Saturday, October 21, 2017


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'.
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. 

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'.
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'.
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 (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 (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'.
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.”
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'.
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'.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


Politics determine the lead of this months blog on rice in Cambodia and the larger area. But not necessarily in the same way.

In Thailand, the junta has placed itself above the law and used the courts to criminalize the democratic opposition. Using a flimsy accusation such as a rice policy gone wrong (with no personal gain made) it has failed to recognize that time is always at an advantage to people power: if change is not to come today then there's always a tomorrow. Oppression will never sustain.

Meanwhile the most vocal English voice based in Cambodia to see the shortcomings of the increasingly undemocratic Hun Sen regime, the Cambodia Daily, has been forced to close shop. 
An example of their typical reporting (Cambodia Daily, Aug.  31):
'The Land Management Ministry on Wednesday announced a plan to resolve a yearslong land dispute between thousands of villagers and well-connected sugar barons by early next month, though not all affected communities were included.
The long-running dispute centers on the owners of sugar plantations, including CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, whom villagers have accused of overseeing violent evictions and land grabs. The E.U., an importer of Cambodian sugar, started work on a comprehensive compensation plan for the families more than three years ago.
Eang Vuthy, the head of Equitable Cambodia, who works with communities evicted by sugar plantations, said on Wednesday he had questions about the plan’s narrow scope.
Mr. Vuthy noted there were affected villagers in other provinces—including hundreds in Oddar Meanchey province,
Contacted about why those four districts were singled out, Mr. Laut, the ministry spokesman, said those were the only communities affected by evictions from sugar plantations.
About 40 ethnic Kuoy villagers who were affected by a sugar plantation in Preah Vihear province submitted a petition to the Chinese Embassy on Wednesday. The villagers asked the ambassador to request the Cambodian government cancel economic land concessions granted to Lan Feng and Rui Feng, as well as three other related sugar plantations, which stretch over 20,000 hectares and include more than $1 billion in investment.
More on agriculture and eviction by the Cambodia Daily. All in the name of development it seems, though me thinks it's transferring no-ones rights to a business person with a couple of free loaders profiteering along the way. The Cambodia Daily (Aug 29):
'More than 400 families have been ordered to remove their homes built next to a rubber plantation on land in Kratie province given to Hun Mana, the daughter of Prime Minister Hun Sen, or see them forcibly torn down without compensation.
The government granted 9,855 hectares of an economic land concession to Ms. Mana in 2008, including 700 hectares which has been cultivated into the rubber plantation, said commune chief Bun Nhal.
Meth Thy, 44, who moved onto the land in 2007 and farms on a 12-by-200 m plot, said he has no intention of leaving. “I will not move from the land because my family has stayed here for more than 10 years,” he said'.
If you can't ask these types of questions, the future for the kingdom seems bleak.

Big news on the rice export news front. The Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 10):
'The Kingdom’s apex rice industry body has been meeting this week to discuss ways of nailing down a potentially massive deal with Bangladesh, which earlier this month inked a memorandum of understanding to purchase 1 million tonnes of Cambodian rice over the next five years'.
It gets complicated, as Bangladesh notes that the deal is done, though Cambodian exporters are still to determine what the costs are of exporting to Bangladesh. The Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 25):
'Cambodian officials and members from the private sector have refuted international media reports that claim the price for rice exports to Bangladesh will be set at $453 a tonne as part of a government-to-government deal that hopes to see 250,000 tonnes of white rice exported to Bangladesh by October.
A report released yesterday by Reuters cited two Bangladeshi officials from the Food Ministry as having set the price at $453 per tonne, adding that the purchase agreement was still waiting Cambodian government approval. Cambodia has been negotiating with Bangladesh on prices for a potentially massive deal after inking a memorandum of understanding earlier this month that could see 1 million tonnes of rice sent to the South Asian country over the next five years'.
More export news though not registering high in the Khmer news. UkrAgroConsult (Aug. 9):
'At the stage of inspection of containers on the bags of cereal was discovered dead insects – pests of grain stocks
Inspectors of Rosselkhoznadzor detained 4 of the container with rice grains "Jasmine" with a total weight of 100 tons, arrived from Cambodia, according to the website of the Supervisory authority. The reason for the import was the discovery of dead insects – pests of grain stocks'.
Policy news. The Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 15):
'The government announced yesterday that it would “intervene” to support the price that farmers receive for their paddy rice, though without instituting a price floor or direct subsidies that would jeopardise a free market.
Vongsey Vissoth, secretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF), told representatives of the private sector and agricultural cooperatives that the government would take action to prop up the price that local rice farmers receive for their harvest. 
As part of a new initiative, the government will act as an intermediary in negotiating rice prices and will facilitate transport to help farmers lower their logistics costs.
“Provincial governors and authorities will actively intervene in the market failure,” he said. “Authorities will be responsible for keeping tabs on price-makers to ensure that the price they offer is fair to farmers, and also to provide assistance in transportation, building new infrastructure and preventing unofficial fees from being charged on transport.”
Vissoth said provincial authorities could dip into the provincial budget to provide these facilities to farmers, and should also provide free transport to help farmers get their rice paddy to local buyers or markets.
“This is a short-term intervention in order to stabilise prices for farmers,” he said. “The policy will put pressure on price-makers to raise the prices they offer farmers.”
Earlier the Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 8) reported on more initiatives designed to strengthen the local market:
'The government is pumping more money into its emergency rice loan fund ahead of next month’s rice harvest, raising the fund’s total capital to $50 million despite millers showing little inclination to borrow from it last season.
Kao Thach, CEO of the state-owned Rural Development Bank (RDB), said yesterday that the government had officially signed off on an additional $23 million for the fund, which he said should be sufficient to prop up the struggling rice sector.
“The government recently approved another $23 million to help the rice industry, and the new budget will be used to support millers who have insufficient funds,” he said yesterday.
The government launched the fund with $27 million last September in response to private-sector demands for support following two consecutive years of drought and falling rice prices that threatened to collapse the local industry. 
Regardless of the additional financing, Tang Chhong Ngy, marketing manager of rice miller LBN Angkor (Kampuchea), said rice millers still had the same concerns over meeting the RDB’s collateral requirements.
“The loan is necessary for rice millers, but the collateral is not in line with reality, which is why many have not been able to access the funding,” he said. “The criteria for applying loans can work only for big rice millers and exporters, not for small shareholders.”
The crux of the problem, he added, was that “the loan is meant to help the rice sector, but it does not realise the reality and complexity of the industry”.
Sideline news. The Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 21):
'The Rural Development Bank (RDB) is seeking proposals from registered Cambodian agricultural firms to develop rice storage warehouses and rice-drying facilities in Kampong Thom, Prey Veng and Takeo provinces, each with the capacity to store 50,000 tonnes of paddy rice and dry approximately 1,500 tonnes of rice daily'.
Thailand and the region at large fail to come up with little news than these new rice data from Thailand (Bangkok Post, Aug. 22):
'Around 1 million rai of rice plantation in the Northeast was destroyed by the recent flood, but it is unlikely to have any severe effect on Thai rice production and export, with shippers and industry officials keeping rice export forecasts unchanged at 10 million tonnes. Flooding is expected to support Thai rice prices continuing to rise as global demand remains strong. The Agriculture Ministry said that although rice plantation was hit by the flood, the annual production forecast remained unchanged at 28-30 million tonnes of paddy, or around 18 million tonnes of milled rice. This amount is sufficient for domestic consumption and abundant exports, the agency said.
"The flooding would affect the production of glutinous rice, grown mostly in northeastern areas, but it would not hurt rice exports," Mr Chookiat [honorary president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association]. Glutinous rice makes up 10-20% of total Thai rice production'.
And the agriculture by decree in Lao. Vientiane times (Aug. 29):
'Vientiane is planning to reduce labour intensive rice cultivation with the number of labourers working on rice farms to be cut in half by 2020.
The capital's five-year plan began last year accompanying the Party's modernisation efforts around the country with increased mechanisation in agriculture including the use of rice planters and harvesters.
The Department Director Assoc Prof. Dr Linkham Douangsavanh said "The practice began on a 400 hectare rice farm in Hadxaifong district, and rice planters and combine harvesters are now used on more than 1,500 hectares of rice farms in the district and Xaysettha district".
According to him, labour intensive rice farming resulted in 850,000 kip profit per hectare, while a fully mechanised rice farm provided around 2,500,000 kip profit per hectare.
"The use of machinery can save time while providing additional jobs for the industrial and service sectors," Assoc Prof. Dr Linkham said.
Without use of machinery, 10 to 15 people were required to work one hectare, while only 2 or three people were needed when working with machinery, he added.
The department is expanding the use of rice planters and combine harvesters in Xaythany and Naxaithong districts.
Modernisation of the agricultural sector is included in the capital's five-year socio-economic plan with the reduction of intensive labour rice farming reaching 9.2 percent last year, the first year of the plan's implementation.
The capital is targeting to reduce around 2,700 workers in rice farming this year, with the total reduction to reach 13,500 at the end of the five years (2016-2020).
The Department of Labour and Social Welfare will be engaged to arrange training and allocate new jobs for the workers in the industrial and service sectors'.
There's quite a bit of wider agro news. The Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 4) reports on the banana business:
'Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), which last month became the first company to officially export bananas from Cambodia, has secured more orders for the fruit and will ship another 100 tonnes of bananas from its plantations in Ratanakkiri province today, a company representative said.
The order will be transported overland to port facilities in Vietnam and then loaded onto a container ship bound for its buyer in China, according to Thach Quanh Tha, director of administration for HAGL.
The company delivered its first 100-tonne shipment of bananas to China late last month. Thach said bananas grow year-round and he expects to export similar-sized shipments on a weekly basis.
HAGL’s rubber and oil palm plantations sprawl over thousands of hectares of economic land concessions in northeastern Cambodia. The company has faced repeated allegations of land grabbing from indigenous communities and accusations of decimating ancient forests.
Hean Vanhan, undersecretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, confirmed that HAGL was the first company to officially export Cambodian bananas to international markets. However, he said the shipment was routed through Vietnam, and hinted that it might have been mislabeled as originating in that country.
He said the government was seeking direct access to China, but faced restrictions due to Beijing’s sanitary and phytosanitary requirements for food hygiene and safety'.
In contrast, the banana export from Laos to China has gone down. Vientiane Times (Aug. 25):
'The export value of bananas in the first six months (Q1 and Q2) of this year decreased compared to the same period last year and is expected to decline further.
The drop in exports comes after the government called a halt to the establishment of large scale banana plantations in a bid to prevent environmental impacts, with local authorities also taking stricter action against banana farms. Laos earned almost US$125 million from banana exports in Q1 and Q2 this year, while last year's figure for the same period was over US$137.5 million, according to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
Following the government's new controls, many companies have now abandoned their plantations and destroyed their banana trees, while some are waiting until the end of their contract with farmers.
Although the economic benefits of banana production are substantial, they are unevenly distributed according to preliminary research findings undertaken by NAFRI in 2016 on the commercial production of bananas.
Banana plantations are a good strategy in theory and have the potential to generate income for people in rural areas, but if not properly controlled they can adversely affect farmers' health and soil quality. Commercial production in Laos is generally carried out under the 2+3 model with agreements drawn up between farmers and the investor.
The agreement specifies that farmers contribute their labour and land, while the investor provides seeds and a market for the crop, as well as advising on production techniques'.
Earlier, the Vientiane Times (Aug. 5) explained how it should haven been done:
'Banana plantations in Laos can attract further investment if companies use a feasibility study to propose to the government for consideration.
The proposal should report the target of land concession, the kinds of banana to plant and the rate of fertilizer and chemical to use as well as herbicides and pesticides, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr Bounkhouang Khambounheuang commended.
The land concession should not be in rice fields or irrigation systems and the system of planting the fruit should follow the clean agriculture method as per government policy, he advised. 
he government has ordered a stop to banana plantation expansion projects in northern provinces found to have caused negative impacts on environment and local communities.
Importantly, the companies had not proposed the project to the government, and only signed the contract on land concession direct with local farmers. 
This impacts the quality of rice field soil by using large amounts of chemicals and many farmers got sick and ill by working on the project.
The issue is a major impact in food security affecting rice field numbers in Laos.
Many companies have stopped banana farming and destroyed their farmed banana trees because some of them failed to comply with requirements stated in the signed agreements as they have breached regulations on the import and employment of labour, imported and used controlled chemical substance, had poor environment protection planning as they have littered plastic bags, foams, causing air and water pollution.
All these have caused impacts on the livelihood of nearby communities and consequently attract criticism from local people according to the provincial authorities.
Some are waiting until the end of the contract between companies and farmers before harvesting their crops'.
Away from banana business, there's another informative Cambodia Daily article (Aug. 25), this time on local grapes:
'Amid fields of rice in Battambang province, one family branched out into grapes, creating Cambodia’s first bottles of locally-produced wine. Now they have their sights set on conquering the juice market.
The couple produce about 10,000 bottles of wine annually, with each of the two batches taking six months to prepare, according to Mr. Thai Chheoung. It’s sold only onsite at a cost of $15 or $25, depending on a bottle’s age.
The couple are not the only Cambodians to challenge the status quo of fruit agriculture—although it is a rarity. Strawberries have also recently made an appearance.
In Pursat province, Ouch Sambo and his Spanish business partner began planting strawberries imported from the European country earlier this year, battling with a climate unfavorable to the fruit’s growth—which their first plot did not outlast—as well as international imports'.
From grapes (and strawberries) to pepper. More problems though with marketing. Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 17):
'The traditional supply chain dynamics for the renowned Kampot pepper are breaking down due to a market boom that has brought large-scale investment into pepper cultivation, while sidelining the small shareholders that rely on the benefits of being part of the association that represents them.
Ngoun Lay, president of the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association (KPPA), said that while the annual harvest is typically over by August with the product packaged and sold, about 30 tonnes of peppercorns remain stockpiled due to the increase in production. The increased harvest has put pressure on the association as larger producers have taken priority over their own orders. 
Lay explained that because Kampot pepper has the World Trade Organization’s coveted Geographical Indication status, a growing number of companies within KPPA have taken advantage of its reputation by breaking away from the association’s norms by investing in their own packaging lines.
“We have never been concerned with local packagers before,” he said. “Now we realise this is our point of weakness, and we have to look for new partners for packaging and exporting our products.” 
He [Hym Piseth, production director for local specialty food producer Confirel Co Ltd] added that even if KPPA members find new export and packaging partners, it would not disrupt the company’s existing production chain. Instead, he said that KPPA was to blame for continuously allowing new members to join without securing its own supply chain'. 
Better news for vegetable growers. The Phnom Penh Post (Sep. 1):
'East-West Seed Group, one of the world’s largest vegetable seed companies, has stepped up its presence in Cambodia by officially launching a local branch and taking over distribution operations in the Kingdom to better address local market conditions, a company representative said yesterday.
Rithea [Heng Rithea, country representative of East-West Seed (EWS)] explained that Cambodia’s agricultural industry faces numerous challenges, including a hot, humid climate subject to heavy rains and extreme weather conditions.
“This kind of environment results in high pest and disease pressure,” he said. “Farmers also lack access to technology, basic infrastructure like farm-to-market roads, irrigation and post-harvest facilities and lack of access to credit and finance.”
He said another challenge here was the amount of unregistered seeds that flow into the country from different channels and which, while sold at very competitive prices, are of dubious quality.
“Some farmers who used those seeds without any information or warranty wasted lots of time, money and labour as the seeds did not germinate or provided low yields,” he said'.
More good news, though for less farmers. The Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 24):
'An international certification body has granted its first European Union organic certificate to Cambodian fruits and vegetables, clearing a hurdle for their export to the EU market, German development agency GIZ announced yesterday.
Ten Ra, technical adviser for trade facilitation and standards at GIZ, said that the Khmer Organic Cooperative, a collective of smallholder farmers, was granted the organic certification earlier this month. He added that this recognition would help locally grown organic produce to reach international markets'.
Just to sum up these niches, here's a thought from Lao. The Vientiane Times (Aug. 19):
'After investing a great deal of money to develop their site, Phutawen Farm has reaped a healthy harvest of local and foreign tourists, Socio-Economic newspaper reported this week.
The farm located in Thaphabath district of Borikhamxay province received a lot of interest from visitors for its first official season from January 15 to February 15 this year with about 200,000 people coming through the front gate, far exceeding the owners' expectations, the newspaper reported citing Director of the farm, Ms Dalouny Duangpaseuth.
Based on their initial success Ms Dalouny expected the farm's second season from November this year to March next year to reach an amazing 1 million visitors'.
Niche markets beyond,  how commodities fare. Cambodia and rubber. The Cambodia Daily (Aug 23):
'Citing a big boost from Cambodia’s vast rubber tree plantations, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday said the country’s forest cover had been increasing, before blasting an NGO critical of the country’s illegal logging trade.
Mr. Hun Sen boasted of Cambodia having more rubber tree plantations than Vietnam, saying that the trees would become part of the total forest cover, despite the rubber forests belonging to production factories.
“Our forest cover is now 49 percent, and as other protected areas are included in the future, our forest cover will be vast,” he said during a national forum on protection and conservation of natural resources in Phnom Penh on Tuesday'.
An expansive article highlights the Thai choice to expand rubber growing and what this entails looking onward. The Bangkok Post (Aug. 27):
'Thailand is the world's largest rubber producer, with 4.47 million tonnes of it having been produced in 2015 alone. The country is responsible for one-third of the world's total output. Much of the industry's growth has happened over the last decade. The environment has felt the adverse effects of development, but rubber has also given farmers opportunities to invest in plantation land.
Between January and February 2015, rubber prices plummeted to the lowest figure in the past 13 years -- 36.95 baht per kilogram of natural rubber sheets. By contrast, the highest rate recorded was 174.44 
 baht per kilo in February 2011. Prices have failed to recover since. As of this month, prices remain between 50 to 54 baht per kilogram of natural rubber sheets. This might seem optimistic if it weren't for the fact that the cost of living across Thailand is increasing sharply, forcing the debts of rubber farmers to stack up.
The article highlights the various governments attempts at intervening in the domestic market with little effect other than expanding the business of storage'.
Seeking better times. The Bangkok Post (Aug. 16):
'Asia's top rubber producers will meet in Thailand next month, an official at Thailand's rubber authority said on Wednesday, with export curbs to help boost prices likely to be on the agenda.
Senior officers from the ITRC and the board of its operational arm, the International Rubber Consortium, met on Aug 3 in Bangkok, according to an ITRC press statement.
They expressed concerns "on the current downward rubber price trend" and discussed measures to improve the price of rubber, the statement said.
Officials expect rubber output from Thailand and Malaysia to decline this year due to low rubber prices and bad weather, including heavy rain and floods in northern Thailand'.
Sugar, another of those crops hoping to line the pockets of ex-rice growers is more and more in the doghouse. The Bangkok Post now reports (Aug. 26):
'Tax rates on drinks with a sugar-based sweetener will be gradually raised every two years of a six-year span to give time for producers to reduce sugar content in soft drinks, says Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong'.
Next up, cassave. The Bangkok Post (Aug. 21):
'Thai tapioca exporters have agreed to stop lowering prices to put a lid on the losses incurred by local farmers, industry officials said last week. Members of tapioca export agencies have agreed to work together to stop cutting prices for importers, mostly Chinese, in a bid to halt the domestic price from falling further, said Boonchai Srichaiyongpanich, president of the Thai Tapioca Trade Association.
Tapioca currently sells for 1.90 baht per kilogramme. However, some exporters who have bigger factories with lower costs previously sold it for 1.30 baht per kg, to the detriment of many Thai tapioca exporters and farmers.
The associations have also requested tighter surveillance along the border to keep tapioca products from being smuggled in from neighbouring countries. Such contraband leads to a boost in supply that pushes prices down'.
And then there's plam oil. The Bangkok Post (Aug. 14):
'A decline in the price of palm oil fruit was not caused by market manipulation but an oversupply, the Commerce Ministry says. Nuntawan Sakuntanaga, chief of the Department of Internal Trade, said officials had investigated the falling price and found that supply outweighs demand.
According to Ms Nuntawan, compared with the same period last year, the output of palm fruit from April to June this year has gone up'.
Finally back to the niches, a Lao report on organics. The Vientiane Times (Aug. 4):
'Lao small-scale farmers can now access Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), to help them to increase the supply of quality organic products to the local market.
Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) are locally focused quality assurance systems that certify producers based on active participation of stakeholders and built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange.
The project also helps to assess the country's national legal and regulatory framework and how to adapt to PGS to support for direct marketing through Google maps.
Presently, PGS for organic agriculture has been conducted with smallholder farmer groups in the capital and in provinces of Huaphan, Xieng Khuang, Savannakhet. 
Since 2011 Lao Organic Agriculture Group has welcomed farmers to set up booths to sell their organic products at That Luang Esplanade on Wednesday and Saturdays.
The organic market in Vientiane sells on average around 1.8 to 2.0 tonnes of organic fruit and vegetable and related items a month, helping members of the group to support themselves, families and communities.
They have seen larger sales annually, serving to attract more farmers to switch from growing vegetables using chemical fertilisers to organic methods'.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


The Guardian (Jul. 15) has an interesting article on what may lie ahead in terms of dealing with climate change directly. 
The study mentions does limit itself to maize, but one can imagine that if wheat would likewise become vulnerable, it could well have direct effect on rice / rice prices as rice will become a substitute crop:
'Governments may be seriously underestimating the risks of crop disasters occurring in major farming regions around the world, a study by British researchers has found.
The group found there is a 6% chance every decade that a simultaneous failure in maize production could occur in China and the US – the world’s main growers – which would result in widespread misery, particularly in Africa and south Asia, where maize is consumed directly as food.
Having studied the risks facing maize production, the group is now following up this work by studying climate impacts on the world’s other staple crops – in particular rice, wheat and soya beans – in order to assess how weather extremes could affect their production'.
Furthermore as most rice growing areas are grown in low lying  areas, indirectly higher rainfall and higher sea levels will affect rice output. A double whammy?

To confirm
A possible major breakthrough. Bangladesh may well be interested in Cambodian rice (Daily Star, Jul. 27), large scale. The only thing btw, counting in Cambodia's favour is it's lower price. The Khmer Times (Aug. 1) is pretty sure:
'Cambodia will reach an agreement with Bangladesh tomorrow for the kingdom’s rice to be exported to the South Asian country, according to an official in the Commerce Ministry.
“Under the deal, Bangladesh will import 1 million tonnes of milled rice from Cambodia for 5 years,” said Soeung Sophary, the ministry’s spokesperson yesterday'.
Other rice business news. The Phnom Penh Post (Jul. 12) reports on the exports obtained:
'Cambodian rice exports increased marginally during the first half of the year as export companies push to fulfil higher quotas destined for China.
Rice exports totalled 288,562 tonnes in the first six months of the year, an increase of 7.6 percent compared to the same time last year, according to the latest data published by the Secretariat of One Window Service for Rice Export Formality.
Exports to China accounted for 94,000 tonnes compared to France’s 37,000 tonnes and Poland’s 25,000 tonnes.
Despite the uptick in growth, Hean Vanhan, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, admitted that the figures showed a slow growth trend. He urged the private sector to increase capacity and secure more international orders to strengthen export potential'.
The China Daily (Jul. 8) chimes in but somehow is more upbeat:
'Cambodia exported 94,720 tons of milled rice to China in the first six months of 2017, up 101 percent compared to the same period last year, according to a government report on Friday'.
Elsewhere on the rice business front. The Phnom Penh Post (Jul. 12):
'Amru Rice, one of Cambodia’s largest rice exporters, signed a contract farming purchase agreement with 4,000 organic rice farmers in Preah Vihear province, reserving about $7 million to purchase nearly 20,000 tonnes of organic paddy during the upcoming harvest season, according to a press release yesterday'.
Then some sideline business. 
The Phnom Penh Post (Jul. 6) reports this curious note:
'The Preah Vihear Provincial Agriculture Department on Monday ordered its staff to help farmers by buying up invasive golden apple snails that are currently destroying their rice fields, according to the head of the department'.
While the Khmer Times (Jul. 3) shows how Sino-Cambodian rice business is dealt with:
'A feasibility study into the possibility of establishing a series of warehouses and kiln for rice farmers is exploring how to improve the quality of storage in the industry.
Mr Lak [vice president of Cambodia Rice Federation] could not confirm where the first warehouse and kiln will be located, but according to Jin Yu Hui, vice governor of Jilin province, Battambang is the priority area'.
As is seen by the above the region has also been counting how much rice was exported in the first half of the year and simultaneously spinning some other rice news.

Vietnembreakingnews (Jul. 6) kicks off:
'Vietnam’s rice output during the winter-spring crop was estimated at 19.1 million tonnes, a year-on-year decrease of 1.5 percent, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development'.
Oddly the Bangkok Post (Jul. 6) reports on Vietnam:
'Vietnam has outlined plans to boost revenues from rice exports over the next decade by focusing on a higher quality product and selling more outside Asia.
The world's third-biggest rice producer wants to boost production of higher-quality 5% and 10% broken rice and decrease output of 15% broken rice, according to a paper published on the government's website.
Last year, the country's total rice exports fell by 27% to 4.8 million tonnes as it faced rising competition from Asian rivals, as well as policy changes in China and a fall in domestic production due to drought and high water salinity.
Exports rebounded 14% in the first half of this year to an estimated 2.96 million tonnes'.
Continuing with Vietnam, Vietnamnet (Jul. 9) reports which seems to disregard the above that already 4.8 million tonnes are being exported:
'Vietnam aims to export 4 million tonnes of rice in 2030 under a 2017-2020 rice export development strategy with a vision to 2030 recently approved by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc'.
What am I missing?
Then the Bangkok Post (Aug. 2) reports on Thailand: 
'Thailand is likely to export 11 million tonnes of rice this year, higher than its target, Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn said on Wednesday.
"Thailand is negotiating rice deals with many countries such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh," Ms Apiradi told reporters.
"This will help improve Thai rice prices and push our export volume up to 11 million tonnes," she said.
Thailand, the world's second-biggest rice exporter after India, set an export target of 10 million tonnes for 2017.
It has exported 6.3 million tonnes of rice so far this year, an increase of 16% from the same period last year'.
Away from the data news, the region has more to note on rice growing and business in general.
The Vientiane Times (Aug. 1) realizes that dealing with China is not so easy:
'Rice exports from Laos to China have been affected by the high standard conditions formulated by Chinese authorities, according to a leading Lao rice producer.
A Chinese company ordered 7,200 tonnes of rice last year but the country was unable to supply this amount as the standard required by Chinese buyers is very high, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce reported'. (Jul. 6) blames lower prices on the Thai junta's policy of pushing foreign workers out:
'"Prices have gone down because the baht has weakened," a trader in Bangkok said. The mass exodus of migrant workers since June 23 following the introduction of new labour regulations by the Thai military government has also hit the Thai rice industry with labour shortages.
"The shortage of workers at warehouses and at the docks has led to delay in the loading of shipment and this has hurt exporters' confidence in their ability to fulfil shipments," said another Bangkok-based rice trader.
More than half of the labour force in the Thai rice industry are migrant workers from neighbouring Cambodia and about three quarters of this workforce have left the country, said Chookiat Ophaswongse, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association.
The Thai government has since delayed parts of the new labour law, but many migrant workers have yet to return.
"Thai exporters hesitate to take new order because of the labour shortage and many potential international buyers are thinking twice about buying Thai rice because of this uncertainty," Chookiat said.
The labour shortage could raise the cost of production of Thai off-season crop, he said, which is expected to arrive from around August to September'.
Vietnamplus (Jul. 4) shares with us, news from Thailand:
'Thailand’s rice insurance scheme for this year’s first crop began on July 3 after it was approved by the cabinet last week.
The programme, worth 2 billion THB (around 58.84 million USD), will be run by the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC).
It is expected to be applied on 25-30 million rai (40.000- 48.000 square kilometres) of rice farmland and cover insurance for natural disasters, including floods, droughts, storms, cold, hail and fires'.
While the Thai nation is waiting to be brought up to terms with what punishment the junta will implement on it's democratic predessor (for a popular free hand-out to all rice farmers), The Nation (Jul. 15) opens up about current practices in the rice business:
'Govt accused of rice sale irregularities 
MEMBERS of the Pheu Thai Party have asked the Auditor General to investigate the government’s programme of rice auctions dating to the 2014 coup, alleging irregularities that have caused losses to the state.
The party members led by Yuttapong Charasathein, a former deputy minister of agriculture and Cooperatives, yesterday filed a complaint with the Office of the Auditor General over the alleged irregularities.
Chief among their concerns is that rice fit for human consumption had been declared low grade, and was auctioned off for animal feed and industrial purposes. The sale of rice stocks classified in that category fetched lower prices and, the MPs claim, resulted in reduced government revenue.
Deputy director-general of the Foreign Trade Department, Keerati Rushchano, yesterday denied an allegation made by the Pheu Thai members that that the irregularities in the government’s rice auctions had caused losses of around Bt10 billion.
He said department did not approve a bid to pay Bt11.25 per kilogram for food-grade rice at one auction because the offer did not meet minimum price threshold set by the authorities. While authorities approved Bt 6.10 per kilogram in a later round auction because the bulk of that rice was not food grade.
Meanwhile, Somporn Isvilanonda, a rice expert and member of the committee examining rice quality, said that the Pheu Thai politicians might be trying to play political games with their complaint to the Auditor General. He assured that the rice auctions were transparent'.
Extraordinarily the Bangkok Post (Jul. 19) follows suit and tries to expand on the Nation:
'Even though the military government has vowed to push for reforms in a number of key areas, it seems to have overlooked a critical issue also in need of reform: The management of the state's rice stockpiles.
For decades, the Department of Foreign Trade, under the Commerce Ministry, annually called for bids for state rice stocks to unload pledged rice kept in government warehouses under the rice subsidy policy of previous governments.
Scandals have similarly arisen regarding the ministry's rice-bidding scheme almost every year. Rice auctions under this government are no exception. So what, exactly, is going on?
Taking a closer look at the political interests as well as established personal connections within the realm of rice trading helps shed light on the problem.
Rice is always a valuable political commodity frequently exploited by politicians as a tool to woo votes from farmers. Moreover, numerous politicians or their relatives are rice traders or exporters themselves.
While there are many players in the domestic rice trade, many of them are in fact from the same group. For example, several companies participating in the same state auctions for agricultural products have been found to be subsidiaries of the same major rice-exporting corporations.
In addition, some major rice traders have strong ties with political players. They have long developed close relationships with state officials, potentially influencing their decision-making process.
A recent controversy over "the unfair disqualification" of a bidder in the latest round of rice auctions, exposed to the media by former Democrat MP Watchara Petchthong, is telling.
TPK Ethanol Co, earlier filed a complaint with the Central Administrative Court accusing the Department of Foreign Trade of unfairly disqualifying its winning bid in a 525,000-tonne rice auction in April, even though it offered the highest price.
The court late last month issued an injunction order to suspend the Department of Foreign Trade's auctions for 2.7 million tonnes of inedible rice which was meant to go to the animal feed industry.
In a written response to the company, the department said that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, as the national rice policy committee chairman, and Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Gen Chatchai Sarikulya, as the deputy chairman, had approved the disqualification.
The department's director-general Duangporn Rodphaya said TPK Ethanol had been ruled out because one of its managers served as a director at two companies which had been found to have breached a contract with the department 20 years ago in a cassava price-pledging scheme.
In response, TPK Ethanol executives submitted a letter to the Supreme Administrative Court countering the department's appeal.
The company claims the department's move was discriminatory and applied a "double standard", saying there were three other companies which were not eligible for the auction but were allowed to take part in it anyway.
The first company is comprised of a group of rice traders who were also found to have breached an auction contract last year under a different business entity. The company's board of directors is the same as those of the previous entity, the letter said.
The second company, it alleges, was implicated by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for its involvement in a corruption case related to the government-to-government rice trading scheme implemented by the former government. One of the company's directors is even a suspect facing charges by the NACC, the letter said.
The third one is a rice company which had a dispute with the department over rice auctions but was allowed to join the auction after registering itself under a new company name, said TPK Ethanol.
Another allegation, raised by some Pheu Thai Party members, regarding the rice bidding management scheme under this government, is also awaiting a clear-cut response.
Pheu Thai Party members, led by Yuttapong Charasathein, former deputy agriculture and cooperatives minister, accused the military government of selling 2.14 million tonnes of fragrant rice as animal feed at a knockdown price.
Some traders proposed to buy rice from the government at 11.25 baht per kilogramme but their proposals were declined. But the state later sold the rice at 6.10 baht a kilogramme. This problem existed in 18 warehouses, they claim.
This practice has caused heavy losses in the government's rice stock disposals, while the buck has been passed to the last government, they said.
Although the department claims that the rice was sold at such a low price because its quality had deteriorated and was thus inedible, it has yet to provide the public with a satisfactory answer'.
Bangkok Post (Jul. 31) notes :
'Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd has accused politicians and rice mill owners who are calling for a new inspection of rice stocks under the controversial rice-pledging scheme of being part of a politically-motivated movement. 
Previously, the owners of eight rice warehouses had called on the government to conduct a new round of quality checks on rice under the scheme, saying they weren't confident in the results of past
inspections conducted by officials. According to warehouse owners, normal rice was auctioned along with rice used for producing animal feed, which is a waste of money. They claimed they weren't aware of the government's intention to sell the rice as ingredients in animal feed until the days on which the auctions were held. They added their move should help prevent further losses that could be worth several billion baht'.
After this come a couple of examples and legal arguments'.
So even if convicted, it seems that there will be no end to popularizing and using rice as a stick with which to hit political opponents. Why I beg, should the government be meddling not only in setting prices but in trade as well?

Back to Cambodia, where prices of corn have lead to protests. The Cambodia Daily (Jul. 17):
'After about 500 protesting farmers blockaded a national road in Battambang province last week, local authorities in neighboring districts are now making efforts to placate hundreds of other farmers also restless over depressed corn and cassava prices.
In Banteay Meanchey province’s O’Chrou district, district governor San Sien Ho said yesterday that he had been pre-empting possible protest by visiting local families and asking for patience, though he admitted there was little authorities could do.
On Thursday, corn farmers in Battambang’s Kamrieng district blocked National Road 57B for more than eight hours and called on the government to find a solution to their plight. The following day, farmers and local officials met for six hours, and tycoon Phou Puy offered to buy their corn and dry it himself. Farmers, however, said the offered price of 3.4 baht, or about $0.10, per kilogram wasn’t enough'.
Phnom Penh Post (Jul. 17) reports on the same:
'Farmers in two Battambang districts shut down major roads over the weekend, in protest of low corn prices, according to local officials.
Song Sopheak, Phnom Proek district police chief, said that around 100 families blocked the roads in his district on Saturday for more than two hours. Sopheak said the villagers drove tractors onto national roads 59B and 57, demanding authorities help negotiate a better price.
“They said this year the corn price is down, so they want the authority to help them negotiate with the broker. They said this year the broker only gives them 3.1 baht [around $0.09] per kilo of corn. So now the villagers want 3.4 baht, and the dealers agreed to buy with this price,” Sopheak said, adding that last year corn was sold for 4 baht per kilo.
Kim Ponlork, Sopheak’s counterpart in Kamrieng district, said around 100 villagers protested in his jurisdiction on Friday as well'.
Then the solution. The Cambodia Daily (Jul. 19):
'Following corn farmers’ protests over low prices last week, the Rural Development Bank has proposed using a government rice subsidy to purchase corn and shore up demand.
Yesterday, Kao Thach, the RDB’s chairman, said the bank’s board had met earlier in the day to discuss the proposal for corn, and it was now sending it to the Finance Ministry for approval. Last week, about 500 farmers in Battambang province’s Kamrieng district blocked a national road to protest low prices, and authorities met with corn traders hoping to negotiate better deals. The traders refused to budge, however, from the originally agreed price of 3.5 baht per kg, or about $0.10.
Many crops in Cambodia are produced for export to only a few markets, mainly Thailand or Vietnam, limiting farmers’ options when buyers’ demand flags, he said.
“They only come to buy from us when they don’t produce enough for their use,” Mr. Ngeth added. The issue was exacerbated by Cambodian farmers overproducing crops that did well the previous year, leading to an oversupply, he said. Un Sreyoun, a 40-year-old corn farmer from Kamrieng district, said she hoped for more local buyers to drive up corn prices.
“If more Cambodian traders came, Thai dealers would not dare to lower the price,” Ms. Sreyoun said.
But Mong Reththy, chairman of agro-industrial conglomerate Mong Reththy Group, said his company had bought 1,000 tons of corn from Battambang almost every day this year for his livestock feed factory, and argued that current prices were fair.
“The price [offered] is already good enough for the farmers. Good deal, indeed,” Mr. Reththy said'.
Other non rice news.
The Phnom Penh Post (Jul. 27):
'In an agreement mediated by the International Finance Corporation’s watchdog mechanism, a controversial Vietnamese rubber firm has reached a deal with 11 ethnic minority villages affected by its Ratanakkiri operations to return nearly 20 community “spirit mountains”, restore streams filled or polluted by its activities and repair roads and bridges'.
One needs to note that those companies not with a World Bank interest, can cheat landowners fair and square, no worries.
Rubber is actually on the up. The Phnom Penh Post (Jul. 20):
'Cambodian rubber exports surged 37 percent during the first half of the year, compared to the same period in 2016, as the Kingdom’s rising harvest capacity coincided with firmer global demand for rubber products.
Local producers exported 70,000 tonnes of rubber during the first six months of 2017, compared to 51,000 tonnes during the same period a year earlier, an agriculture official said yesterday.
Pol Sopha, general director of the Rubber Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, said prices also improved during the first six months of the year, with the median export price on natural rubber rising 76 percent year-on-year to $1,771 per tonne. He said the improved prices should help plantation owners and farmers offset some of their losses from recent years, when prices nosedived on slower demand and a glut in world supply'.
An interesting article from the Phnom Penh Post (Jul. 6) on the pepper business:
'Cambodia rice mogul Song Saran, the CEO of one of the Kingdom’s top rice exporters, will diversify his agricultural business interests with the construction of a factory to clean and process locally grown pepper, he said yesterday.
The new factory is being built on 3,000 square metres of land in Memot district of Tbong Khmum province, which accounts for over 70 percent of Cambodia’s pepper harvest.
Its pepper cleaning and processing line is scheduled to open next month and reach its full capacity of 15 tonnes per day by January.
Saran, CEO of Amru Rice and three other sister companies engaged in rice production and export, said the new $400,000 factory is an investment by Amret Rungroeung Group Ltd, a trading firm he established in 2009.
He said the company would initially focus on processing black pepper, but it could eventually add separate production lines for other spices, such as ginger and turmeric.
“We’ll focus on black pepper first as we’ve seen the pepper industry grow very rapidly and we cannot depend only on Thailand and Vietnam as buyers,” he said. “We need to build up our own market and connect to the world.”
According to Saran, this will be only the second processing factory to set up in the pepper-growing region. Buyers in the EU and Dubai have already agreed to purchase shipments of 2,000 to 3,000 tonnes per year, he added'.
It's questionable whether or not Cambodia needs to scale up it's pepper business. But it seems inevitable.

Other crops, other problems. 
The Bangkok Post (Jul. 25) reports on the continuing saga of sugar:
'Sugar prices will be closely monitored despite the government's commitment to the World Trade Organization to free up the production and trading system of the commodity by December, says the Ministry of Commerce. 
Permanent secretary Wiboonlasana Ruamraksa said sugar is on the ministry's control list -- goods whose retail prices are not allowed to be increased -- and is expected to remain so after Dec 1 when the government is due to liberalise the sugar system'.
Bangkok Post (Jul. 10) is less enthusiastic on rubber:
'Discontent among southern rubber farmers against the government has grown even as the government explained it has done its best to ease their woes stemming from plummeting rubber prices.
Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said on Monday it was imperative that farmers understand world rubber prices were dictated by economic factors such as interest rates and oil prices. In the first five months of this year, exports of natural rubber jumped 63.6% to $2.8 billion. Rubber product exports such as tyres and gloves also surged 59% to $4 billion and the momentum continues, he said.
But southern farmers are taking issue with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who said last week 3 million rai of forests had been encroached to grow rubber trees, resulting in a glut'.
Vientiane Times (Jun. 27) has an insight on how coffee trade is undertaken:
'Dao-Heuang Group will seek to repay the money it owes the country’s coffee farmers as soon as possible after the company fell several months behind in payments for the raw beans. 
The company now owes farmers a total of 27 billion kip after it paid off significant debts according to the Champassak provincial Industry and Commerce Department.
The remaining 27 billion kip is owed to almost 2,000 farming families, he said.
Dao-Heuang Group is the largest coffee buyer in Laos, leaving many coffee growers with few alternatives to sell their product as demand from other companies remains limited. The company has confirmed that it will pay all money to farmers but not the timescale.
Coffee remains a key commercial export crop in Laos, and the nation’s product continues to be popular among people from home and abroad while increasingly well-accepted in the international market. The challenges for the industry carry on as the world price for coffee has dropped significantly over the past few months.
According to the Lao Coffee Association, robusta beans are down from US$2,100 in March to US$2,014 this month. 
Falls have been even more spectacular for the higher grade Arabica, which was selling at US$ 3,100 in March before falling to US$2,500 a tonne this month.
The value of coffee exports through the Lao Coffee Association has reached 21,000 tonnes worth more than US$50 million.
This figure is expected to increase in terms of volume and value for the current year'.