A drop in demand for dry-season rice is affecting hundreds of thousands of farmers across the country, local officials and agriculture experts said Wednesday, with some dry-season farmers complaining that rice traders are not buying, forcing them to store the rice themselves.
“We are worried that traders stay away too long and our stocks will be damaged by rain and its value reduced,” said Ang Saroeun, a 46-year-old farmer from Takeo province’s Kok Po commune. Farmers in his district of Borei Chulsa harvested dry-season rice two weeks ago, but as few traders had come they have had to create makeshift storage units close to their paddies that were often not rainproof, he said.
“We want don’t want to stock the harvest. We need money to pay for chemical fertilizer and workers,” Mr Ang Saroeun said.
Borei Chulsa District Governor Suth Khon said most farmers in his district grew dry-season rice, which they could not transport and store themselves, and that now they were facing problems due to the early rains and lack of interested traders.
Dim Kim Heat, chief of Svay Dankeo commune in Pursat province, said his commune, where around 85 percent of the farmers depend on dry season farming, had also hardly seen any rice traders this year and prices had fallen from 1,000 riel per kg last year to 710 riel now.
Yang Saing Koma, director of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, confirmed demand for dry season rice, which is of a lower quality than wet season rice, dropped over the past two months, and that prices had fallen by 15 to 20 percent.
He said Thai and Vietnamese rice traders were the main buyers for this type of rice, but that so far this year many of these traders were not coming, adding he did not know why demand was down.
Around 150,000 to 200,000 families grow rice in the dry season, lasting from November to March, as their fields are flooded during the rainy season, he said, adding these farmers mainly live in the provinces of Takeo, Prey Veng, Kompong Cham and Kandal.
According to Mr Yang Saing Koma, Cambodia lacks rice-milling and storage capacity and therefore cannot export rice directly.
“Something should be done in terms of marketing this [dry season] paddy,” he said, “[Currently,] our situation depends on other countries.”
Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said he did not know if farmers were facing a fall in demand for dry-season rice. “Some areas may have this problem. The traders are busy elsewhere and are still buying wet-season rice,” he said.
In the meantime, dry season farmers should store rice themselves and prevent it from getting wet, Mr Chan Sarun said, adding the government had set up an $18 million fund to provide loans to rice milling industries, which would increase domestic demand.
Phou Phuy, President of the Cambodian Rice Miller Association, said he did not believe demand for dry season rice was down.
“My officials have bought rice in Takeo province,” he said, adding Thai rice demand was down, but that Vietnamese demand was normal.
He added the government had provided $13.4 million in loans to rice millers early this year to buy rice. “If demand is really down I will send my officials to buy,” he said.