While the rice harvest gets under way and brisk rice trade is taking place across most of the country, farmers in the western provinces of Banteay Meanchey and Battambang are complaining that prices are down so far this year because Thai traders are staying away.
Heng Bunhor, director of Banteay Meanchey province’s department of agriculture, said prices were down throughout the province compared to last year.
“There is a problem because the Thai traders postpone purchasing rice–we don’t know the exact reason,” he said, adding that compared to last year there was much less competition for the rice.
Chouv Tav, a CPP council member in the Banteay Meanchey’s Thma Puok district, said farmers were reaping a bigger yield than last year, but they had been disappointed with rice prices so far.
“The rice yield is good, but there is no market. Only a few local traders come to buy at a low price,” Mr Tav said, adding that last year the province was visited by both Thai and Vietnamese traders.
He explained that high-quality fragrant rice was currently fetching about 1,250 riel per kg, down from about 1,800 riel last year, while regular quality rice was being bought at 924 riel per kg, down from about 1,250 riel last year.
Concern is growing among farmers as many are in urgent need of cash to pay off debts, he said. “The farmers borrowed money to buy chemical fertilizer, fuel, pay laborers…. Some are now forced to sell their rice at a low price.”
Chhim Vachara, deputy director of Batttambang province’s department of agriculture, said prices in his province were also lower than in December 2009.
“Now the price declined,” he said. “The problem is that farmers need the money to pay back loans, but the traders offer them a low price.”
Thon Virak, director of state-owned rice trading company Green Trade, confirmed the reports from the western provinces but said the slump in prices was temporary. Thai traders, he said, “only stopped for a little bit. This depends on the dealer. Sometimes they want to wait for a better prices.”
He added that the cross-border rice trade with Vietnam in the eastern provinces is at the same level as last year.
Yang Saing Koma, director of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, said he was confident that Thai demand would rise in the next two months.
“I think there’s enough [Thai] demand. There’s no reason to panic,” he said. “We have to wait and see. It could be speculation [by traders].”