Officials: More Rice Key to Market Competition

Cambodia’s rice production is being outstripped by its regional neighbors and must grow both in volume and efficiency if the economy is to tap into the lucrative “white gold” market, officials told a conference in Phnom Penh on Thursday.

While Thailand sold eight million tons of rice on the world market last year, and Vietnam five million tons, Cambodia, by way of comparison, had sold very little, Agriculture Ministry Secretary of State Chan Tong Yves said.

Between January 2007 and April of this year, Cambodia sold to Europe just 5,400 tons of rice, he said.

“If we call it ‘white gold,’ we ought to produce rice for sale to compete with neighboring countries,” he told the gathering held by the Club of Cambodian Journalists in Phnom Penh.

“Currently our country has 6.7 million hectares of land for rice cultivation but our rice farmers have limited productivity on it…. Vietnam can produce rice at four tons per hectare and Thailand three tons per hectare,” he said. Cambodia, he said, averages only 2.6 tons per hectare.

In Kompong Speu province, poor quality soil high in sand reduces the overall rice output however this can be remedied with the proper use of natural and artificial fertilizers, according to Chan Tong Yves. In Prey Veng province, unsuitable groundwater also hampers productivity but a solution has not yet been devised, he added.

“Seventy percent of our people are farmers and farm following our ancestors’ [methods]. So we need to do more to educate our farming villages to increase their rice production,” he said, adding that many farmers depend on monsoon rains rather than irrigation.

Srun Sokhom, deputy director of the ministry’s department of agronomy and agricultural land improvement, said that Cambodia had sent samples of Cambodian types of rice-Samaly, Phka Malis and Kra Ngork Pong-to Qatari investors who are considering importing Cambodian rice, but who have yet to make a decision.

Cambodian and Qatari officials announced in May they were near to signing a $200-million deal to support modernizing rice production in three provinces.

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