The government expects that its rapid intervention to save a rice sector crippled by a sudden slash in domestic paddy prices will boost the ruling party’s popularity ahead of upcoming elections next year and in 2018, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said on Monday.
With the value of paddy having fallen from about $250 per ton in the middle of last month to just over $190 earlier this month due to a drop in international demand, the government acted quickly to mitigate the effects of the tumbling prices on farmers.
An emergency grant of $27 million was approved to subsidize rice millers and stabilize the price they pay for paddy, while the government also requested an additional $300 million from China. CPP officials and their friends in the private sector were asked to personally purchase and transport as much rice as possible.
“All of those who bought rice are members of the CPP,” Mr. Eysan said on Monday. “It is the party’s principle…for all of its members to be linked to farmers and to be generous in supporting their standard of living.”
“It is also the policy of the government to increase the popularity of the CPP to attract support in response to the upcoming election,” he added.
Mr. Eysan said farmers would inevitably return the favor after the CPP’s financial intervention due to the prevailing Buddhist culture of gratitude.
“Even though we don’t want gratitude, the people will still give it to us—giving us support as we have obviously helped them generously,” he said. “They will not forget.”
According to the Rural Development Bank, mills across the country have purchased about 7,000 tons of paddy since the government released funds last week, while another 2,700 tons of milled rice were sold in the same stretch of time.
Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong met with Chinese Ambassador Xiong Bo on Monday to ask China to expedite the requested $300 million in emergency funds and to fulfill its promise to purchase 300,000 tons of milled rice annually.
“The Cambodian people are facing a crisis of rice prices which fell rapidly,” Mr. Namhong said, according to Reuters. “I asked the Chinese ambassador to report this to the Chinese government so they would hurry up and buy rice as they had promised in order to help our farmers.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that undertaking structural reforms to save the agricultural sector should be the priority, rather than attempting to win political points.
“While the people face difficulties, we should not talk about popularity,” he said. “We want to talk about solutions that restore the situation.”
Sustainable changes would require reforming energy policies, eliminating “informal costs” added by middlemen, improving cropping techniques, and expanding infrastructure and irrigation across the country, he said.