Government Intervenes Over Low Rice Prices

The government has outlined a new three-pronged approach to boost the prices paid to rice farmers, aiming to break the monopoly held by traders in some areas, increase the bargaining power of farmers and press rice millers to pay higher prices.

The Ministry of Agriculture announced the plan on Monday in response to complaints from farmers who say they are struggling to turn a profit due to falling rice prices.

However, the ministry’s statement was short on details about how its plan would be implemented, calling on provincial agriculture directors to “work with local authorities and related institutions to take actions.”

Lor Reaksmey, a spokesman for the ministry, said provincial departments would respond to complaints from farmers about particular traders by tracking them down with the help of provincial governors and “asking them to offer better prices.”

“Recently, traders and companies generally seem to have suspended buying rice paddy, which makes its price go down,” he said. “That’s why farmers have complained a lot, since they have used a lot of resources on production.”

Those in the industry were skeptical the plan would reverse the trend.

Song Saran, chief executive of milling and exporting company Amru Rice, said millers could not afford to buy more paddy, and pressuring traders to increase prices could leave farmers without a buyer at a time when supply was higher than demand.

“If they don’t want farmers to trade with a middle man, where will they sell? And who will buy? Vietnam? No. Thailand? No,” he said.

Sam Vitou, executive director of local agricultural organization Ce­dac, welcomed the government’s plan on principle, but said desperate farmers did not have the luxury of waiting for state intervention.

“After harvesting they are selling quickly because they need to pay back their debts,” he said. “So they need the money urgently. Even for a low price, they will sell.”

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