Rice Smuggling Hurting Farmers, Expert Says

As much as 15 percent of Cam­bodia’s rice crop is illegally ex­ported to Thailand and Viet­nam, an agriculture expert said Wednes­­day. Rampant cross-border smuggling means much-needed rice leaves the country with­out delivering the economic payback of a legitimate export.

Dealers buy rice directly from farmers and drive it into Thailand and Vietnam, before it has been re­corded as part of Cambodia’s official harvest, said Tim Ekin, seed production adviser at the Australia-funded Agriculture Quality Improvement Project.

“Rice millers buy a percentage of the official rice harvest, but illegal traders take it straight from the farmers before it has been quantified,” Ekin said. “Thai rice dealers mix Cambodian rice with other varieties because it is cheap­er, and Vietnam has a do­mestic rice deficiency because it exports too much,” he added.

At harvest time, he said, boats and trucks loaded with rice can be seen teeming across Cambo­dia’s borders. “I would estimate that between 5 percent and 15 percent of Cambodia’s rice crop leaves the country this way,” Ekin said.

“The practice is damaging, be­cause it doesn’t put money in farmers’ pockets, or in government coffers,” he said. Instead, profits stay in the hands of the rice smugglers.

But Chan Tong Yves, secretary of state for the Ministry of Agri­cult­ure, sees the unrecorded ex­ports as a natural element of cross-border trade.

“Farmers usually sell agricultural products to their neighbors. There is no problem,” he said Thursday. “The farmers produce these things for sale; if they did not sell [the rice], what would be the reason to produce it?”

Yields have dropped in re­cent years, failing to provide an adequate living for Cambodian rice farmers and leaving many people hungry. Drought and flooding dropped average yields to a low of 1.5 tons per hectare in 2002, compared with 1.9 tons in 2001 ac­cording to government estimates.

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