Cambodia’s rice industry faces a plethora of challenges—both internal and external—that have led to low prices and prevented exporters from achieving a lofty tonnage target set by the government in 2010, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday.
Speaking to industry bigwigs at the annual Cambodia Rice Forum at the Sokha hotel in Phnom Penh, Mr. Hun Sen lauded efforts to increase the profile of Cambodian rice abroad, but noted that stiff regional competition had limited the country’s export totals.
In 2010, the Cambodian government set a 1-million-ton goal for rice exports in 2015—a figure that proved to be unreachable.
In a report released earlier this month, the Ministry of Agriculture’s general directorate of agriculture said that despite a 39 percent increase in rice exports in 2015, Cambodia had sent just 538,396 tons abroad.
“Other countries in the region and the world also produce rice like Cambodia—especially the Mekong countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar—which leads to falling rice prices in the world market,” Mr. Hun Sen said, adding that he believed the problem of competition was unique to the world’s poorer countries.
“The important thing here is that all developing countries are competing with each other,” he said. “Let’s say, for example…the plane companies: Airbus is European and Boeing is American—no one else competes.”
Mr. Hun Sen also told the packed hotel ballroom that players in the rice sector needed to be cognizant of regional tastes in order to avoid “having a market but not having the correct type of rice to supply demand.”
“People have different tongues,” he said.
“I cannot eat Indian rice. When I go to India, they provide me with the Indian rice. It’s very hard…. If they ask, ‘Is it tasty?’ we just reply, ‘Tasty’—just to be polite,” Mr. Hun Sen said, adding that he preferred Cambodian rice and other regional varieties.
The prime minister also said that further investments needed to be made in the country’s rice producing and milling sectors.
“We have shortages of warehouses, rice mills, capital, etcetera,” he said, adding that modern irrigation techniques and the use of non-seasonal seed varieties also needed to be promoted.
Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodian Rice Federation, said the industry was sticking to the 1-million-ton goal for 2016.
Eang Heang, owner of the Eang Heang Rice Mill Factory in Battambang City, said his inability to access an affordable supply of electricity was hindering production.
“We don’t have state-supplied electricity,” Mr. Heang said, noting that his milling factory was forced to run on a generator, as Electricite du Cambodge had yet to connect it to the main grid.
“If we don’t help them to buy the equipment [a transformer], they don’t install and supply the electricity for us,” he continued.
“So we want the government to solve this problem first if we want to export 1 million tons a year.”