 and 700 riel per kg. In March, rice prices reached as high as 4,000 riel per kilogram.
Farmers are flooding the market with their harvested crops, and are part of the problem, he said.
“This is harvest season, when there is more rice and farmers all want to sell at the same time…it causes the price go down,” he said, noting that he expects rice prices to increase in February or March, but in the meantime, subsidized government relief purchases would push prices up.
Phou Puy, president of the Federation of Cambodia Rice Miller’s Association, said Monday by phone his association is buying rice at the customary price for this time of year, and that buying it at the high rates rice hit in mid-2008 would not be possible.
“We cannot buy at the high prices,” Phou Puy said, adding the association has to buy a lot of rice to stock for many months.
Right now, he added, many business people are competing to buy rice from farmers in order to stockpile to sell it at a higher price later in the year.
Chhem Chheoun, 46, a Pursat province farmer, said Monday by phone he had harvested 50 percent of his rice crop and he had sold two tons of what will be a total of five tons so far.
“I want to sell my entire five tons of paddy rice, but I cannot because the price is cheap,” he said, adding he will keep the remainder in stock in the hopes the price rise soon.