Friday, December 29, 2017

Sticks

And so we come to the end of a year, a year in which there's been precious little to report on topic-wise, certainly of any substance. 

How come? 
If anything, companies have been gaining ever more influence over governments worldwide, so much so that it's becoming increasingly hard to distinguish between the two. 
Possibly pushing hybrid rice as such has so little positives to mention (other than profits) that we aren't hearing anything about it. 
I suspect the leading companies involved, are just at the moment in a lull and certainly looking into what f.i. Europe has been trying to regulate in say the glyphosate case. 
Producing fake news also doesn't seem to work long term wise, so probably the main companies involved are doing a rethink. 
We'll soon learn what's in stall for us in the coming year ...

With the deteriorating (and need I suggest farcical?) political situation in Cambodia, the news (Phnom Penh Post, Dec. 8) that Italy wishes to arrest further EU imports from Cambodia might be viewed as being linked. The article suggests otherwise:
'Italy, along with six other European Union countries, has filed a fresh request to European Commission to limit the volume of rice imported from the Kingdom by activating a “safeguard clause” that allows EU member states to impose barriers to protect against trade imbalances.
The Italian government submitted an official request to the European Commission on November 20 calling for restrictions on the amount of imported rice entering the European market from Cambodia, according to a report yesterday by Euractiv news.
While the report called the request “trailblazing” and a more concerted effort compared to a similar submission to the commission in 2016, local industry insiders said that Italy’s statements usually fall on deaf ears and are an annual protectionist complaint.
...
Long Kemvichet, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, said he was not worried about Italy’s recent request to limit rice exports, because the commission had never responded to such requests in the past'.
Though it's not linked, one can imagine that with the election run-in, the EU might want to give off a clearer sign that the road taken might not be exactly what they had in mind. And here's a stick ...

And concerning exports, state run Agence Kampuchea Press (Dec. 22) reports on the newest (upbeat) figures:
'For the first 11 months of 2017, Cambodia exported a total of 562,237 tons of milled rice, up 17.20 percent compared to the same period in 2016.
According to statistics of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, during the period, Cambodian milled rice was exported to 63 countries around the world, mainly to China (164,979 tons), France (70,741 tons), Poland (41,469 tons), Malaysia (35,209 tons), Bangladesh (26,970 tons), England (25,889 tons).
By the end of November this year, rainy paddy rice cultivation ended successfully with 106.45 percent of the yearly plan, said the source'.
Phnom Penh Post (Dec. 11) adds:
'Approximately 45 percent of Cambodia’s total rice exports have gone to the European market, while 29 percent have gone to China alone.
According to Hean Vanhan, director general at the General Directorate of Agriculture, “based on the trend, rice exports should reach over 600,000 tonnes by the end of the year”.
So entry to Europe is quite essential for the Cambodian rice market.

From the Khmer Times (Dec. 13) this snippet of rice news:
'Next month the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) will hold the sixth edition of the Cambodia Rice Forum, bringing major stakeholders in the sector together to discuss the future of the local rice industry and create a joint effort to ramp up production and exports'.
Giant
I like this article (Phnom Penh Post, Dec. 27), just hope it's not all a write up to make the initiative seem positive. Read with me:
'A conservation scheme begun eight years ago in Preah Vihear province, in which farmers are recruited to grow organic rice for the international market in exchange for protecting local ecology, has successfully signed up 43 new families in Stung Treng province over the last year, according to a press release today.
An effort by Wildlife Conservation Society and BirdLife International, the Ibis Rice project guarantees incomes for participating farmers in selected conservation areas through the sale of organic rice above the market price. According to the statement yesterday, the 43 new families in Khek Svay village of Stung Treng’s Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary have committed to the project since last year. The project now has over 1,000 families participating, including in Preah Vihear’s Kulen Prom Tep and Chhaeb wildlife sanctuaries.
...
Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary covers 150,000 hectares and is home to about 20 percent of world population of the critically endangered giant ibis and half the world population of the critically endangered white-shouldered ibis'.
More initiatives, this time from the private sector. Amru Rice (Dec. 8) announces:
'The Cambodian Agriculture Cooperative Cooperation (CCAC) set to be completed in Kampong Thom province by the end of the year, is the first large-scale farm cooperative venture in Cambodia.
Funded by the European Union and local parties, the $3 million investment project will be located over 10 hectares and will process and store, rice, pepper, cashews, vegetables, and fruits ready for export.
Founder of CCAC and CEO of Amru Rice Cambodia Song Saran said rice will share about 60 percent of total storage of agricultural products, while pepper, cashews, vegetables and fruits, will be stored in the CCAC’s processing buildings, which has a storage capacity of up to 5,000 tonnes'.
More business on new ideas. The Khmer Times (Dec. 8):
'Cambodia and China will sign an agreement in the near future to support research on growing a new variety of rice in the kingdom, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).
The proposed MoU, which is being negotiated by MAFF and its Chinese counterpart, will lay down the rules for cooperation between both nations in conducting studies on the rice variety known as oryza sativa japonica.
The ultimate goal is to grow the crop in the kingdom and export it to China, where demand for the rice variety is huge'.
I doubt whether this could be a success. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The Phnom Penh Post (Dec. 1) reports on insurance for agriculture, mostly rice growing (I think):
'Officials in the agriculture sector yesterday called on relevant stakeholders to scale up initiatives for crop insurance schemes to help Cambodian farmers mitigate the risks of having their fields destroyed by flooding and drought.
Speaking at a workshop organised by German development agency GIZ, Mom Thany, undersecretary of state of Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said enlarging the availability of crop insurance would help secure the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.
“The agricultural sector is most vulnerable to climate change,” she said. “Crop insurance protects farmer’s investments and ensures that even when a harvest fails, farmers have sufficient financial resources to reinvest and cover basic household needs like food and health care.”
Typical crop insurance initiatives that have been piloted in the Kingdom involve rice farmers paying into a scheme at the beginning of the growing season, with payments based on the size of the farm, type of paddy grown and technical tools used. In return, farmers get an insurance payout if their crop is assessed to be damaged by flood or drought'.
Poetic
Bangkok Post (Dec. 23) has an interesting article on the on-goings of rural Thailand:
'In July of this year, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha released his "Farmers' Soul-Soothing" poem to the press and the Thai public. He urged farmers: "Don't leave your home and farmland, leaving family behind, struggling to make a living locally."
His poem focuses on a number of prominent themes in rural development debates in Thailand: the migration of the young; the consequent ageing of those farmers left behind; the sustainability of agriculture; and the risks of leaving home.
...
This apparent ageing of farmers on the one hand, and farm size decline on the other, is also evident across the Southeast Asian region. The government and many agricultural economists see these trends as problematic.
...
The livelihoods that gradually came into view as our study progressed revealed not ageing farmers stubbornly holding onto their land, thus preventing the modernisation of the agriculture, but households struggling to build secure livelihoods against the inherited vulnerabilities of farming, a thinly woven social safety net, and the precariousness of much non-farm work'. 
The riceland is held as a fall back option, should this modern life one day fall apart.

For the government's role, The Nation (Dec. 18) notes:
'The government has been trying to promote its large-plantation policy  [for rice farmers] since last year with the ambitious goal of bringing farmers out of the “middle-income trap” by 2021. But farmer groups cannot help but wonder whether the policy has really increased their bargaining power.
“When I go to rice mills, I still feel powerless,” the manager of a large rice plantation in Khon Kaen province said on condition of anonymity recently.
Under the large-plantation policy, the government does not push farmers into working on the same plots of land. Rather, a shared management system is promoted that the government believes will help farmers lower their costs and boost their productivity'. 
So poetry is the government's best shot?

Scrap
There's been quite a few articles on rubber and cashew growing in the Khmer press lately.

Starting off with rubber.
Phnom Penh Post (Dec. 13) looks into the governments role:
'Despite a 31 percent increase in Cambodian rubber exports during the first 11 months of this year, the Ministry of Agriculture is failing to recoup on expenses it has spent sending expert technicians into the field in order to help boost production.
According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, the government has spent $379,000 so far this year on technical support for rubber farmers and plantations, and has received only $299,000 back through revenue generated primarily through land rental fees.
...
Khoun Phalla, a director of the rubber department at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that the government has established five teams of rubber experts that have been deployed across the country.
“We have helped the price of rubber,” he said. “It is now better for small-scale farmers.” Phalla added that the ministry’s experts have shown farmers how to increase yields at lower costs.
“What we have spent so far will be returned through higher profits from rubber farmers and that will eventually promote government revenue,” he said.
However, Hang Sreng, director of rubber exporter Long Sreng International, said that despite the government’s expert teams, the rubber sector would remain largely unprofitable unless the government scraps taxes.
“We do not make profits from rubber because we have to pay a lot of taxes and fees to the government and that makes us unable to compete,” he said. “The specialists have helped with efficiency, but that is not enough.”
The Phnom Penh Post (Dec. 18) has an article on the foreign interests in the kingdom's plantations:
"Socfin Cambodia, the local branch of a Europe-based international rubber producing company that currently operates a 7,500-hectare rubber plantation in Mondulkiri, has announced plans to open the doors to its first rubber factory next April, with an initial investment of $5.7 million, a company executive said last week.
Jef Boedt, general manager of Socfin Cambodia, said that since the company launched its rubber plantation in 2009, approximately 2,000 hectares of rubber have become harvestable, making it economically reasonable for Socfin to open its own processing factory.
...
According to Boedt, once the factory is operational it will have the capacity to produce 25 tonnes of dry rubber per day, or approximately 8,000 tonnes per year. He added that the company has not yet decided whether it will sell the rubber it produces directly to the international market or if it will continue selling through local traders.
International rubber prices have risen year-on-year, and Boedt said that he believes that trend will continue in 2018. “The probability that the price will go up is higher than the probability that the price will go down,” he said.
...
According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Cambodia exported over 150,000 tonnes of rubber in the first 11 months of the year, amounting to total revenue of $249 million'.
Over to the cashew news. The Phnom Penh Post (Dec. 4) reports on how huge Vietnam's slice of the Cambodian cashew concern is:
'Vietnam, a major buyer of the Cambodian cashew nut, has unveiled a plan to purchase cashews in even greater volumes during next year’s harvest season, giving hope to farmers who rely on selling their crops at good prices from February through May.
Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon told The Post yesterday that Cambodian officials and the Vietnamese Cashew Association have been working together to form a committee on cashew production which is expected to draft an agreement to export more Cambodian cashews to its eastern neighbour.
...
According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Cambodia is producing a total of about 104,268 tonnes of cashews annually. Most production comes out of the Kampong Thom and Kampong Cham provinces, which account for 29 percent and 18 percent respectively of the country’s total production.
During this past harvest season Vietnam bought around 102,000 tonnes of cashew nuts from Cambodia, explained Sakhon, with the few tonnes of cashews remaining being locally processed.
He added that Vietnam is currently importing about 1.2 million tonnes of cashews from India annually, and that it also exports about 3.2 million tonnes of processed cashews to international markets each year.
Um Uon, president of the Sambo Prey Kub Cashew Nut Association in Kampong Thom province, said yesterday that the prices of cashews this past harvest season were relatively good, coming in between 5,000 riel ($1.25) to 8,000 riel ($2) per kilo depending on quality'.
The Phnom Penh Post (Dec. 7) notes how the non-Vietnamese part of the value chain is to be propped up with help of South-Korean interests:
'Local agricultural firm Camcashew signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with an obscure South Korean company yesterday with the aim of exporting 10,000 tonnes of processed cashew nuts next year, claiming that the two firms had reserved $100 million to fund the agreement.
Camcashew, a joint venture between a Cambodian and Malaysian firm, signed the MoU with Kim Ki Chul, president of South Korea’s Naroo Marine Company Limited.
Syaiful Hazreen, director of Camcashew, said yesterday that $80 million would be spent to purchase 40,000 tonnes of raw cashew nuts while the remaining $20 million would be spent on purchasing a 400-hectare plot of land and machinery for processing the raw kernels.
...
According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Cambodia produces a total of about 104,000 tonnes of raw cashews annually. Most production comes from the provinces of Kampong Thom and Kampong Cham, which account for 29 percent and 18 percent respectively.
In the first 11 months of this year, Cambodia exported 71,293 tonnes of raw cashews to Vietnam, Thailand, China and India. Vietnam alone absorbed 98 percent of these exports'.
Then back to Vietnam, which according to the Phnom Penh Post (Dec. 11) has set forward a benevolent idea:
'The Vietnam Cashew Association (Vinacas) gave the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture a $66,000 grant late last week to support cashew production in the Kingdom, according to ministry officials.
According to Hean Vanhan, director general at General Directorate of Agriculture, the grant will go toward enacting a four-year plan that will see 1 million cashew trees planted on a new 500,000 hectare farm by 2022.
...
In the first 11 months of this year, Cambodia exported 71,293 tonnes of raw cashews to Vietnam, Thailand, China and India. Vietnam alone absorbed 98 percent of these exports [!]. Vietnam exports approximately 3.2 million tonnes of processed cashews to the international market each year'.
Then beyond the tried and trusted there are the new initiatives. The Phnom Penh Post (Dec 26):
'The Agriculture Ministry is set to sign a mango export investment deal with a Chinese firm worth up to $50 million, the second such deal in the country, Agriculture Minister Veng Sokhon said yesterday.'
...
Mong Reththa, vice chairman of the board of directors at Mong Reththy Group Co Ltd, said mangoes currently had the most potential for the international market, but farming techniques needed to be improved.
“In order to reach the international market, we need to have techniques and standards for maintaining a mango farm, then focusing on packaging and freezing,” he said.
The foreign investment deals would help spur family farms to adopt more technical methods and “add value for the farmer”, Reththa said. Kingdom Fruits International Co Ltd, a sister company of Mong Reththy Group, was the first to export mangoes abroad'.
Hazard
Then some more feedback concerning pesticides witnessed in Thai horticulture. 
The Nation (Dec. 3):
'Recent research has disclosed that serious contamination from persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and herbicides in food and the environment poses health threats to the Thai public.
The research, from Ecological Alert and Recovery – Thailand (EARTH) and Thailand Pesticide Alert Network (Thai-PAN), found that Samut Sakhon had the highest levels of dioxin contamination. The level of contaminants known as polybrominated dibenzo-p-dioxins and furans (PBDD/Fs) was 33 times higher than European Union standards, Meanwhile, 46 per cent and 55 per cent respectively of fruit and vegetables were found to contain pesticides and herbicides.
The organisations said that toxic substances posed serious health threats and the authorities had not put enough measures and regulations in place to protect the public'.
The Bangkok Post (Dec. 7) then demonstrates what consumer protectors are up against:
'Thai Pesticide Alert Network (Thai-PAN) will today submit a petition to the Ministry of Industry, asking it to ban the herbicide paraquat and the pesticide chlorpyrifos, while restricting the use of glyphosate.
'The petition is timed to coincide with a meeting of the ministry's committee on hazardous chemicals which will decide on the use of the pesticides. The petition urges the committee to classify paraquat and chlorpyrifos as a "hazardous" substance which will lead to a total ban on production, imports and exports or even buying and selling. Regarding glyphosate, the network wants the committee to monitor the use strictly.
...
Witoon Lianchamroon, director of Biothai, an advocacy group on sustainable agriculture, said he was worried the decision of the committee is likely to be swayed as two of the 10 members on the committee are from chemical companies. He said a report cited by the ministry that banning the chemicals will contribute to an economic loss of over 70 billion baht is also groundless'. 
Fake
Some bits and bobs to close this entry off.
The Phnom Penh Post (Dec. 7) reports on certification, I presume on cassava:
'In a bid to decentralise the certificates of origin (COs) process to help promote international exports and ease cross-border trade, the Ministry of Commerce launched a pilot project yesterday that allows officials in the provinces of Battambang and Pailin to directly issue certification'.
Meanwhile the Phnom Penh Post (Dec. 8) notes that palm sugar growers / traders have other problems:
'Takeo provincial authorities shut down 11 small-scale operations yesterday for making fake palm sugar, and say they have plans to close more
According to Lumpong Commune Police Chief Nob Phary, police have identified 43 palm sugar operations in Bati district that are suspected of cooking down white sugar to imitate the more expensive palm sugar'. 
Phnom Penh Post (Dec. 14):
'The Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts is urging provincial authorities to dissolve [really?] spurious palm sugar operations, after 43 sham sugar producers were shut down earlier this week.
On Tuesday, Minister Cham Prasidh ordered provincial officials to investigate and close any facility that appears to cut its Khmer palm sugar with similar substances, such as white sugar, in order to keep the industry in line with international standards'.
Then in a possible positive swing  Thailands The Nation (Dec. 17) reports that with the rubber boom rebounding forest encroachment may also be wound back:
'MID the plunging price of rubber latex to below Bt50 per kilogram, concerned officials are now eyeing the potential for eliminating the encroachment of rubber trees in forests. As well as returning forests back to nature, the move would help reduce the volume of latex and thus push up prices'.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Cocktails

Let's start with some overriding concerns. 
In recent months the European Commission and Parliament have been struggling with the inability to cut a deal on whether or not to tolerate glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide. Under pressure from producers, it seems that consumers and safety first precautions are of lesser concern
So you can only imagine how legislation is dealing with the same issue in Southeast Asia.
Take the Bangkok Post (Nov. 25), which draws attention to a well-known observation but the publishing these hardly breaks the surface alas:

'Over 60% of popular vegetables sold at shopping malls and markets are contaminated with a cocktail of pesticides farmers use to boost yields and ensure year-round sales, a food safety network warned Friday. The Thailand Pesticide Alert Network (Thai-PAN), a non-governmental organisation, conducted a survey on nine vegetables and six types of fruit in Bangkok and four other provinces in late August.
...
More worrying still, all of the tested produce was contaminated with multiple residues indicating a high usage of chemicals as farmers rely on a "cocktail of pesticides in their farming process", Prokchol Ousap, a coordinator at Thai-PAN, said.  
... 
Meanwhile, Biodiversity Sustainable Agriculture Food Sovereignty Action Thailand (BioThai), a group considered an ally of Thai-PAN, is preparing to sue the Department of Agriculture at the Administrative Court, it said. The group is gathering evidence for a suit as the department granted farmers renewed permits to use paraquat despite reports of it being toxic and putting consumers at risk, said Kingkorn Narindharakul Na Ayudhaya of BioThai.  
...
Thai-PAN also surveyed produce sold at five supermarkets and found that even though it was more expensive the levels of contamination were higher than at provincial markets'.
However it has provoked action. The Bangkok Post (Nov. 26) takes the results for the editorial: 
'News reports that over 60% of samples of popular vegetable and fruits taken at shopping malls and markets are contaminated with pesticides -- some are highly toxic farm chemicals banned in several countries -- are too hard to swallow. It merely shows a failure of the state, despite an ambition to become the kitchen of the world, to come up with and implement measures to ensure food safety, and the dilemma for customers who have limited options to live healthy lifestyles. 
... 
It is not certain if it's a coincidence that the survey results happened to come out at the same time as reports that the Department of Agriculture has discreetly extended the import and registration licence for highly toxic paraquat despite concerted efforts by a panel tasked with farm chemical controls to have it banned by 2019. The licence for this chemical, a popular choice of herbicide under the trade name Gramoxone, expired last month. The licence extension, if true, means there will be no ban of paraquat by 2019. That means the department is ignoring concerns over the impact of the chemical, raised not only by non-government organisations but also by its bureaucratic partners like those in the Public Health Ministry, which is a key player in the panel.
... 
The Public Health Ministry said over 50 other countries around the world have agreed to ban paraquat as well as chlorpyrifos. 
...
Thailand's FTA Watch said the country ranks as the sixth largest importer of paraquat'.
This editorial just shows how vested interests are collaborating with government officials in pursuing the love of capital at the expense of common sense and health interests. The Nation (Nov. 26) adds:
'Kingkorn added that the network [=Thai-PAN] also planned to sue the Department of Agriculture for failing to protect consumers by allowing the use of paraquat for an additional six years despite a proposal by the Public Health Ministry to ban the weed killer due to health hazards.
Worries
GRAIN (Nov. 8) has some murmurs from the hybrid rice front:
'Despite years of vehement public opposition to the field and feed test of Golden Rice in the past decade – a genetically engineered rice promoted for commercialization in Asia, the Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI), PhilRice has filed renewed application this year too pen field test the genetically modified crop in the municipality of San Mateo in Isabela and Muñoz in Nueva Ecija.
... 
In recent study, scientists from India showed that the derived lines of Golden Rice produced phenotypic abnormality and poor yield performance making it unfit for commercial cultivation. Farmers are worried that the trait can transfer to other rice varieties or weedy relatives thru cross-contamination once the open field testing is approved. This will contaminate our indigenous and farmer-bred rice varieties and prove disastrous to the already volatile rice production in the country'.
Certified
Then this from Mongabay (Nov. 16) caught my eye:
'In early 2017, the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) decided that it was going to stop working with certification in agriculture. It was actually a fairly easy and straightforward decision: After working with this tool for over 20 years, we could look back and conclude that certification was not the best approach to improve the sustainability of most farmers in the world, especially when considering the huge challenges we face from climate change, poverty, deforestation, soil and water contamination, and human rights violations.
... 
But we have also increasingly come to recognize the limitations of certification as a tool to drive change in agricultural production systems at scale. 
In our opinion, there are four main interrelated limitations of certification in agriculture: 
Complexity  
Cost relative to value   
Scalability   
Effectiveness   
...
The above limitations mean that certification will work for farms that are already reasonably well-managed, have access to resources, have markets that are able to better value their products, and encounter fairly well-functioning local governance structures. These conditions are very specific and are not the reality most farmers in the world live in'.
The arguments are not new, but the decision taken is. 
My thinking would be that certification has always worked for foreign countries and the elites within the producing countries themselves. 
As certification has become more complex so as to garner more influence with western consumers there hasn't been much efforts in making sure the complexity is taught. 
In the end, it's trust by consumers whats required, while the trust issue for the farmer is just a bit part of his/her market issues.

Mongabay (Nov. 22) also looked at reliability of various certifications:

'The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has the strongest set of requirements among certification schemes for edible oils and biofuels, even if its members often get away with flouting its standards.That’s the main conclusion of a new report from the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), an international NGO
....
The FPP’s report ranks the certification schemes as follows:
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB)
Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN)
International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC)
Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO)
Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO)
ISPO is the Indonesian government’s official certification scheme. It is essentially a stamp of approval that a company is following Indonesian law'.
Finals
The most prominent rice related news from Cambodia might be actually less news worthy. The Phnom Penh Post (Nov. 9):
'For the third year in a row Cambodia has failed to take the top spot in the World’s Best Rice contest, instead earning second place after Thailand'.
Meanwhile, the Thai are gloating. Bangkok Post (Nov. 8):
'The World Rice Conference has declared Thailand's fragrant Hom Mali variety the world's best rice, maintaining Thailand's number one position after several years of lower rice quality due to a previous rice-pledging scheme'. 
First time I heard this latter claim, seems at best circumstantial.
No, probably the most important news for Cambodian rice is that the Bangladesh deal is off. The Phnom Penh Post (Nov. 13):  
'Cambodia has failed to finalise the terms of a massive 250,000-tonne delivery of rice to Bangladesh, with industry insiders claiming that shipments have been cancelled as millers do not currently have the stockpiles to meet export demand while hopes for further negotiations appear to be dwindling. The rice deal was originally made in August, when relevant ministries from the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and made plans for initial shipments of rice to begin being shipped to Bangladesh in November. Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), said that a letter of credit could not be reached because the two parties could not agree on finalised terms and conditions for the shipments.
...
A report released in late August by Reuters claimed that two Bangladeshi officials had finalised a price agreement with Cambodia at $453 per tonne. While the Kingdom’s millers balked at the price as being unprofitable, Cambodian officials repeatedly denied that an official price agreement was ever made. Kim Savuth, chairman of Khmer Foods Group, said that the deal was ill-fated to begin with as millers would not have enough time to harvest white rice before the November shipment'.
No need to worry, there's always China. From the Phnom Penh Post (Nov. 13):
'The Cambodian government signed two memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with three giant Chinese state-owned institutions yesterday, creating partnerships intended to boost the production of Cambodian paddy rice and milled rice for export, according to a release from the Ministry of Economy and Finance. The first of the two MoUs outlines a government-to-government arrangement to further open market access and facilitate growth of Cambodian rice exports to China, the Kingdom’s single largest rice importer, while the second deal provides technical assistance intended to enhance the Kingdom’s rice warehouse and storage infrastructure.
... 
According to a report released last week, Cambodia has exported 142,768 tonnes of milled rice to China so far this year, a 59 percent increase from the same period last year accounting for nearly one-third of the country’s total rice exports in 2017.
Cambodia is ex
pected to export a total of 200,000 tonnes of rice to China by the end of the year, and hopes to increase its exports to the country by 50 percent in 2018'.
In other news, the Phnom Penh Post (Nov. 16) discusses whether the rice season has been good or average.

Phnom Penh Post (Oct. 25) also has some notes on rice related loans:

'The government has already provided $9 million from its emergency rice loan fund to the Kingdom’s rice millers since the harvest season began in September, nearly triple the amount it provided when it first launched the initiative last year when millers showed little appetite for state financing. 
Kao Thach, CEO of the state-owned Rural Development Bank (RDB), said yesterday that the government had officially signed off on $9 million worth of loans out of a fund which has reserved $50 million in total an amount the government believes is sufficient to prop up the struggling rice sector.
...
Song Saran, CEO of Amru Rice, who received $1.5 million from the RDB by using approximately 5,000 tonnes of rice as collateral, said the government should expand the programme beyond its current limitations which as yet only allow fragrant rice to be used as collateral.
“The RDB has a good strategy to ensure the prices for paddy rice, but it would be better if the government approved loans for all types of rice varieties to promote exports,” he said'.
Soft
More rice is coming into the market. 
Philippines rice harvest is up by 10% (Business Monitor, Nov. 21) while Xinhua (Nov. 20) reports on Vietnam:
'Seeing more contracts signed since June, the Vietnam Food Association has revised its target of exporting rice this year by 400,000 tons to 5.6 million tons'.
Not all new rice spells good fortunes. The Bangkok Post (Nov. 18):
'With newly harvested rice entering the market, the government yesterday agreed to put off a sales plan for inedible-grade rice stocks to next year'.
Vientiane Times (Nov. 15) has an interesting article on rice growing in the more mountainous region of Xieng Khouan:
'Authorities in Xieng Khuang, one of Laos’ mountainous northern provinces, are preparing to celebrate the country’s most famous rice species, khao kai noi, and other local foods at a festival to be held this weekend.
This region boasts the largest fertile rice growing area in the country and is the main supplier of rice for both domestic and overseas consumption. Kai noi is a native rice species and is very popular because of its softness, good smell and flavour.
...
The province has 19,600 hectares of rice fields in total with kai noi rice occupying 60 percent of that area.
This year, the province’s agriculture sector projects that the total harvest will be 83,000 tonnes, of which 52 tonnes will be kai noi rice.
One kilo of milled kai noi rice sells for 6,500 to 10,000 kip depending on quality. The price is 1,000 to 1,500 kip more than that paid for other varieties, officials said'.
Finally, the Bangkok Post (Nov. 26) looks at a new government policy on rice:
'A government push to equip rice farmers with new technology could face a bumpy road ahead, a prominent critic said on Sunday. Theerayuth Boonmee, the coordinator of the New Rice Culture Network, warned that the government's attempt to give farmers high-tech ways to improve and add value to their crops could fall upon stony ground.
Most farmers would have problems adopting advanced technology, leading to higher production costs, he told a seminar entitled “Look Forward, Direction of Sustainable Agriculture” organised by the Thai Journalists Association. Mr Theerayuth, who works for the College of Interdisciplinary Studies, also warned of possible corruption in the purchase of farming technology'.
Reputations
The Phnom Penh Post (Nov. 21) has info on offer concerning growing banana's:
'Vietnamese conglomerate Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) has shipped a total of over 9,000 tonnes of Cambodian bananas destined for the Chinese market since the firm first started exporting in July, a company representative said.
The firm, which owns 1,000 hectares of banana plantations in Ratanakkiri province, has been making weekly shipments of bananas through its subsidiaries, Hoang Anh Andong Meas, Hoang Anh Romphat and Hoang Anh Daun Penh Agrico'.
This follows a prior article on HAGL activities in Cambodia. The Phnom Penh Post (Nov. 17):
'Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), a Vietnamese conglomerate that operates in property, mining, commercial agriculture and hydropower, will make its second official export of dragon fruit next week from its plantations in Ratanakkiri province, a company representative said.
The company is currently harvesting its second shipment of dragon fruit, said Thach Quanh Tha, director of administration for HAGL, and will transport it overland to port facilities in Vietnam and then load it onto a container ship bound for buyers in China. Its first shipment registered at 100 tonnes.
...
Meanwhile, HAGL has been making banana shipments to China since July from its 1,000-hectare banana plantation in northeastern Cambodia through its three subsidiaries, Hoang Anh Andong Meas, Hoang Anh Romphat and Hoang Anh Daun Penh Agrico.
Thach said dragon fruit and banana cultivation was part of the agro giant’s efforts to diversify its Cambodian operations beyond rubber and palm oil which have bottomed out on the back of low global commodity prices. The company has invested in planting 14 different types of fruit for export.
In Chayvan, president of Kampong Speu Mangoes Association, said that while he welcomed the news that Cambodian fruits are reaching the Chinese market, he questioned why the Vietnamese giant could breeze past stringent sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) regulations that have hamstrung the mango industry.
But Soy Sona, director of the Ratanakkiri Provincial Agriculture Department, said that HAGL already had its 380-hectare dragon fruit plantation certified with SPS standards by the Ministry of Agriculture when it made its first shipment.“The company has already passed SPS standards and it has a good network in Vietnam so that it can reach the Chinese market,” he said. “We will see if they can continue to secure stable orders before we encourage our local farmers to cultivate dragon fruit in order to earn individual profits.”
Phnom Penh Post (Nov. 24) notes this significant news on palm sugar:
'Cambodian-based specialty food producer Confirel won first prize for its Thnot Organic Sugar at the 15th Asean Food Conference in Ho Chi Minh City yesterday.
...
Confirel works with the Kampong Speu Palm Sugar Promotion Association (KSPSPA) and its member families to process palm-based goods including sugar, wine, vinegar and juice. Annually, Confirel receives approximately 150 tonnes of organic palm sugar from this partnership.
...
However, he [KSPSPA President Sam Saroeun] remains afraid of counterfeit palm sugar products flooding the market. “We are always concerned about protecting palm sugar’s reputation in the market,” he said. “I hope the government will take action to help us.”
Then there's cassava news from Khmer Times (Nov. 22):
'With harvest season kicking off this month, cassava farmers across the country are upbeat. According to local cassava associations, the price of the commodity is significantly higher than in previous years due to heightened demand in foreign markets.
...
Fresh cassava is selling for about 220 riel per kilogram, an increase of more than 50 percent compared with last year.
... 
Recently, Amru Rice, Cambodia’s leading rice miller and exporter, signed a deal with Thai Starch Company to supply 8,000 tonnes of fresh organic tapioca – a starch extracted from the cassava root – with the first shipment scheduled for early 2019. He said they will increase exports to 40,000 tonnes by 2020.Song Saran, CEO of Amru Rice, said they would cooperate with more than 1,500 smallholder farmers in Kampong Thom and Oddar Meanchey during a three-year project to grow fresh organic cassava'.
The Phnom Penh Post (Nov.7) also mentions cassava:
'Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak has announced that the government will be spearheading a new National Cassava Policy which aims to address challenges in the industry and work towards ensuring a sustainable and resilient crop, strong value chains and greater regional market presence. Speaking at a dedicated cassava investment forum yesterday in Siem Reap, Sorasak encouraged the private and public sectors to work together to find ways to boost the cash crop and expand market access – primarily to China.
...
Total cassava exports in the first nine months of the year have reached only 2.3 million tonnes, a decrease of 21 percent compared to the same period last year. While China is home to the most demanding cassava market in the world, Cambodia has barely exported to the giant nation at all this year, with under 1 percent of its cassava exports reaching Chinese markets.
The Kingdom has sent 91 percent of its cassava exports to Thailand and another 8 percent to Vietnam'.
Slumping
Vientiane Times (Nov. 15) reports on coffee:
'The Lao government plans to expand the area under coffee cultivation as part of efforts to increase crop quantity and quality and sustain the earnings of growers until 2025, a senior government official has said.
...
Currently, the three southern provinces of Champassak, Xekong and Saravan are the main areas where coffee is grown.
The four northern provinces of Phongsaly, Xieng Khuang, Luang Prabang and Huaphan have been identified as possible new areas for the establishment of coffee farms.
Coffee plantations currently cover 4,000 to 5,000 hectares in Phongsaly province, the Deputy Minister said.
He noted that coffee farms may also be established in the southern province of Attapeu.
Due to a slump in coffee prices on the world market, the sale price of Lao coffee and export volumes have declined in recent years, and the government is making a push to export more coffee.
"The sale price of Lao coffee is still dependent on prices on the world market. But if we continue to produce coffee of higher quality, we can ask for a reasonable price," Dr Phouangparisack said, adding that more advertising is needed to promote Lao coffee worldwide.
...
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, more than 20,000 families make a living from selling coffee beans and more than 300,000 people are engaged in jobs linked to the coffee industry'.
Bangkok Post (Nov. 15) has a small article on the perils of Thai agriculture, mostly debt related:
'Thai authorities are mulling stringent tax measures to pressure creditors to negotiate with their debtors in over 1,200 farmland-linked debt cases in the Northeast.
...
Creditors have reportedly been profiteering by charging exorbitant interest rates and then seizing farmers' land when they cannot meet their repayments.
...
One problem is farmers' lack of knowledge when it comes to legally binding contracts concerning debt, land and collateral, he [sol Lt Col Wichai Suwanprasert, secretary-general of the ministry's centre for helping debtors] said. As a result, many have agreed to deals without realising they could forfeit their land or property, he added'.
The Nation (Nov. 13) in same-same fashion:
'SEVERAL CHALLENGES have emerged during the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry’s ongoing efforts to produce “smart farmers” for Thailand.
...
For example, farmers in general still use inappropriate materials for farm production. Many have apparently overused fertilisers and chemicals and, as a result, their costs have soared unnecessarily – meaning problems when crop prices are low'.
 The Nation (Nov. 14) has what I believe a curious report:
'REPRESENTATIVES of rubber farmers yesterday demanded that the governor and all board members of the Thai Rubber Authority (TRA) be dismissed over falling rubber prices. Wreaths were also laid at the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives in a symbolic protest against the TRA’s leaderships. “Their management mistakes have hurt rubber prices,” Utai Sornlaksap, head of the Thai Council of Rubber Farmers Networks, said on behalf of rubber farmers, some of whom accompanied him.
... 
Last Friday, Tanomkiat Yingchuanan – an adviser to the network of rubber farmer groups – said rubber farmers from across the country would join the protest over the falling rubber prices. He also openly directed criticism at Chatchai. Tanomkiat, however, was taken to an “attitude-adjustment programme” at a military camp over the past weekend, along with other key leaders of rubber-farmer protests. As a result, many farmers cancelled plans to attend the planned rally. Chayanin Kongsong, a rubber farmer leader in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, said the military had asked for cooperation in not staging protests'.
Am I reading this correctly? Is the Thai junta re-educating protesters?

Finally, The Nation (Nov. 24) has a report on growing banana's in Laos:
'BANANAS are expected to be Laos’ highest revenue earner among agricultural exports this year, retaining the top spot achieved last year despite a decrease in exports by value.
This year, Laos expects to earn about US$184 million from banana exports, down US$13.8 million compared to last year, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce reported.
In the first nine months of this year, Laos earned US$158.5 million from banana exports, while last year overseas banana sales stood at US$197.8 million for the same period. The bulk of the crop was sold to China and some to Thailand
Other major agricultural export earners are expected to include cassava, with sales reaching US$158 million. Raw coffee exports are forecast at US$113 million, rubber at US$77.5 million, and maize at US$60.2 million.
In 2015, rubber was the top earner but this year it is forecast to drop to fourth place due to falling prices, while some farmers have switched to other commercial crops.
The export value of bananas is expected to slide further next year after the government banned additional plantations'.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Permissive

From now on, readers will note the lack of references to the Cambodia Daily. Politics have determined that publishing the news should be considered contentious. That's if you fear the light of truth.
The changing climate is also described by this by Phnom Penh Post (Oct. 16):
'Svay Rieng officials on Saturday prevented a local farmer coalition from conducting a workshop on raising chickens on the grounds it had failed to get permission from district and provincial authorities, a possible sign of increased scrutiny of NGOs working in the provinces.
...
The Coalition of Cambodia Farmers Community was conducting the workshop for 25 families when Ampil commune authorities and police told them to stop, said Chhem Kosal, a project coordinator with the NGO.
“I informed them that we had informed the commune chief already, and the commune chief also permitted [it]. But they still required me to ask for permission from district and provincial levels,” he said'.
Free
Something on-topic. The Phnom Penh Post (Sep. 9) has an extensive article on everything but traditional agricultural varieties:
'The government has denied the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the agricultural sector amid persistent reports that some local farmers may already be cultivating genetically engineered “hybrid” seeds, warning that countries could restrict or ban the import of Cambodian agricultural products if use of the biotechnology is confirmed.
...
Hean Vanhan, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, cast doubt on the veracity of the reports, stating firmly that Cambodian farmers have never taken up GM seeds – and the government would like to keep it that way.
“We are still not using any GM seeds for cultivation as they remain highly controversial in the international market, and we are dependent on exports so must comply with market trends,” he said. “If we allow GMOs to exist in our market it would have an impact on our exports as some countries do not trust them.”
Vanhan noted, however, that the government has never formally banned GM seeds or issued any regulations to prevent their import or cultivation “because there is no definitive proof that they are harmful”.
...
Sam Vitou, executive director of agricultural organisation CEDAC, said while the government appears to have blocked efforts by Monsanto and other GMO producers to market their products in Cambodia, there are fears local farmers could inadvertently be sowing their fields with GM seeds imported from Thailand, Vietnam and China.
“Even though the Ministry of Agriculture has not opened our market to Monsanto our agricultural sector could be threatened by the unofficial flow of [seed imports from] neighbouring countries,” he said.
Vietnam has embraced GMOs, approving at least 14 varieties of GM corn and eight varieties of GM soybean for cultivation, while indicating plans to have up to half of its farmland planted with transgenic crops by 2020. Thailand has waffled on GMO support, taking a more measured approach after field trials of GM papayas began contaminating nearby crops, resulting in several countries banning its papayas from their markets. To date, the country has approved 15 varieties of GM crops, mostly corn.
...
The confusion extends to the media, which often blurs the line between hybrid and GM seeds or incorrectly assumes that all Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta seed varieties are genetically modified.
A news report published online last year by Monash University’s School of Journalism made the explosive claim that over 100 families in Kandal province’s Kbal Koh district switched to planting Monsanto GM corn about a decade ago on the advice of local Agriculture Ministry officials.
Bun Tounsimona, director of Kandal province’s Agriculture Department, categorically rejected the report’s claims, insisting he had personally inspected farms in Kbal Koh district and did not find any GM plantings there.
“We use only hybrid seeds for corn farming as they provide high yields, but never GM seeds,” he said, adding that farmers had been warned not to use GM seeds because of the possible health concerns and risk it could restrict their exports to certain markets.
...
Four crops – corn, soybean, cotton and canola – account for nearly 99 percent of global GM acreage. GM varieties of rice have been developed and tested in field trials, but have never been commercially grown.
Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodia Rice Federation, stressed the importance of keeping GMOs out of the Kingdom’s rice sector, adding that Cambodian rice has been tested and certified as GMO-free.
“Our farmers farm according to industry guidelines and market demands,” he said. “If GM rice is grown it will damage our export market because it is controversial and overseas buyers don’t trust GMO.”
So there does seem to be reluctance to grow GM crops, but no policy initiatives to avoid GM crops coming in. Naive at the best. Presumably GM corn is already grown with seeds available from neighbouring countries.
Perhaps the following news snippet (Business Monitor, Sept. 27) can enlighten what's going on, though arguably from the Philippines, a country which seems to have less scruples when it comes to growing whatever be it GM crop or not.
'In the Philippines, the cultivation of GM corn, such as the insect-resistant Bt-corn and roundup-ready corn varieties, is preferred over hybrid or native varieties because of its benefits, according to Romero [Gabriel O. Romero, Regulatory Affairs Lead of Monsanto Philippines Inc.].
Romero said that, before, it was only India and the Philippines planting GM crops in Asia. “Australia has its GM cotton; India has GM eggplant or  Bt eggplant. Now, Myanmar is planting GM cotton,” Rotmero said sans citing sources.
Romero added that China has been into GM cotton and GM papaya, while Pakistan is now also planting GM cotton.
“Not all of these are ‘legal planting’,” Romero said, adding that legal planting is only in the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia'.
Basically the article (without any emphasis on the negatives) bandstands Monsanto's objective to steam roll all Asian agriculture, one country at a time. But ultimately all Asian agriculture will see GM crops massively adopted, preferably those of Monsanto. 

Royal
A scathing article from the Bangkok Post (Oct. 18) notes a near Perronesque attitude to what the late King stood for. Anyway, it seems the current Thai regime has it's own ideas:
'Unfortunately, certain authorities recently seem to be doing things that contradict the late King's principles. This month, the Department of Agriculture (DOA) appeared to push for an amendment of the 1999 Plant Varieties Protection Act during the period when Thai people are mourning the late King ahead of the royal cremation ceremony. The amendment effort is also being criticised for favouring giant seed companies, enabling them to monopolise the ownership of certain "patented" plant varieties they developed from local plants and seeds. Accordingly, it will make it difficult for farmers to be self-reliant. The law amendment effort is seen to be aligned with the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) Convention of 1991. For decades, big transnational corporations, particularly giant seed companies, have put pressure on Thailand to accept the 1991 UPOV Convention.
Biothai, a non-profit organisation working for the protection of Thailand's biodiversity, issued a warning several years ago that several international free trade agreements (FTAs), particularly the Thai-US FTA and the Asean-Europe FTA, would force Thailand to change its laws to comply with the convention. And now it is actually happening. The DOA's proposed amendment to the law has been accused of jettisoning farmers' rights to save commercial seeds and regrow them. Violators risk facing criminal charges in which the punishment is a jail term or a fine or both.
However, the DOA has denied the allegation, saying that, under the proposed bill, small-scale farmers can still keep seeds for replanting, while plant variety study and innovation research will be expanded to create new strains that will bolster exports of agricultural products.
...
Still, it is stipulated in Section 35 of the bill that replanting must be carried out for the purpose of plant variety breeding and it must receive approval from a committee authorised to designate which plant varieties will be restricted or banned from replanting. In layman's terms, farmers will not be allowed to save commercial crop seeds and regrow them to make a living and feed their families. What they can do is buy new seeds from companies for new cultivation.
...
Instead of pushing for this new law, which is seen as favouring a handful of seed firms and limiting the rights of millions of farmers, the department should have followed the late King's valuable example'.
Stocktaking
Away from the controversy, exports of rice from Cambodia are ever increasing. The Phnom Penh Post (Oct. 6 ):
'Cambodian rice exports increased nearly 17 percent during the first nine months compared to the same period last year, with exporters pushing to fill orders under China’s higher import quota as European markets remained steady.
A total of 421,900 tonnes of rice was exported between January and September, a 16.7 percent increase compared to the first nine months of 2016, according to government data published yesterday.
China – which has agreed to accept 200,000 tonnes of rice this year – was the top destination for rice shipments, receiving 124,700 tonnes during the period, with 53,900 tonnes and 35,400 tonnes delivered to France and Poland, respectively'.
More in the pipeline, with the deal with Bangladesh becoming reality. The Phnom Penh Post (Sep. 29):
'Cambodia and Bangladesh have finalised terms on a massive rice deal that could see up to 1 million tonnes of rice purchased from the Kingdom over the next five years, with the first shipment due to begin by November, a source close to the deal said yesterday.
Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), confirmed that an agreement had been made between the two governments after the relevant ministries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in August that hoped to replenish Bangladesh’s stockpiles after heavy flooding earlier this year decimated the country’s crops.
 ...
He added that the deal, which will be managed by the state-run company Green Trade, allows for flexibility in the next harvest season that will begin in January. While he declined to provide the agreed upon price for the deal, he said that the current market price for Cambodian white rice was at $430 a tonne.
In late August, Reuters news agency reported that Bangladesh had agreed to purchase Cambodian rice at $453 a tonne, while local officials insisted that price negotiations were still ongoing'.
How to develop the sector? A double take from the remaining news source on improving storage and drying facilities. The Phnom Penh Post (Sep. 13):
'The government-run Rural Development Bank (RDB) has extended the deadline to receive proposals from registered Cambodian agricultural firms to develop rice storage and drying facilities after receiving a tepid response to its finance offer, a bank official said yesterday'.
Phnom Penh Post (Sep. 26):
'The state-run Rural Development Bank (RDB) received a total of 10 proposals from Cambodian agricultural firms expressing interest in developing rice storage and drying facilities across three provinces using government-backed low-interest loans, a bank official said yesterday.
Kao Thach, chief executive of RDB, said six more companies submitted proposals for the $15 million finance package after the bank extended the application deadline from September 8 to September 22 due to a low response. Only four companies submitted proposals during the initial three-week call for submissions.
...
The storage facilities are intended to alleviate the stress on farmers and millers when rice stockpiles begin to stack up and are expected to be operational by the start of the next harvest season in January.
...
Earlier this year RDB awarded a $15 million low-interest loan to Thanakea Srov (Kampuchea) Plc, the operator of the Cambodian Rice Bank, to expand its rice storage warehouse in Battambang province.
The warehouse is set to be the first privately owned centralised storage facility with a capacity to store 200,000 tonnes of wet paddy rice and to process 3,000 tonnes of paddy rice daily'.
Direction
Thailand's The Nation (Oct. 2) looks at proposed new taxing:
'Citing its likely impact of further impoverishing already vulnerable rice farmers, some academics and farming leaders are slamming a proposed new national water-use policy that would tax farmers for irrigating their fields.
...
In the volume-based billing system, water costs would range from Bt0.5 per cubic metre of water for agriculture and animal husbandry, Bt1-Bt3 per cubic metre for tourism-oriented businesses, restaurants, and recreation businesses, and more than Bt3 per cubic metre for large-scale use such as large farms, industry, and power generation.
Economics lecturer Decharut Sukkumnoed from Kasetsart University, is concerned that the seemingly sensible approach would end up further hurting already struggling farm families. Collecting a water bill from farmers would intensify their financial difficulties by generating a new expense at a time when increased farming costs and decreased crop prices are already resulting in deficits among small farmers'.
Concerning price and market. The Nation (Sep. 30):
'Charoen Laothamatas, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said yesterday that growing strength of the Thai currency has negatively impacted on the country’s exports of rice and other farm products such as rubber |sheet, tapioca and sugar. These products have 90 per cent local content, so the baht’s rise makes them more expensive than those of our competitors.
“The Thai currency has risen by 8.5 per cent against the US dollar, whereas the Vietnam dong has just risen 2 per cent against the greenback, resulting in Thai rice exporters losing market shares to their counterparts in Vietnam ,” he said'.
Bangkok Post (Oct. 17):
'Strong overseas demand for Thai rice is expected to support prices even as an influx of around 25 million tonnes of the 2017/18 major crop is about to flood the market next month, say industry officials.
Thai Rice Exporters Association president Charoen Laothammatas said hefty demand from the overseas markets could push 2017 rice exports to 10.8 million tonnes, nearly matching the record high of 10.9 million tonnes in 2014'.
What says the competition?
An interesting article from Vietnam.net (Oct. 8) looks forward and sees that rice is not the export flagship all regard:
'Phong [Hoang Ngoc Phong, deputy director of the Economic Development Consultancy Center] stressed that it is necessary to find a new direction for the delta development by changing the agricultural production model.
...
“Agriculture doesn’t always mean rice cultivation. It would be better to reduce the rice growing area to a reasonable level. We don’t strive to grow rice to export rice products at low prices, because farmers cannot make profits, while the state has to make heavy investments,” he said.
Phong went on to say that instead of trying to prevent saline intrusion, Mekong Delta should adapt to it.
In fact, in many localities, people have adapted to the saltwater intrusion when changing the crop structure. They have one rice crop and one shrimp/fish crop instead of two rice crops a year'.
But the above note is but a sideline, see this article from nhandan.com (Oct. 17):
'The Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) has set the target of raising Vietnam’s rice export revenues to between US$2.3 and 2.5 billion by 2030.
The target was announced at a conference on realising Vietnam’s rice export strategy during the 2017-2020 period, with a view towards 2030.
Under the strategy, Vietnam will gradually reduce its rice export volumes whilst increasing the proportion of high-earning varieties, with the annual volume for the 2017-2020 period targeted at 4.5-5 million tonnes and shrinking to 4 million tonnes by 2030'.
It could be argued that growing less would result in higher prices thus achieving the same return with less effort ...
From afar this article in the  Guardian (Sep. 24 ):
'India is rice country: the cereal provides daily sustenance for more than 60% of the population. Half a century ago, it was home to more than 100,000 rice varieties, encompassing a stunning diversity in taste, nutrition, pest-resistance and, crucially in this age of climate change and natural disasters, adaptability to a range of conditions. Today, much of this biodiversity is irretrievably lost, forced out by the quest for high-yield hybrids and varieties encouraged by government agencies. Such “superior” varieties now cover more than 80% of India’s rice acreage'.
It then describes a local Orissa state initiative to save it's own varieties and seeds to increase the ability to be independent of outside agents be they government or privateers.
'By reviving seeds, they are also reviving food, taste, ritual, nutrition, and sustainability – attributes often forgotten as a result of the obsession with yield. Attributes that make rice more than just a bundle of calories and starch'.
Suited
From rice to veggie growing. The Phnom Penh Post (Oct. 6) gives space for vegetable growing initiatives:
'German development agency GIZ held a consultation workshop in Phnom Penh yesterday for its two-year Facilitating Trade in Agricultural Goods in Asean (FTAG) initiative, holding discussions with Ministry of Agriculture officials and local traders aimed at identifying the most suitable fruit and vegetable crops for cross-border trade between Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam'.
Phnom Penh Post (Oct. 10):
'A $20 million Ministry of Agriculture programme has struggled to meet its goal of introducing 160 tonnes a day of high-quality locally produced vegetables to the market, with ministry officials saying that as a result of high production costs and pricing issues it was currently supplying less than a third of that amount.
...
Kean Sophea, deputy director of the Department of Horticulture and Subsidiary Crops at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that while the programme had so far signed on 2,060 farmers and 260 rice cooperatives, disagreements between farmers and buyers over prices had led to its poor performance.
“Farmers are ready to farm and sell following our food safety standards, but buyers complain about the higher prices and consumers are not happy either,” he said.
“The main challenge is still between farmer, buyer and consumer and until that is solved we will only be able to supply 50 tonnes per day.”
Pluses
Vientiane Times (Oct. 9) looks at coffee growing:
'The value of coffee exported by Laos is expected to exceed US$112 million in the 2017 fiscal year, an increase of 3 percent compared to 2016.
Coffee exports topped US$74 million in the first six months of this year, an increase of US$50 million compared to the same period in 2016.
...
Association Office Head Mr Sivixay Xayaseng told Vientiane Times on Friday that many companies have supported and encouraged local farmers to grow more coffee under the 2+3 system and to set a purchasing plan before reporting the figures to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
The 2+3 policy is a government initiative that encourages investors and land owners to partner in industrial tree plantations.
The system refers to a framework where farmers must provide land and labour while investors provide funding, technical support and a ready market for growers'.
And this (Vientiane Times, Oct. 16):
'The government is planning to develop coffee-rich Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos as the country’s top agri-business and agri-tourism destination due to its perfect climate and fertile volcanic soils.
A master plan for developing the plateau is being drafted by the National Economic Research Institute to ensure sustainable development in Bolaven'.
Life 
Bangkok Post (Oct. 1) has an expansive exposé of rice growers choosing for organic growing with the only alternative being growing sugar cane:
'A new machine stands quietly in a corner of a small rice mill north of Amnat Charoen town. Its operation will commence at the end of this year, marking an important step for local farmers to boost
their rice production. ...
When local farmers talk about "changing the world", it means supplying premium organic produce to the market. In return, they receive a reasonable income that lifts up their livelihood.
...
The self-determination movement of local farmers in Amnat Charoen is challenging the perspective of the central government and the entire agriculture sector, whose direction is determined by top-down policies. Promoting large-scale farming is on the agenda of the current military regime too, leading to conflict and public scepticism about whether it can save farmers in the long run.
...
At first, organic rice farmer Isara Keaodee didn't know who came to buy paddy fields in his community in Amnat Charoen's Nam Plik subdistrict.
It started with a few plots, then more.
The purchaser offered enticing prices for each plot. Farmers mired in debt could hardly resist such offers that delivered quick cash. Some sold their land without knowing the consequences.
It later became clear that each small tract pieced together in a large land plot, where a new sugar cane mill and a 61-megawatt biomass power plant will be soon built.
The mill, with a total daily processing capacity of 20,000 tonnes of sugar cane, will be run by Kalasin Mitr Sugar Company Limited, owned by Thailand's and Asia's biggest sugar and bioenergy producer Mitr Phol Group. The biomass plant will be fed by bagasse.
The advent of the sugar industry has raised concerns among organic rice farmers. Most of their fears concern herbicides and chemical fertiliser used in sugar cane plantations. Water seizure by cane monoculture is another major worry.
...
Funded by money from their own pockets, a group of organic farmers toured communities around sugar cane mills in the Northeast to get more information.
"I've seen many farmers suffer when they produce only to serve factories. They produce fast. They get support. But they are in great debt from purchasing chemicals and fertilisers to boost growth to catch up with the factories' demand," says Mr Isara.
"They don't actually hold market shares. They have very low negotiation power."
Two public hearings on a sugar cane mill and a biomass power plant were held at Nam Plik. Protesters claimed that the hearings did not provide complete information about the pros and cons of the project.
When Spectrum [= Bangkok Post] requested an interview with Mitr Phol, we were told by its public relations department that the executive who can comment was abroad'.
Finally, following a very interesting and intriguing video describing life in the Lao highlands. It notes the difficulties facing agriculture, practises in using chemical herbicides and eking out a living with hunting and collecting. 
More can be found here.


'This video is Part 2 of the 3-part series that covers the lives of the villagers in Houay Len over a 12-month period. It looks at the lives of three Phong women Mrs. Tong, Mrs. Bua and Mrs. Chueng and examines local women’s lives during the production season from April to August. The women talk about the work that goes into getting fields ready for planting rice and maize, as well as how they feel about pesticides and why they are used in the village. We also learn more about nutrition and where Houay Len’s villagers get their food'.