The article is authored by Gabrielle Ward and John Humphreys both of the Professional Research Institute for Management and Economics (PRIME). Apparently a newcomer on the scene, the institute announces itself as:
'The Professional Research Institute for Management and Economics (PRIME) is an independent teaching and research institute that operates in Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and produces research reports, opinion polling, translation, commentary, events, and short courses on a range of topics'.
'Unfortunately, despite growing food production, poverty and malnutrition persist among the rural population. One solution is the use of GMO crops, which have the potential to further boost food production. But, international pressure, scaremongering, and limited capital for investment, prevent the uptake of GMO crops in Cambodia. This holds back potential rice yields of farmers and the efficiency of production....The health and safety of GMOs has been extensively studied. In polls of scientists about the public safety of genetically modified foods, an overwhelming majority insist that GMOs are safe for human consumption. Most food consumed in OECD countries such as the United States and Australia is genetically modified....
There will inevitably remain a demand for non-GMO rice, especially for export, but that doesn’t justify the introduction of new regulation. The technology to increase production and lower food prices already exists, and it is incumbant on the Cambodian government to allow the industry to explore all new opportunities -- including GMO -- without the burden of government restrictions. Pandering to misguided and ill-informed anti-GMO protesters will hurt the Cambodian agriculture industry and punish the poorest 15 percent of Cambodia who continue to suffer from malnutrition'.Unfortunately the authors seem to be drawing lines between unrelated dots.
Introduction of GMO's has no impact (negative nor positive) on poverty and / or malnutrition among the rural poor.
Rice yields can be easily boosted by higher prices, not by introducing GMO's.
Cambodia's rice industry is increasingly being dominated by being a niche player in rice with it's jasmine rice increasingly being sought after.
Most food consumed has GMO's in OECD countries? Not so in Japan / Korea and Europe.
Doing away with any regulation in the food industry is like opening up Pandora's box, once liberated there's no way of stepping back.
'The Philippines’ National Food Authority (NFA) yesterday authorised the import of 750,000 tonnes of rice and has invited the governments of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam to join the bidding process to fill the quota, according to a report from Reuters.But having already lost out twice in the past 12 months, Heang Vutha, director general of Green Trade, said the new tender, which has set a closing date on bids of September 17, is too soon to expect costs to have come down to the point where Cambodia can compete....However, Song Saran, CEO of Amru Rice Company, said that Cambodia could still be competitive in the bidding process if the government was willing to share in some loses and offer incentives to private exporters, through tax cuts, low-interest loans, lower electricity fees or transportation cost reduction.“It is a good opportunity for Cambodia to open the market there again, to show about our quality rice” he said'.
'The Agriculture Ministry and the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) are at odds over the branding of Cambodia’s premium jasmine rice that would help differentiate it from similar varieties sold by Thailand.The CRF is working on a new brand name that it hopes will help distinguish Cambodian rice in the international market.The national rice body wants to bring all varieties of jasmine rice under an umbrella brand name that it plans to announce at the Cambodia Rice Forum in November.“We have set up the market promotion executive committee for naming the quality rice as the trademark, because so far our rice is just known as fragrant rice, because we do not have a specific name,” the CRF’s acting secretary-general Moul Sarith said.Sarith said that inconsistent labelling of Cambodian rice among exporters was diminishing the collective strength of the rice sector.Cambodia’s jasmine rice can be grown from multiple varieties of seeds, including Phka Romdeng, Phka Romeat, and the Kingdom’s distinguished variety, Phka Rumduol – a long-grain, aromatic type of rice and named after Cambodia’s national flower.Phka Rumduol rice variety has been awarded the world’s best rice at the last three annual World Rice Conferences.But the Ministry of Agriculture has already zeroed in on “Cambodia Jasmine Phka Rumduol” as the sole brand name for Cambodian rice.“I would like to urge all rice exporters to use this name from now on,” said Hean Vanhorn, deputy director general at the General Department for Agriculture at the ministry.“I know some rice exporters do not dare to use this name, but we need to change that.”However, selecting a brand name based only on one variety of fragrant rice would confuse buyers, said Song Saran, CEO of Amru Rice and CRF member.He added that when buyers would test the rice they would expect it to be Phka Rumduol, but in actuality it could be either of the other varieties used in Cambodian farming'.
'As Cambodia continues to struggle with its cost competitiveness in the rice sector, rice millers and exporters met with the General Department of Taxation on Wednesday asking for an exemption from paying the 10 per cent value added tax (VAT), saying that it will help ease prices in the sector'.
Then in a more or less related issue, facing opposition from mostly Italian farmers, the EU's commissar for Trade defends the deals for zero duty from amongst others Cambodia and Burma (Oryza, Sep 1).
And though the assurance went some way to addressing Italian concerns farmers groups still note that the exemption stimulates unfair competition and that the profits fall to multinationals rather than poorer farmers. But maybe it was intended to stimulate their economies ...?
More needs for focusing on niche markets for rice as this article from Vietnamnet (Sep. 11) shows:
Funny how they actually are envious of Cambodia.'For Vietnamese rice, the situation is not better. Nguyen Duc Thanh, Director of the Institute for the Vietnam Economic Research and Policy (VERP), said the rice market of Vietnam is increasingly dependent on China.Vietnam is losing its traditional markets. Meanwhile, Thailand is diversifying the market with quality products so it takes footsteps in every market, from picky ones like the US, Japan, Europe, and China to less choosy markets like Africa."The problems of the Vietnamese rice market are: difficulty seeking markets for high quality rice; unable to build rice brands for Vietnam; rice price in the domestic market dependent on export prices; and lack of cooperation among local rice traders and exporters,” Thanh said.Professor Vo Tong Xuan, a senior expert in agriculture, said that while Vietnam’s rice exports fell in both volume and value, Cambodia's rice exports in the last eight months of 2015 increased by 50% compared to the same period of 2014. Cambodian rice is exported to picky markets like China, France and some European countries.To promote its rice, Cambodia launched a large-scale marketing program. It participated in all international rice fairs held in Thailand while Vietnam was absent. They not only brought rice samples for customers to see and taste but also offered a price and signed contracts on the spot'.
Continuing on this subject, Vietnamnet (Sep. 16) looks at the problems of it's domestic exporters and hopes to see a solution for this quandary:
'According to data from the World Food Organization (FAO) in 2015, the export prices of Pakistan’s Basmati rice and Thailand’s jasmine rice were above $1,000 per ton in 2012-2015. At the same time, 5% broken rice of Vietnam has never reached the price of $500/ton'.
So more branding needs?'Therefore, the problem of building a Vietnamese rice brand is more urgent than ever'.
Meanwhile in Thailand ...
'Ministries in charge of government projects must also be instructed to hire farmers so they have some income.The ban means rice farmers would not be able to grow rice for most of the 2015 crop year.This involves 870,000 rai that have not been farmed and the 15 million rai on which planting will be banned'.
'According to an informed source, the Agriculture Ministry was planning to ask the Cabinet to close down water gates and pump stations across the country to stop farmers from pumping water into their farms as soon as the dry season started on November 1'.
'Farmers’ debts have become so severe and chronic that every government in recent memory has been forced to make it a priority.... farmers are often left not only at the mercy of the rain, or lack of it, but also at the whims of loan sharks....Farmers might be happy to see a higher rice price, albeit unrealistically, but the scheme was a double-edged sword because it encouraged farmers to increase the quantity while placing a lower priority on the quality of their rice'.
'Food policy is about much more than growing rice: it requires helping the poor access food'. the article looks in depth at how the policies encouraging large scale oil plantations are actually effecting poorer farmers negatively.
...Plantations are yet to offer a pathway out of poverty on their own, and new programs need to help poor farmers upgrade into oil palm or other profitable crops....Enabling vulnerable farmers stuck in rural poverty to use their own land more effectively continues to be critical. Land may offer an essential safety net when no other is available – until effective social safety nets are rolled out and farmers can find well paid off farm work.
Food insecurity at the household level poses prickly land and livelihood dilemmas. Determined efforts to understand and to address such local dilemmas will provide hope to Indonesia’s rural poor'.
Other opportunities? One of those opportunities may well be sugar to China (Bangkok Post, Sep. 3), at least in the near future:
'Dry weather and a decline in sugarcane planting means China next season will produce its least amount of sweetener in a decade'.