Monday, June 5, 2017

Drenching

A short article to set us off. Previously highlighted here, it appears the EU are abating there strictness. Phnom Penh Post (May 31):
'Producers of white rice will have until September to meet the revised threshold level of 0.01 milligrams of Tricyclazole residue per kilo of rice, far below the current limit of 1 milligram per kilo, it said.
The previous deadline for white rice exports was June, while the December deadline for jasmine rice exports remains unchanged'.
It coincides with a recent article in Le Monde (May 29), which highlights how another chemical, atrazine, forbidden in the EU since 2004, still sees substantial production in the same EU with exports heading for countries with less scruples / less legislation. It cites the Swiss organisation Public Eye which in a recent report highlighted exports from Switzerland, France and Italy. On Switzerland: 
'Switzerland is exporting atrazine and paraquat to developing countries. The use of these herbicides, made by the Swiss-based Syngenta, has been banned in Switzerland due to their extreme toxicity'.
And though we're drifting off-topic, I would add the following article on banana growing in Laos. Often quoted, Reuters decided to make a write up. Excerptions of which are from VOA (May 11):
'Experts say the Chinese have brought jobs and higher wages to northern Laos, but have also drenched plantations with pesticides and other chemicals.
...
Under the "Belt and Road" plan, China has sought to persuade neighbors to open their markets to Chinese investors. For villagers like Kongkaew, that meant a trade-off.
"Chinese investment has given us a better quality of life. We eat better, we live better," Kongkaew said.
But neither he nor his neighbors will work on the plantations, or venture near them during spraying. They have stopped fishing in the nearby river, fearing it is polluted by chemical run-off from the nearby banana plantation.
...
Several Chinese plantation owners and managers expressed frustration at the government ban, which forbids them from growing bananas after their leases expire.
They said the use of chemicals was necessary, and disagreed that workers were falling ill because of them.
"If you want to farm, you have to use fertilizers and pesticides," said Wu Yaqiang, a site manager at a plantation owned by Jiangong Agriculture, one of the largest Chinese banana growers in Laos.
...
Hmong and Khmu workers douse the growing plants with pesticides and kill weeds with herbicides such as paraquat. Paraquat is banned by the European Union and other countries including Laos, and it has been phased out in China.
The bananas are also dunked in fungicides to preserve them for their journey to China'.
It just shows hoe the lack of a conscience is the underlying business rule with the large-scale agrochemical industry.

Stealth
With a slight upswing in the rice market, it comes as no surprise that the Phnom Penh Post (May 18) reports that big brother may well be interested in a bigger part of Cambodia's rice pie:
'China has agreed to increase its import quota for Cambodian rice to 300,000 tonnes by next year, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced yesterday following his return from Beijing where he attended the Belt and Road initiative summit'.
However the Khmer Times (Jun. 2) reports on the downsides on neighbouring actions:
'Cambodian rice millers and exporters are strongly concerned that Thailand’s plan to release 4.32 million tonnes of state rice stocks by September, driven by a sharp surge in global rice demand, could depress prices of the vital grain on commodity markets. “When Thailand sells such a large part of its stockpile on the open market it will have a knock-on effect on prices and in turn also affect the price of Cambodian milled rice exports,” Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodia Rice Federation, told Khmer Times'.
The same source (Khmer Times, Jun. 5) also delves the depths of the marketing strategy of Cambodia's rice future:
'Government task forces will meet this week to finalise a single brand under which Cambodian rice will be exported.
...
Hean Vanhan, director-general of the general directorate of agriculture, said registration of a single rice brand was the duty of the commerce ministry. Agriculture officials said Cambodia had more than 10 varieties of fragrant rice, and should not single out one as a single brand.
“The CRF selected ‘Angkor Malis’ as the brand, but this is not right because there is already a rice seed called malis,” Mr Vanhan said.
“What the private sector wants to do is to steal foreign branding to make the rice similar to Thailand, since the Thai Hom Mali is already famous.
“If we use ‘Angkor Malis,’ which is specific only to Cambodian premium rice ‘malis,’ it has a different taste to Cambodian fragrant rice such as phka romduol, phka chansensor and phka khnei.
“If customers buy Angkor Malis one day, it may have a different taste when they buy it in the future, even though it carries the same brand,” Mr Vanhan said.
He suggested that a non-specific ‘Angkor Rice,’ with the specific variety written underneath would help clear up the confusion and prevent people from thinking they were buying a specific rice variety when they might be buying a different premium rice'.
Thai-tening
Regionally it's the Thai who are mostly optimistic. From the Bangkok Post (May 30): 
'World rice prices are expected to rise by US$20 (682 baht) a tonne over the next three months, driven by a sharp surge in global rice demand, according to experts. Global rice supply is now quite tight, while Thailand's previously hefty state rice stocks have eased, releasing pressure on global rice prices, Jeremy Zwinger, chief executive of the Rice Trader, said at the "World Rice Trade Outlook" seminar of Thailand Rice Convention 2017, held in Bangkok yesterday. 
...
Chookiat Ophaswongse, honorary president of the Thai Rice Exporter Association, said lower-than-expected rice production in Vietnam accounts in part for the lower global supply, while Thailand's good-quality rice stocks are about to be depleted.
 
From Vietnam a similar sentiment, though more cautious. The VNexpress (May 12):
'China and several African countries have returned to Vietnam seeking fragrant and white rice, and the demand has helped stabilize export prices even though supply has risen at the end of a major harvest, traders said on Friday'.
The Vientiane Times (May 5) notes that the Lao dry season rice crop may well disappoint slightly.
'This dry season, the department set a target of 95,000 hectares but until now only about 90,000 hectares have been planted out.
Department officials said a large number of farmers were now growing other crops instead, which earned them more money and required less water. The lack of irrigation occurred because provinces did not have sufficient funds to pay for the repair of irrigation systems, according to the Department of Irrigation'.
Thailand is looking to getting rid of the last of it's inventory. The Bangkok Post (May 16):
'The government yesterday called the second auction for 1.82 million tonnes of state-held rice that is fit for human consumption.
...
The government is estimated to hold about 4.82 million tonnes of rice stocks, a sharp drop from the 18.7 million tonnes accumulated during 2011-14. 
... From Jan 1 to May 9, Thailand exported 4.1 million tonnes, up 9% from the same period last year, worth US$1.74 billion (60.1 billion baht), up 6% in value'.
An article from Vietnam.net (May 30) which looks at an interesting study:
'A study conducted by the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agricultural and Rural Development shows there are nine million rice farming households nationwide, but around 300,000 of them account for the bulk of Vietnam’s rice export volume.
Meanwhile, the nation has over 300,000 rice milling facilities, but a majority of them are small. But in Thailand, there are a mere 1,000 rice milling plants. Besides, Vietnam has around 100 rice exporters, but a mere 22 of them focus on China, one of Vietnam’s largest rice buyers.
Industry experts said these two hindrances had led to the global market share of Vietnamese rice shrinking. Statistics of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development show the country’s rice shipments last year dropped 27% in volume and 23% in value against 2015'.
Meanwhile, a new weapon in the armory of Italy's rice industry hoping to target cheaper rice imports from Cambodia, Burma and potentially Vietnam. From Lexology.com (May 31):
'The Italian government has submitted to Brussels the draft decrees for the introduction of an obligation to indicate the origin of certain the raw materials.16 For rice, the place of cultivation, processing and packaging must be indicated, while for wheat, the place of wheat cultivation and the sowing of the seeds must be indicated. 
...
To try and counter the imports producers have been calling for better labelling of foodstuffs containing rice so as to indicate to consumers the true origin of the raw materials.
The producers hope that consumers will tend to purchase products with Italian rice rather than imported rice'.
It seems more as a message for domestic markets.

Measuring
Organics in Cambodia are poised to be government ruled. The Cambodia Daily (Jun. 1):
'The Agriculture Ministry will soon adopt a national standard for organic vegetable production to create product consistency and a single yardstick for farmers to work toward, according to officials.
A logo that will mark the products as government-approved organics has been designed, and a draft law by which the produce quality will be measured is nearly complete, said Kean Sophea, deputy director of the ministry’s department of horticulture'.
How will this work in practice? I doubt that this label would result in better trust by consumers than any other current logo.

Having access to the world market doesn't necessarily mean a positive. Hard work still needs to be done. The Vientiane Times (May 22):
'Although Laos is enjoying Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) exemption from over 50 nations around the world, the country is still unable to fully benefit from the special treatment.
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce recently described a number of challenges Laos is facing in order to fully benefit from trade privileges.
One of the most important points is that Lao businesses don’t fully understand the true benefits and the various procedures of the scheme.
In the meantime, product quality sometimes does not meet the standard requirements as specified by countries at the final destination. 
In addition, Lao businesses produce agricultural goods in small volumes as they are often family concerns and have not done any market research or studied the GSP'.  
More policy talk. The Phnom Penh Post (May 11):
'Cambodia's agricultural sector must improve post-harvest processing to increase the value of its products, while increased knowledge sharing could help farmers better understand the different value chains and identify opportunities, agricultural experts participating in the Grow Asia Forum said yesterday.
Panellists at the event, hosted by Grow Asia and held on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Phnom Penh, also said improving farmers’ access to better seeds and inputs, as well as training, would help them to be more productive'.
More policy talk. I think. Phnom Penh Post (Jun. 2):
'Implementation of a previously announced three-year $20 million programme to increase local vegetable and fragrant rice production will begin next month to help boost domestic supply and reduce imports, an agriculture official said yesterday.
The goal of the project is to increase local production of vegetables by 160 tonnes per day and production of 500,000 tonnes of paddy rice a year, Kean Sophea, deputy director of the Department of Horticulture and Subsidiary Crops at the Agricultural Ministry, said'.
And then an article from the Phnom Penh Post (May 19) highlighting how agricultural policy can develop without government fiddling:
'The Kingdom’s leading palm oil producer has projected revenues of $20 million this year as it targets another record-setting year for crude palm oil exports.
“We plan to export over 30,000 metric tonnes of crude palm oil this year, with revenue of approximately $20 million,” Prachak Kongtanomtham, vice president of Mong Reththy Investment Cambodia Oil Palm Co Ltd (MRIC), said yesterday.
MRIC, a joint venture subsidiary of local agro-industrial conglomerate Mong Reththy Group and Thailand’s TCC Group, exported a record 21,450 metric tonnes of crude palm oil in 2016, generating over $13.3 million in revenue, according to Prachak. 
...
About 17,000 hectares of MRIC’s palm oil plantations are harvestable. Two other companies operate commercial palm oil plantations in Cambodia, though only one has matured to harvest.
Malaysian-owned Virtus Green Plantations (Cambodia) operates a palm oil plantation on a portion of its 6,700-hectare economic land concession in Kampot province. 
...
The Kingdom’s other major palm oil plantation is located in Ratanakkiri province, where subsidiaries of Vietnam’s Hoang Anh Gia Lai have planted oil palms on 18,000 hectares. The first harvest is expected by next year'.
Sweetener
The  Bangkok Post (May 24) reports of how Thailand seeks to meet free trade requirements while at the same time manipulating the domestic market:
'Thailand, the world's second-largest sugar exporter, is introducing regulations to govern its sugar trading system for the 2017-18 crop, which commences in November, to bring the system in line with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
...
Brazil says Thailand's subsidies for sugar producers had dragged down global prices and allowed Thailand to win a larger market share at the expense of Brazilian producers, conduct that is not in line with international trade agreements.
...

Traders and industry officials said freeing up domestic retail sugar prices could lead to possible sugar shortages, particularly when global sugar prices rise. Traders said sugar production costs in Thailand should be slightly lower than for net sugar importing countries. This could encourage profiteers to smuggle sugar from Thailand to be resold in the neighbouring CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos,
Myanmar and Vietnam), where sugar prices are around 40% higher than domestic retail prices'.
Also hoping to dampen the local market the Bangkok Post (May 27) reports how stricter food rules will ensure that the domestic consumption will sky-rocket:
'A new bill imposing a maximum of 10% sugar or sweetener content in food products is expected to be passed and come into effect within this year, said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday'.
The article also quotes EU regulation of the same subject. Though I doubt whether or not the EU has legislation on the subject, it's  certainly  clear that the EU sugar industry is very much opposed to any levels. Kudos to the Thai on this subject, let's hope it's an effective policy.

Then what an opener market means. The Phnom Penh Post (May 23):
'Cambodia's biggest sugar mill has finished its two-month production run, producing half a million tonnes of refined white sugar, nearly five times what the company predicted at the beginning of the harvest season, a company representative said yesterday.
Kuy Yoeurn, an administrative manager for Rui Feng (Cambodia) International Co Ltd, said the second harvest season of its $360 million sugar plant in Preah Vihear province greatly exceeded the company’s expectations. He said the mill produced 500,000 tonnes of refined sugar from an undisclosed amount of raw sugarcane this season.
...
The Cambodian government granted Rui Feng Cambodia an 8,841-hectare economic land concession (ELC) in 2011. However, the Chinese-owned company and its four sister companies collectively hold five separate ELC licences covering 40,000 hectares.
Rui Feng has faced accusations of land-grabbing and using its partner firms to circumvent restrictions on the maximum legal size of land a company can hold as an ELC.
Nevertheless, Yoeurn said Rui Feng has requested that the Ministry of Agriculture provide the company with more land to expand its cultivation of sugarcane.
“We need to increase our sugarcane cultivation,” he said. “So far, we have already farmed all of our land and it is still not enough. The ministry should provide us with more land for cultivation.”

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Not fit

GRAIN has an important feature on Golden rice, a genetically modified organism which has great institutional support as a variety of rice that through the provision of vitamin A can reach many of those facing a dietary shortage of said vitamin (Wikipedia). 
At the same time it seems claims that this is the golden bullet to vitamin A deficiency seem far-fetched and it can't be discounted that the mass of support received, is tied in with companies seeing that acceptance of Golden rice will open the floodgates to more GMO and hybrids being allowed for consumption.
From GRAIN (Apr. 20):
'Applications for the field testing and direct use of Golden Rice, a genetically modified crop touted as the solution to Vitamin A deficiency, is presently filed and awaiting approval from the Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Plant Industry in the Philippines
Asian peoples’ organizations coming from India, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines express deep concern regarding the imminent commercialization of the Golden Rice and other GM crops and its effect to their country’s food security, farmers’ livelihood and environmental health.
...
A recent study made by scientist in India showed that the derived lines of Golden Rice produced phenotypic abnormality and poor agronomic performance making it unfit for commercial cultivation'.
What follows are statements from the many regional partners of GRAIN all equally opposed.

Vetting
Cambodia's rice market is in the doldrums as exports are not adding up. And  the culprit is China, so it seems.  The Phnom Penh Post (Apr. 5):
'Amid concerns that the European Union could reject shipments of Cambodian rice, exporters are pushing for more access to China as an alternative market for the Kingdom’s principal agricultural commodity.
Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), said just 26 Cambodian millers have satisfied China’s sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards, making them eligible to export rice to the Chinese market.
However, another 55 millers “have the quality and capacity to export to China” and have requested an inspection by China’s AQSIQ (General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine) to approve their shipments for export'.
Then the Phnom Penh Post (Apr. 19) drops a hint between the conditions set by China and slowing exports of rice:
'Cambodian rice exports declined dramatically in March, causing the average export growth of the Kingdom’s dominant cash crop to increase by only 3 percent during the first quarter of this year, nearly wiping out the double-digit growth seen in January and February.
According to rice export data released by the Ministry of Agriculture yesterday, Cambodia exported a total of 166,678 tonnes in the first quarter this year, up from 162,220 tonnes during the same period last year. While growth in January and February accelerated greatly by 11 percent and 17 percent respectively, the weighted average was bogged down by a 16 percent year-on-year decline for March exports.
Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), said yesterday that the March declines can be attributed to stricter sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards being imposed on shipments to China, Cambodia’s second largest market after the European Union.
He added that only 26 Cambodian millers have been granted official approval to export to China with another 55 waiting to be vetted by China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
“A large amount of the millers that used to export to China in the past are no longer able to export there now,” he said. “If the issue over SPS standards cannot be resolved soon, our export figures will continue to decline and this year will not be good.”
According to Lak, despite CRF lobbying Cambodian authorities to fast-track negotiations with China to allow increased market access, the body has yet to produce tangible results for its members.
...
Song Saran, CEO of Amru Rice, one of the country’s biggest exporters, raised similar concerns about Chinese market access but noted that the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) preemptively submitted a list of only 18 millers, instead of the allotted 26, to China for the current harvest season.
He added that while Amru used to export 7,000 to 8,000 tonnes of rice to China annually in the past, it has yet to be included by the MoC for Chinese clearance.
“Now, we are trying to get into the Chinese market to accelerate our rice exports,” he said, adding that reliance on the EU market had reached a saturation point at about 300,000 tonnes exported annually'.
Cambodia's government's answer from the Cambodia Daily (Apr. 21):
'The Agriculture Ministry is working to have more Cambodian rice exporters permitted to sell in China, as exports to the country have almost doubled in a year, according to government reports.
A statement by the ministry’s general department of agriculture said 26 Cambodian rice companies had so far received permission to export to China, but there were eight others seeking permission who had been denied because they did not mill their own rice. The statement, released on Wednesday, said the ministry’s Chinese counterparts had not responded to requests for increased access'.
The Phnom Penh Post (Apr. 21) reports on the same:
'After Cambodian rice exports declined dramatically in March, caused by what millers claimed was a stricter enforcement of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures by the Chinese government, the Ministry of Agriculture announced yesterday that it would lobby on the sector’s behalf to allow more millers to be eligible for export.
According to a Facebook post by Hean Vanhan, undersecretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, officials sent a letter to the Chinese government asking for the country to accept rice imports from more than the current 26 that have already been approved. This is the second such letter sent to Chinese officials, according to the ministry.
Vanhan in his post asked millers to understand the difficulties the ministry was facing in reaching an agreement for exports'.
As if this is the only problem faced by rice exports, the other main market for Cambodia's rice, the EU, has also set up a target to be met. The Khmer Times (Apr. 10):
'A senior economist from the Asia Development Bank has warned the EU’s ban of Tricyclazole could damage Cambodia's agriculture sector, as farmers rush to eradicate the use of the fungicide by June.
The strict new limits on pesticides will mean rice exported to the EU must not contain more than 0.01 milligram of the chemical per kilogram of the grain'.
Tricyclazole, a fungicide, is 
'Toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects'.source
Used to contain rice blast, Cambodia's government is hoping that wishful thinking will contain the residues and will not affect the export of rice to the EU. In all honesty, it has also put some policy in place (Xinhua.net, 28-3) but policy execution remains weak within the Kingdom:
'Cambodia has banned the import of fungicide Tricyclazole after the European Commission required the country's milled rice industry to eradicate the use of the pesticide by June'. 
Verge 
Earlier in the month, the Philippines had been called upon as a potential market. The Cambodia Daily (Apr. 11):
'Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday he had urged Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to invest more heavily in Cambodia’s rice sector, while also acknowledging the need to lower rice processing costs and find new export markets to boost the competitiveness of Cambodia’s most important crop.
 ...
"So I request our farmers to produce good rice seeds and to not use any toxins or poisonous substances that can cause damage and loss of market [access],” Mr. Hun Sen said'.
More from the sidelines. The Phnom Penh Post (Apr. 25):
'Thaneakea Srov (Kampuchea) Plc, the recipient of a low-interest $15 million loan from the state-run Rural Development Bank, inked contracts yesterday with three companies to build and outfit its massive 200,000-tonne capacity silo and warehouse facility in Battambang province.
The facility, which will have an attached mill capable of processing 3,000 tonnes of paddy rice a day, signed a construction agreement with the Cambodian company NGY Investment. It will also purchase machinery from Taiwan’s Agrosun Co Ltd, and Thailand’s International Rice Engineering Co Ltd, according to an announcement by the Rural Development Bank (RDB) yesterday.
Phou Puy, CEO of Thaneakea Srov, said the construction of the facility would begin shortly, with the silo portion expected to be completed by August while the rice mill should be fully operational for the 2018 harvest season.'
And then to wrap up the Cambodian rice news, the consequences of the failing market conditions. The Phnom Penh Post (May 3):
'Numerous members of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), the body tasked with lobbying on the sectors behalf, have stopped paying membership dues and export fees, claiming that they cannot afford to as the industry continues to struggle with high production costs and regional export competition.
According to the terms of CRF membership, each miller is required to pay $200 annually and an export fee of $0.50 per tonne on white rice and $1 per tonne on fragrant rice.
Chray Son, deputy director of Capital Food Cambodia, said that despite the CRF’s efforts to provide relief to its members, the body had achieved little in lobbying the government and instead praised emergency assistance provided by the state-owned Rural Development Bank.
Nevertheless, he added that with monthly losses during the current harvest season amounting to $10,000 to $15,000, CRF fees were exorbitant and exploited millers that were on the verge of bankruptcy'.
Purity
The ongoing discussion of Vietnam's rice export strategy continues. From Vietstock (Apr. 25):
'Vietnam may itself be a major rice producer in the 10-member Asean group but the country also has a taste for the Lao grain.
In 2013, the value of rice exported from Laos to Vietnam reached over US$5.8 million and increased to US$15.5 million by last year, according to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
...
In addition, Laos plans to produce about five million tonnes of rice by 2020 to ensure food security in the country.
However, the country is importing rice from Thailand for trading.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry this year expects to export about 400,000 tonnes of rice and hopes the figure will climb to one million tonnes by 2020.
The focus will be on specialty varieties including black rice, kaynoi rice, and hom rice.
New and improved varieties such as thadokkham, thasano, phonngam and hom are also in demand across the region.
The ministry plans to increase yields so that white rice accounts for about 30 percent of the total rice crop and is certified with the Good Agriculture Practice (GAP) standard for export.
...
This year, Xuanye (Lao) Co., Ltd is targeting the export of 20,000 tonnes of rice to China.
In 2015, Xuanye (Lao) Co., Ltd was approved by China’s National Development and Reform Commission to be as yet the sole exporter of rice from Laos to China with a quota of 8,000 tonnes.
Laos was unable to meet the deal and was only able to export some 4,000 tonnes of rice including sticky rice and non-glutinous rice.
The Chinese company also ordered 7,200 tonnes of rice last year but producers were unable to supply this amount.
In 2015 and 2016, the country could supply only 5,000 tonnes of rice to China.
This was because the standard required by the Chinese buyers was really high, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce reported'.
The same, more or less from Vietnamnetbridge (Apr. 2):
'Nguyen Do Anh Tuan, director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development, commented that many Vietnamese now don’t eat Vietnam-made rice, priced at just VND10,000 per kilo. The rice products are just for export, not for domestic consumption.
..
While Vietnam focuses on making high-yield and low-cost rice, more and more Vietnamese only want high-quality products. The choosy consumers accept to pay higher prices to buy delicious rice from Thailand, Japan and Cambodia.
An analyst said Vietnamese people’s income has improved, so they have become choosier about rice price.
“They don’t need much rice; they need high-quality rice,” he commented'.
It's therefore surprising that Bayer are launching hybrid rice with the export market as it's focus. On their own website they report (Apr. 15) on
'... a special event to celebrate the launch of its revolutionary hybrid rice seed variety - Arize Tej Vang'.
It claims:
'“Vietnam is currently the world’s No.2 country in rice export, and there is a continuing need to sustainably increase the nation’s production capacity with better rice seeds so that the country can maintain and even improve its export position in the market. By using Arize Tej Vang, Vietnamese rice farmers can look to achieve higher yields and better grain quality with 7.1mm grain length, and this is proven especially when compared to open-pollinated varieties. Arize Tej Vang will contribute to better yield security and enhanced productivity, which will in turn help to secure the incomes of smallholder farmers in Vietnam,” added Sakata [Kohei Sakata, Managing Director of Bayer Vietnam].
With a grain length of 7.1mm, with a grain of rice when processing fragrant, soft and disease resistance BLB, Arize Tej Vang has the potential to compete with the current high quality purebred rice varieties and to improve the quality of Vietnamese rice exports'.
So the argument is for more quality whereas what Bayer-VN have on offer is more lower quality grain. It's claim that it has better quality than open-pollinated varieties seems shaky; as hybrid rice in the past has often been of much lower quality. 
What is very disturbing is the suggestion that exporting hybrid rice is the way forward. With consumers worldwide being sceptic towards hybrid rice the possibility of hybrid rice getting mixed with other rice varieties may well cost Vietnam dear.
 
Break
Surprisingly the tightening of the rubber market is continuing, partially due to Southeast Asian countries willing to step into the market. From the Bangkok Post (Apr. 23):
'Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are cooperating to ensure stability of world rubber prices, which continue to fluctuate after signs of recovery. 
... 
They agreed that rubber prices will continue to rise because of several factors, including lower supply due to heavy rainfall and flooding in the South of Thailand. However, the big players in the natural rubber industry see prices as still volatile'. 
Naturally this has also resulted in an upswing for rubber in Cambodia (Phnom Penh Post, Apr. 27)
'Cambodian rubber exports increased 32 percent during the first three months of the year compared with the same period last year, while prices grew 132 percent during the first quarter, an agriculture official said yesterday.
The Kingdom exported 32,000 tonnes of rubber in the first quarter of 2017 with average prices reaching $2,032 per tonne, compared to $890 in the first quarter of 2016, according to Pol Sopha, general director of the General Directorate for rubber at the Ministry of Agriculture.
“We already surpassed the break-even point for rubber and I think that rubber producers will be able to accumulate profit and increase their yields for the next production cycle,” he said. “We project that rubber prices will continue to increase this year due to the increasing demand from the international market.”
...
Heng Sreng, director of local rubber firm Long Sreng International, said the industry also faced the challenge of high logistic costs for transportation and electricity costs for production.
“We are faced with the high cost of production, and that is our biggest challenge,” he said. “Compared to neighbouring countries, they provide better tax incentives to allow the sector to survive.”'
More good news for farmers in Cambodia, cashew prices are also on the up. The Phnom Penh Post (May 4):
'International commodity prices for cashew nuts are rapidly increasing due to lower supply from Cambodia and Vietnam which is driving up profits for the Kingdom’s farmers, according to industry stakeholders.
The shortfalls of cashew supply into the global market have decreased by around 40 percent this quarter due to lower production in Cambodia and Vietnam, although demand has not diminished. 
...
Chhiv Ngy, director of the Cashew Nut Association of Kampong Thom, said that the current market for cashew nuts greatly benefited the country’s farmers, pushing their revenues to $10,000 per hectare.
“The cashew nut market is doing great and we have a lot of buyers coming to buy directly from us,” he said, adding that the association was comprised of around 4,000 farmers'.
Blooming
Wrapping up, two linkages to articles touching on rural development in the region.
In Lao, there's some sound bytes on organics. The Vientiane Times (Apr. 21):
'Expanding clean agriculture production to supply market demands together with improved international market access can serve to catalyse growth in the Lao organic produce sector, an audience including the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry was told yesterday.
...
Mr Vilaysouk [Director General of Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry] noted registration of 39 companies and farmer groups with 2,785 families under the relevant organic agricultural registration scheme.
The current area dedicated to growing the organic agricultural is around 7,984 hectares, covering the capital and the provinces of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Xieng Khuang, Oudomxay, Savannakhet, Champassak and Xayaboury, with yield estimated at 3,375 tonnes per year.
Meanwhile, the members of the Lao GAP now number some 15 farmer groups with more than 500 families, and area for GAP is around 1,400 hectares, in the capital and the provinces of Vientiane, Khammuan, Savannakhet and Champassak.
Vientiane organic agriculture group has several distribution venues across the city.
That Luang village in Xaysettha district hosts organic markets Wednesday and Saturday mornings weekly.
A similar range of produce can be found at Fa Ngum Park in Sikhottabong district, every Monday and Thursday afternoons and at Huayhong Market in Chanthabouly district every Saturday morning'. 
While in Cambodia, fish deaths close to a sugar mill are left un-explained. The
Phnom Penh Post (Apr. 7):
'Experts from the Institute of Standards of Cambodia (ISC) inspected Chinese-owned Rui Feng sugar company’s factory this week after suspicions that its runoff had caused last month’s mass fish deaths in Preah Vihear.
ISC director Chan Borin said yesterday that their team launched an investigation that lasted for two days as the factory was suspected by the local community of releasing waste into the Stung Sen River.
The factory, however, was found to have its own reservoir for waste storage, so the team went to the river for further investigation.
“We measured and tested the oxygen at the site and we figured that the water lacks oxygen, [so] the fish could not breathe and died . . . The level of oxygen is very low,” Borin said.
He added that the sugarcane waste would not have caused oxygen shortage as the “fish in the [waste] reservoir were alive”.
He suspected that plant decay had led to algal blooms, which deprive the river of oxygen'.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Suffer

Thinking globally. Grain.org (Mar. 13):
'The agricultural seed and pesticide market is already extremely concentrated. Three impending mergers between six of these corporate giants (Bayer/Monsanto, Dow/DuPont, and ChemChina/Syngenta) will further consolidate market and political power, leading to even greater corporate control of our farms and plates'.
It then presents 5 reasons why we should oppose seed and agrochemical mergers currently being lined up.
  • These mergers will harm farmers and ranchers.  
  • Consumers will see increases in food prices. 
  • Workers will suffer. 
  • Environmental damage from industrial agriculture will increase. 
  • The “lock-in” of industrial agriculture will prevent the expansion of food systems that work for people, pollinators, and planet.
More from the same source on the same subject. Grain.org (Mar. 27):
'More than 200 organisations have today raised their objections to the planned mergers of six giant agriculture corporations.
The farmer, farmworker, beekeeper, religious, international development, and environmental groups claim that the three resulting companies will concentrate market power and “exacerbate the problems caused by industrial farming – with negative consequences for the public, farmers and farm workers, consumers, the environment, and food security” in an open letter to the European Commission and Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.[1]
The European and national organisations – together representing millions of members – state that the proposed mergers of Dow Chemical with DuPont, Monsanto with Bayer AG, and Syngenta with ChemChina will lead to an unacceptable monopoly, with three companies controlling around 70% of the world’s agro-chemicals and more than 60% of commercial seeds.[2]'
Limits
The next article seems to contrast the quotes of an article following this. The IRRI.org (Mar.  28):
'An important strategy to reduce reliance on chemical pesticides in Cambodia is steadily moving through a project that encourages the use of environment-friendly biological control agents (BCA).
Over the last decade, Cambodian rice farmers have mainly relied on chemical pesticides as a major method for controlling pests and diseases. Experts warn that the rampant use of toxic chemicals is likely to lead to numerous long-term effects on the health of farmers and the environment. Integrated pest management (IPM) and BCA provide an alternative to chemical pesticides. BCAs include insects, fungi, and other natural products to manage pests'.
Cambodia Daily (Mar. 29):
'The government has ordered a nationwide recall of the fungicide tricyclazole to keep its rice exports eligible for the important E.U. market, but said it might not get the chemical out of its supplies in time to meet the bloc’s July deadline.
The E.U.’s new threshold is 0.01 milligrams of tricyclazole residue per kilogram of rice paddy, down from the current cutoff of 1 milligram.
...
Phou Puy, a member of the Cambodia Rice Federation, was more optimistic [than the government]. Mr. Puy said most of Cambodia’s rice farmers were still chemical-free and so would not be hit by the new limits on tricyclazole.
“I am not worried about this because our country does not use a lot of chemicals. Most of our rice farmers remain organic,” he said'.
Either there is a lot of pesticides usage. Or there isn't. Or the quotes simply fit the need of the day.
Xinhua (Mar. 10) notes that exports to China are gearing up:
'Cambodia had exported 46,387 tons of milled rice to China in the first two months of 2017, up 127 percent over the same period last year, according to a government report released on Friday.
China is the top buyer of Cambodian rice, followed by France, Poland, Britain and the Netherlands, said the report compiled by the Secretariat of One Window Service for Rice Export'.
Qualified
It's less than rosy for Vietnamese exports. Vietnamnews (Mar. 27):
'Việt Nam exported an estimated 1.28 million tonnes of rice in the first three months of the year, earning US$570 million. But the exports were 18 per cent lower in volume and 17.3 per cent lower in value compared to the same period last year. This was reported last week by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development'.
From Thailand news on how to get rid of rice. Bangkok Post (Mar. 11):
'The government has imposed strict criteria for bidders interested in participating in the state's first auction of 3.66 million tonnes of rice unfit for human consumption to ensure the grains are not sold on the normal rice market. According to the terms of reference revealed yesterday, qualified bidders are required to be juristic persons with an industrial factory licence, explain the purpose the rice will be used for, and guarantee it will only be used for industrial purposes'.
A central rice market for Thailand Bangkok Post (Mar. 20):
'The government is expected to decide on the venue for a central market for milled rice as a distribution channel for traders and farmers by mid-year, at a cost of 300-400 million baht.
...
Although Thailand is a leading producer and exporter of rice, averaging 20 million tonnes of milled rice a year, it has no central market for trading milled rice thus far. Such a marketplace would enable importers, wholesalers and retailers to shop for different grains'.
Currently the junta lead country only has a central market for paddy.
Spillage
A wrap up of off topic, but nonetheless interesting articles on agriculture and rural development in the region. 
Starting off with the less exciting news from the Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 22) on agricultural waste:
'Villagers in Pailin province’s O’Tavao commune say they filed a complaint to the provincial environmental department last week about the alleged dumping of cassava waste by agricultural company Khmer Viniyok Kasekam, prompting a cleanup effort by the company.
Improperly processed cassava can be toxic, and locals yesterday said runoff from the company had killed animals and caused skin irritation among children who had swam in the river, though the firm denied it had intentionally released the waste into the waterway.
...
When contacted yesterday, company manager Ok Samphors, 39, denied villagers’ allegations of dumping waste. He said that his company, acknowledging the environmental risks, had constructed two ponds in which to deposit the waste.
“However, it has rained continuously for a week, so the ponds became full and the waste spilled into the river. The company did not dump it [into the river],” Samphors said.
He added that the company retrieved the waste from the riverbank on Monday after receiving advice from authorities.
Pailin provincial environment department director Kem Sokha corroborated Samphors’s account, agreeing that the incident was unintentional'.
More waste issues. The Cambodia Daily (Mar. 30) reports on more fish deaths, this time attributed to sugar waste. 
'The Environment Ministry is studying water samples from Preah Vihear province to find out what has been killing thousands of fish in the Stung Sen River, where villagers are reportedly blaming a sugarcane plantation.
A report posted to the National Police website Wednesday’said locals living along the river have accused Rui Feng, one of several Chinese-owned plantations in eastern Preah Vihear growing sugarcane, of dumping chemicals into the waterway and killing the fish. The report said the water had turned black and smelled bad'.
And then the shocker:
'Rui Feng [Chinese-owned plantation] could not be reached for comment. Though providing jobs for some locals, the company has also attracted its share of critics.
One of five parent companies investing about $360 million to grow, process and export sugar, it has been locked in a land dispute with hundreds of local families since it started clearing the ground in 2013.
Last month, police said they had started an investigation into allegations that the Chinese managers of another of the five companies, Heng Rui, had severely beaten three workers for stealing oil and fertilizer, one of whom later died of his injuries'.
Land issues. The Cambodia Daily (Mar. 24):
'A long-running land dispute between 175 Koh Kong farmers and two sugarcane firms accused of stealing their land came a step closer to conclusion on Thursday after 73 of the farming families accepted compensation, a government official said.
...
Phav Nhoeung, a representative of the villagers and one of those seeking compensation, said the remaining 102 families had rejected the offer because the land was too far from their homes.
“We reject this option because we are living far away from that area…. It is more than 10 km from our houses,” Ms. Nhoeung said'.
Glass half full, half empty?
However more conflicts on the horizon? The Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 16):
'Cambodia's five major sugar producers exported just 4 percent of the country’s planned refined sugar capacity to the international market last year, equalling only 80,000 tonnes, a sign that government officials said means the sector still has ample room for growth as sugar companies push for higher yields.
According to data in the yet-unpublished annual report of the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft, nearly 100,000 hectares has been earmarked for sugarcane plantations with a planned capacity of 1.8 million tonnes of refined sugar per year. However, just a small portion of this land is currently under cultivation by five producers: Rui Feng and its four sister companies, Kamadhenu Ventures (Cambodia) Ltd, Phnom Penh Sugar Co Ltd, Yellow Field International Ltd, and Koh Kong Sugar Industry Co Ltd'.
Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 15 ) concerning import substitution:
'Chip Mong Group is the latest conglomerate to invest into local production of animal feed, announcing this week that it will sink $60 million into building a large-scale feed mill and industrial piggery, a move that agricultural experts welcomed but said would still not be able to curtail the Kingdom’s dependence on imported feed.
Sen Sovann, director general of the Ministry of Agriculture’s animal production and health department, said Cambodia imported over half of its animal feed last year at a cost of $135 million. It spent another $100 million to import some 400,000 pigs from neighbouring countries to meet local demand for pork meat.
...
Mong Reththy Group, which inaugurated its own $10 million feed mill last December, has the capacity to produce 60,000 tonnes of animal feed a year from locally grown corn and paddy rice. The plant currently supplies the 100,000 pigs on its pig farm in Preah Sihanouk province, as well as 100 nearby family-owned farms'.
Pepper prices following the global trends. Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 17):
'Pepper prices in the Kingdom’s largest pepper producing region have fallen over 30 percent in the last year due to growing international supply that is leading to higher competition in the market, an industry expert said yesterday.
Hong San, president of the Dar-Memot Pepper Agricultural Development Cooperative in the Tboung Khmum province, said prices have fluctuated since the harvesting season started earlier this month with pepper selling at 20,000 riel ($5.03) per kilogram yesterday, up from 17,000 riel earlier this week.
The volatile prices are far below those seen last year, when pepper was selling at prices ranging from 30,000 riel per kilogram to as high as 40,000 riel.
...
Data from the Ministry of Agriculture shows Cambodia produced a total of 11,819 tonnes of black pepper in 2016, a 20 percent year-on-year increase, with the Tboung Khmum province accounting for 8,566 tonnes of the overall harvest.
“Even if the prices are lower than last year, we are not experiencing losses at this point, only decreased profits,” San said. “It is not a big concern for us because our pepper is still of a high quality compared to Vietnam, which is struggling because they rely on chemicals.”
Vietnamese news outlets reported this week that pepper prices in the country were at a five-year low, currently standing at around $4.28 per kilogram. The decrease was attributed to a growing supply and stagnant demand.
Chhay Sor, a small-scale pepper farmer, explained that local pepper prices were unstable because Cambodian farmers rely on Thai and Vietnamese brokers to sell their products to the wider market'.
Mongabay has an article (Mar. 24) on how expanding cultivation of palm oil is cutting into protected peat land areas in southern Thailand. Part of the problem is the lack of law enforcement: 
'Thai media have blamed investors and local politicians have for using farmers as proxies by which to encroach upon protected land (Mongabay was unable to independently verify these allegations). This practice has been alleged elsewhere in Southeast Asia, where private investors distanced themselves from the process and aftermath of oil palm farming, leaving local farmers responsible for the damage.
Bribery and corruption often affect land ownership in Thailand, with the Department of Land ranked the most corrupt in the Thai bureaucracy, according to a survey done by Chulalongkorn University in 2014. Local Land Offices, which come under the Department of Land, are the key agencies for all transactions and documentation involving the sale or purchase of land, and can charge a fee for their services. But the survey revealed that land officials often demand extra money to speed up work or legalize documentation'.