Sok Puthyvuth, the son of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, won the votes of Cambodia’s rice millers, exporters and other industry players Monday to be elected president of the newly created Cambodian Rice Federation (CRF), which aims to link industry stakeholders and iron out the inefficiencies plaguing the sector.
Mr. Puthyvuth, who is also CEO of local conglomerate Soma Group, received 141 votes out of 195, beating out Te Taingpor, President of the Federation of Associations for Small and Medium Enterprises of Cambodia; Yorn Sovann, President of Bayon Cereal; and Lim Bunheng, President of Loran Group PLC.
Royal Group CEO Kith Meng, who had entered his name for the election, dropped out of the running before the vote due to time constraints, according to one of his representatives.
Mr. Puthyvuth told reporters after his election Monday that he has some trepidation in his new role due to the challenges facing the sector.
“I am happy but worried,” he said. “I see there are two main challenges for our rice, including the quality of rice, which we have to upgrade to reach the international standards, and funds.”
In a bid to have one industry body that will be a single point of contact for foreign investors and the government, three other industry bodies, the Cambodian Rice Export Association, the Federation of Cambodian Rice Exporters and the Alliance of Rice Producers and Exporters of Cambodia, will now be dissolved.
Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol said the new federation would focus on hitting the government’s target of exporting one million tons of milled rice by 2015.
“The federation will significantly help push our rice exports to one million tons per year. That is the government’s policy,” Mr. Chanthol said.
In 2013, Cambodia exported a total of 378,856 tons of milled rice, according to Ministry of Agriculture figures, and exports dropped in the first quarter this year compared to the same period last year.
Grant Knuckey, the CEO of ANZ Royal bank, which is looking to join the federation, welcomed the consolidated rice-industry body.
“For me, there is no question a single industry body will be more effective, as the previous situation with multiple federations just meant diffusion of effort and lack of coordination at a national level,” he said.
“Cambodia needs a cohesive, singular strategy and approach as it is competing with much larger foes,” Mr. Knuckey added.
Despite the fanfare and optimism, however, details of the federation’s plans still remained unclear.
Asked at Monday’s press conference how the federation will attract much-needed capital investment to give millers the ability to purchase and process more paddy, Mr. Puthyvuth demurred.
“The federation has not started yet, so we don’t know yet what to do next,” he said.
Mr. Bunheng, who was elected deputy president of the federation, was equally unsure about its next move.
“We will start working as soon as possible—most probably tomorrow,” Mr. Bunheng said. “Now, we don’t even know where our office is.”
Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, said some stakeholders in the rice industry remain underrepresented. He noted that only one of the eleven executive committee members—Samath Veasna, vice president of the Federation of Cambodian Farmer Organizations for Development—represented farmers.
“Most of the people who ran for the federation’s leading posts are the rich businesspeople,” he said. “There should be more representatives of local farmers running for the top posts.”