Surging rice exports to Vietnam have pushed up the cost of rice in Cambodia and are threatening to cause a domestic shortfall, Ministry of Agriculture officials said Thursday.
“We are concerned about the uncontrolled export of Cambodian rice to Vietnam when we need to keep farmers self-sufficient throughout the year,” Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said.
“We cannot stop people [from exporting], just educate them about self-sufficiency,” he said.
The rise in Vietnamese demand comes on the heels of a brown planthopper infestation, which destroyed 2 million tons of rice paddy in Vietnam in 2006, most of which was destined for export, and caused further damage this year, he said.
He added that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is negotiating with the government of Vietnam to create an export quota in order to regulate the booming cross-border trade.
Chan Sarun said about 22 tons of rice is exported to Vietnam each day through Takeo province, but added: “There is unofficial buying by Vietnamese so we don’t know how much exactly they get from us.”
He added that he was also worried that brown planthoppers, which in July and August decimated more than 1,000 hectares of Cambodian crops, might return to Cambodia.
Hean Vanthorn, the deputy director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Agronomy and Land Improvement Department, said that Vietnam has been buying rice from Cambodia because it is not producing enough rice to meet its own export commitments.
He added that Vietnamese anxiety over the 2006 planthopper problem was contributing to the buying spree, which has, in turn, pushed up rice prices in Cambodia.
Kampot rice trader Pann Hong said he can buy rice from Cambodian farmers for 830 riel a kg (around $0.21) and sell it in Vietnam for 850 to 860 riel.
“Vietnamese need our rice so much so they dare pay a high price,” he said.
Yang Saing Koma, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, a local NGO, said rice prices in Cambodia have skyrocketed.
Top grade rice retails for 1,100 riel a kilogram, up from 700 to 800 earlier this year. “It is good that farmers can sell at a higher price, but a number of poor people are affected by the hike in milled rice [prices],” he said. “They cannot afford it.”