Rice Exports Drop 23 Percent Amid Pandemic

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Rice fields and irrigation canals outside Siem Reap city on October 31, 2020. (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)
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In the first eight months of the year, Cambodian rice exports are tracking 23 percent below the same period last year, though non-rice exports have more than doubled in that time.

Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon said this week that milled rice exports were down 23 percent due to rising shipping costs and a global shortage of shipping containers, though total agricultural exports nevertheless rose 90 percent thanks to a 110 percent rise in non-rice exports.

Agriculture Ministry spokesperson Srey Vuthy said the decline in rice exports was about reaching markets, not about production.

“Why don’t you ask the Ministry of Commerce? It is related to market issues, not production. The exporters have raised such difficulties,” Vuthy said.

Commerce Ministry spokespeople Seang Thai and Long Kem Vichet could not be reached.

A farmer in Siem Reap province, Bun Kemla, said her family cultivates fragrant rice twice a year. She had already made one large harvest this year, but prices were too cheap, she said.

“There is no market. It’s cheap, 800 riel or 750 riel per kilo. Villagers have complained about it, that it’s not worth the cost of the fertilizer and plowing,” Kemla said, adding that she did not feel the global container shortage was an acceptable explanation.

Theng Savoeun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community, also said the Cambodian minister should have been able to find a way around a global shipping container shortage.

“If the minister acknowledges that it is the root of the problem, they should find ways and strategies to solve it in order to prevent it from happening repeatedly that affect the growth of exports, national economic growth and the loss of the interests of the people,” Savoeun said.

Agriculture Minister Sakhon said Cambodia had shipped 343,447 tons of milled rice in the first eight months. The rice was shipped to 52 countries around the world, and China remains the biggest market at 165,612 tons. The rest went to 22 countries in Europe, seven countries in Asean, and 22 other destinations, while 59 companies were involved in the milled rice exports, he added.

In 2020, top non-rice exports included bananas, cashews and corn, while mangoes saw a 250 percent increase in exports in the first five months of the year.

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