Hun Sen OKs Ban On Illegal Rice Exports

Prime Minister Hun Sen has approved an order to crackdown on the illegal export of unmilled rice in order to stockpile crops in the face of the country’s drought and food shortages.

The measure aims to prohibit farmers from selling off unmilled rice to middlemen and buyers in neighboring countries, where the rice is milled and sold back to Cambodians at higher prices.

The call for a crackdown was included in a proposal approved by the premier and prepared by the National Committee for Dis­aster Management,  Serey Kosal, the committee’s deputy president, said Monday.

The export of domestic-grown rice would undermine government efforts under way to relieve the effects of drought, which has damaged crops, mostly in the provinces of Kompong Speu, Takeo, Kandal and Prey Veng, he said.

“We do not want our help to the people to be a waste of effort,” Serey Kosal said. “We want them to reserve the rice.”

Since Hun Sen publicly spoke out on the drought on Nov 8, the government has tried to distribute fuel and equipment to irrigateparched fields while preparing emergency rice supplies, he said.

In the last three weeks, some 400,000 liters of fuel have been delivered to irrigation pumps in rural areas, and 100 wells reaching 50 meters deep have been dug in areas without irrigation, he added.

The campaign has salvaged most of the 2 million hectares of rice paddies that Ministry of Agriculture officials warned were in danger. “With our help, only about 10 to 15 percent of those fields will be damaged,” Serey Kosal predicted.

Government relief has limited the prospect of food shortages to three provinces: Kompong Speu, Prey Veng and Kandal.

“In general, we will have enough rice for consumption. It is only some areas that will not have enough rice.”

The government has received the assistance of the World Food Program, with the UN body pledging to distribute some 1,000 tons of rice in Kompong Speu, Prey Veng, Kandal and Takeo. WFP Deputy Country Director Ramaraj Saravanamuttu said Monday that distribution began Nov 11.

The new order to halt small-scale exports is likely to benefit domestic millers. Kim Savuth, executive director of the Cambo­dian National Rice Millers As­so­ciation, hailed the order Monday and said it will guard Cambodians from foreign rice millers who could exploit the country’s food shortages. “The Vietnamese businessmen buy the unmilled rice, then they mill the rice to sell back to Cambodia when Cambodia does not have enough,” he said.

He said farmers sell a kilogram of unmilled rice for between 400 and 500 riel, then buy the same amount back for about 1,000 riel per kg. There are no numbers available for the amount of un­milled rice exported illegally each year, but one official at the Ag­riculture Ministry said it was too little to affect food shortages.

“People are clever. They normally sell some rice and keep some to eat and for seedlings. I don’t think this [trade] is going to affect their food security,” said Uk Sokhon, an undersecretary of state at the agriculture ministry.

He added that rice production normally exceeds government predictions and that he does not expect food shortages next year.


Related Stories

Latest News