Thursday, March 12, 2015

Leading by example

Though not significant in itself, the Cambodian PM admits that the country is not going to meet the plans for exports of 1 million tonnes this year. According to the Cambodian Daily (Feb. 18), increased competition is partly to blame as are processing problems.

Export problems though will remain in light of dropping prices thus favouring importers.'s rice market overview shows prices continuing to drop, 0,8% over the month, roughly 10% in annual terms.

How this pans out in reality? Just look at this piece of info from Thailand. The drop in international prices further hinders Thailand's efforts to recoup some of the past financial pledges which are now safely in hands of Thai farmers. Bangkok Post (Feb. 27): 
'Thailand is likely to face difficulty selling rice now that global market demand is slowing amid greater supply and price competition, said Chookiat Ophaswongse, honorary president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association. World rice trade is estimated at 41 million tonnes this year, down from an earlier forecast of 42 million tonnes, he said'.
The Bangkok Post notes (Feb. 25) that the losses under the last democratic government rice policies in financial terms have been revised upwards. Why? Because the current prices are dropping, so in today's terms that means more losses. But if every day prices drop, then isn't the current government responsible for further losses, because they aren't selling fast enough? 

A new kid on the block? Laos wants to boost rice exports. Vientiane Times (Feb.17): 
'The Lao government is working to provide messages on food safety as it continues to promote the increased production of commercial crops for export to neighbouring countries, especially rice production'.
The article sums what's needed for exporting and how the rice production is coming along as well as mentioning that in 5 years production should be 5 million tonnes, while this year it's estimated that production will be 4.2 million tonnes. 
Unsure how exports would work out, as most of Laos rice is sticky rice, which holds little commercial value outside Laos and northeast Thailand. Maybe pushing this might open an exclusive niche for Lao exports. But as they mention interest from China, I doubt that's whats in store ...

Just a slight improvement along the commodity chain for rice exports may well show how exporting can be assisted. Port authorities of Phnom Penh will waive storage fees for stored rice for a maximum of 18 days. So reports the Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 4).

However there are other ways as well. Not often does Cambodia set the rule for Vietnam. But in a recent interview with rice expert Vo Tong Xuan published in Vietnam News (Mar. 10) it appears that Cambodia is the example to follow for Vietnam:
'Last November, at the sixth International Rice Conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's rice was highly valued for its quality, even better than rice from Thailand. A key factor helping Cambodia to gain such a high reputation was support from the International Trade Centre (ITC) through a project to develop a rice trade mark.
Under the project, the ITC helped Cambodia to define a rice variety which has top quality. Next, the ITC supported Cambodia in building a most advanced rice mill and taught Cambodian farmers how to grow the special variety. In addition, the ITC helped eight Cambodian enterprises develop procedures on how to grow the rice.
However, Vietnamese enterprises do not to pay attention to developing their own trade marks. What they do is simply buy rice from traders. The Department of Trade Promotion doesn't have any policies to encourage enterprises to develop trade marks for Vietnamese rice'.
The Cambodian Rice Federation (CRF) though is not sitting on it's laurels. On Feb. 26 they mention that exporters will try to create a single export brand. The next day it also reports on how they would like to form export consortium's so as to upgrade export conditions and able to meet qualifications from major importers.
'They had also expressed the needs to enforce the CRF Ethical Code of Conduct to all exporters, whether they are members of CRF or not as the current “laisser faire” had led to abuses which have tarnished the image of the Cambodian rice and sent export price spiraling downward despite the very good quality of our rice'.
On March 5 has a report on this, more or less as above.

They had also expressed the needs to enforce the CRF Ethical Code of Conduct to all exporters, whether they are members of CRF or not as the current “laisser faire” had led to abuses which have tarnished the image of the Cambodian rice and sent export price spiraling downward despite the very good quality of our rice. - See more at:
They had also expressed the needs to enforce the CRF Ethical Code of Conduct to all exporters, whether they are members of CRF or not as the current “laisser faire” had led to abuses which have tarnished the image of the Cambodian rice and sent export price spiraling downward despite the very good quality of our rice. - See more at:

Write offs
On February 26, the Bangkok Post mentions how the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) will try to write off some debts:
'Proposed by BAAC, the guideline features writing off outstanding debts owed by farmers who were no longer unable to service debts or who passed away. It will also extend the debt repayment period for those who still have the ability to repay'. notes that Thai authorities prefer to lavish money on rice cooperatives: 
'Thailand's Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives is planning to allocate 6.5 billion baht (around $200 million) to support rice farmers' cooperatives to improve their business capabilities, according to local sources'. 
Luckily when the government will change there will probably be no trace of whether or not this money will have been spent wisely. Now that's a policy we like!

Big news in Thailand. Farmers are not growing rice but watermelons. So says the Nation (Feb. 22). And though returns might return more swiftly the article also mentions that growing watermelons was not very profitable ... 
The success of just one industry body for rice in Cambodia has rubbed off on the cassava sector. Same same says Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 3). The problems faced are also the same: 
'He [Pang Vannaseth, director of Battambang’s Agricultural Department] added that while cultivation has been increasing yearly, the sector still faces many challenges such as unstable prices, a shortage of warehouses, and a lack of capital among farmers'.
More market problems, now for Lao cassava farmers. The Vientiane Times (Feb. 17) quotes Champasak provincial officials who believe problems are there to be solved. And their problems are to ask their cassava farmer to sell the crop outside of the province, possibly even Thailand. Thus the lack of working capital at the provincial processor will not be a problem anymore.

Just to show how powerless farmers are in Cambodia, the Phnom Penh Post (Feb. 23) notes that farmers farming land for over 30 years somehow have lost their rights and the land is being sold off as land fill.
'Some 100 farmers gathered at Banteay Meanchey Provincial Hall on Saturday to protest the actions of a company they accuse of excavating 50 hectares of their rice fields for soil, which it sells by the truckload, according to protesters and the rights group Adhoc.
Bearing signs that read “My land is my life”, protesters called for a halt to the activities of the company, which is owned by the deputy provincial military commander, Phlun Hong, also known as Phlun Dara. Villagers said the company told them it was digging a canal for irrigation, but maintained it had not told them beforehand.
Phlun Hong’s company was one of four businesses whose licences were revoked by the Ministry of Mines and Energy late last year. Contact information for the company was unavailable yesterday'.
Finally an interesting article from the states on an answer to some of Southeast Asia's upland rice problems. The answer may be perennial rice? 
Yale university online magazine Environment 360 (Mar. 5) has an interesting report on the future of perennial rice. With having standing crop year round, erosion would be largely dealt with while it would result in much lower labour costs.
'By crossing domesticated rice with its wild predecessors, they hope to create deep-rooted varieties that hold soils in place, require less labor, and survive extremes of temperature and water supply.
Critics argue, however, that perennial grains like PR23 will never be able to feed the world’s growing population. Kenneth Cassman, an agronomist at the University of Nebraska whose work focuses on global food security, says devoting a greater share of the world’s limited agricultural research funding to perennial rice research would be a mistake. 
“The goal is not just to increase agricultural productivity, the goal is to lift people out of poverty and provide adequate nutrition and health,” says Cassman, who worked at IRRI in the mid ‘90s. “And there’s no way that low-yielding perennial grains grown on small, marginal farms can lift anyone out of poverty.” Instead, he argues that farmers should grow drought-resistant trees or pasture — not grains — on steep hillsides to stabilize soils, and scientists should focus on improving annual grain yields in environments that are truly suited to them, such as flat fields with adequate water.
Nevertheless, those involved with the perennial rice research in China say it could have global environmental implications'.

Friday, February 13, 2015


Reaping funds
The Cambodian Rice Federation (CRF) seems to be in the business of self-interest. The Cambodian Daily (Feb. 7) has this information on how the CRF hope to raise funds:
'The Cambodian Rice Federation (CRF) plans to borrow at least $400,000 for international marketing campaigns if it fails to meet its goal of raising $777,000 for the plans through imposing export fees on its members, the organization’s president said Friday at CRF’s annual conference.  
On Monday, the CRF voted to require its members pay an export fee of $0.50 per ton of long-grain white rice and $1 per ton of fragrant rice in order to raise the funds to educate local farmers and market Cambodian rice overseas'. 
Now does there need to be a marketing campaign? Or does the CRF have the authority to impose such a fee? And if so, would this not hurt exports? And how will the money be spent? 
The article then also has this info: 
'Also at Friday’s conference, Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol said the ministries of finance and commerce would borrow $300 million from China to build 40 warehouses and kilns for farmers to dry their rice.
“We will sign a [memorandum of understanding] with China Exim Bank soon, with leadership from the Finance Ministry,” he said.Mr. Chanthol said the move would help to avoid paddy outflow to neighboring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.
A lack of industry capital in Cambodia has long left farmers unable to have their rice processed domestically for export, meaning that they miss out on adding value to their crop and are often pressured to accept lower prices offered by foreign traders'. 
Only to be offered lower prices by national traders?

With this being the year the Cambodian government has meant that it will export 1 million tonnes of rice, the Cambodian Daily (Jan. 19) takes stock. No secret that this export target will not be reached.
'According to an October economic update from the World Bank, significant gains were made in the ensuing years.
“[Cambodia’s] modern rice milling capacity (i.e. the larger mills) increased sevenfold, from 96 tons per hour (tph)…in 2009 to over 700 tph in late 2013,” the report says.
It adds that paddy production more than doubled from 2003 to 2013, from 4.3 million tons to 9.3 tons, and notes that Cambodia’s jasmine rice has been repeatedly named the world’s best rice by the World Rice Conference.
Another industry development came in May, when the country’s myriad miller and exporter associations united to form the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), electing Sok Puthyvuth, the son of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and CEO of local conglomerate Soma Group, as its president.
Upon being elected, Mr. Puthyvuth said the two greatest obstacles to increasing exports were a lack of available funds and the quality of crops'.
However, dropping prices and intense competition have been of little assistance.
'But Cambodia still lacks the transport infrastructure, facilities and capital to guarantee the supply necessary for major trade deals, David Van, executive director of rice miller and exporter Boost Riche Cambodia, said last week.
The World Bank’s October report also notes that high fuel and electricity costs in Cambodia make milling 30 percent more expensive than in Vietnam and Thailand.
An area in which Cambodia has made particularly slow progress is in forming institutions to certify and test crops before shipment.
According to a report released last week by the Geneva-based International Trade Center, this was an impediment to trade for 89 percent of agriculture exporters in the country last year.
“Few agencies in Cambodia are capable of testing and certification of products for export,” the report says'.
Somehow this small piece of national news hardly registered in the Cambodian press. So from (Jan. 29): 
'In a letter adressed to the Prime Minister, a group of opposition leaders noted that declining prices of rice, rubber and mung beans have been significantly impacting the lives of farmers'. 
The blame Thai and Vietnamese traders. Goevernment says they are doing their best. Politics.

In other national news Phnon Penh Post (Feb. 5) has this piece of business info:
'Local rice miller and exporter, QC Rice Company, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) yesterday with Chinese agricultural firm, Rizhao Rui Energy Trading Company, a partnership that will see the two businesses trade in rice and agricultural machinery.
The deal sees Rizhao Rui Energy Trading Company agree to import 250,000 tonnes of Cambodian rice from QC Rice, while the Cambodian rice producer has agreed to import $4 million worth of farm machinery from its Chinese partner'. 
Now I can understand buying rice and selling this into a market such as China, but does Cambodia really need the machinery supplied from China? And how can an industry cash-starved rely on the potential hope of selling a machine to ensure some cash flow?
Another hitch comes in the form of import restrictions for rice in China from Cambodia:
'China’s import quota of 100,000 tonnes of rice from Cambodia is something Kong [CEO of Rui Energy International] said the company would be seeking to lift in order to allow the 250,000 tonnes anticipated in the deal'. 
Note that neither company have a high internet profile ...

More substantive information. The Phnom Penh Post (Feb. 13) reports that organic exports of rice from Cambodia are in high demand:
'Organic rice miller CEDAC is aiming to double its exports this year as competition in the niche organic rice market heats up.
CEDAC buys its organic rice for an average price of 1,650 riel ($0.41) per kilogram, as much as 50 per cent more than the 1,100 riel nonorganic rice farmers receive per kilo.
But CEDAC is not the only firm eyeing Cambodia’s organic rice market for rapid expansion.
Non-organic rice miller and exporter AMRU Rice in September signed a deal with eight farmer cooperatives in Preah Vihear province to purchase 2,500 tonnes of organic fragrant paddy rice for export to the EU and US markets'.
Free press
The hacks over at Bangkok Post (Jan. 28) have a very insightful article on the current status quo of rice trade in Thailand and also how  the former PM's recent impeachment due to irregularities in the rice pledging scheme is to blame. As is customary there, there's a lot of applauding the junta while deriding the previous democratic government.
Just some excerpts:
'The biggest exporter stockpiled 17.8 million metric tonnes after former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra spent $27 billion since 2011 buying at above-market prices to aid farmers. The move threatened the nation's credit rating and helped fan months of protests'. 
Wrong, the protesters were personal, irrespective of whatever policy was or was not in vogue.
'Ms Yingluck was impeached on Jan. 23 for failing to heed warnings about the spiralling cost of rice subsidies, which the FAO said were unsustainable'. 
So if the FAO say they were unsustainable, then that must be true. What's more the former PM was impeached by a military junta whose sole purpose was to get her suspended from any future political activities.
'[Junta] Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is seeking to clear the warehouses without torpedoing the market, saying on Jan 26 the government wants to accelerate sales to reduce inventory costs while ensuring prices are acceptable'. 
Prices since have dropped by 35% thus resulting in a loss for government. But more importantly farmers are highly affected by this selling resulting in lower prices now.
'A decline in the quality of the stockpiles also may limit the impact of sales on prices, which reflect food-grade grain. An audit in 2014 found about 80% was substandard and almost 4% was poor quality, destined for non-food uses.
Most is still food-grade quality and can be sold as long as it's kept dry and fumigated, said Somkiat Makcayathorn, secretary-general of the Thai Rice Exporters Association'. 
So the former PM is impeached because of the findings of the government buying and storing rice with low quality. But they still are saleable as food. It can't be both?

Thai government wants to cut rice production so reports the Bangkok Post (Feb. 2): 
'Rough-rice output may be cut to 33.73 million tonnes by 2016-17, down from an average of 35.11 million over the past six years, according to Apichart Pongsrihadulchai, vice agriculture minister. Growers will be encouraged with incentives including soft loans to shift from rice to sugar cane or to mixed farming with livestock, Mr Apichart said in an interview'. 
This is again an ill-conceived idea. Farmers respond to price incentives and opportunity. If sugar growing were a viable alternative, farmers would have switched long ago. They aren't. And with sugar prices dropping, there will be precious few who will change. 
Add to the price problems, the poor post-harvest processing (trucks unavailable, long waits for factories) and overall incompetence which results in low pay-outs to farmers with little alternatives, well one can hardly blame farmers for noting wanting to change.

Marketing problems galore.
A very strange article in the Bangkok Post (Feb. 9) concerning sales of rice berry, which I am lead to believe is something akin to black rice.
'A group of farmers who delivered their crops of a new strain of grain, Rice Berry, to a wholesaler but did not get paid have finally received the first down payment on their harvests'. 
The article then continues to note that despite the farmers not getting their money, local officials have managed to sell more of their crop and thus all is not lost. 
But the farmers were scammed, how is this positive news? 
All the hoopla: 
'Rice Science Centre then-director Apichart Vanavichit earlier said the new strains, Rice Berry and Sin Lek, were full of anti-oxidants, iron and magnesium substances based on a clinical test by Kasetsart University. The bran and bran oil of Rice Berry contained lupeol that could help prevent cancer cell development or even kill the cells, he said'.
In Laos there's an article from the Vientiane Times (Jan. 27) on the problems with the marketing of corn:
'Sweetcorn growers in the northern province of Huaphan are finally being paid for the crops they sold to a state food enterprise through a middleman, after months of delay.
Acting Director General of the Domestic Trade Department under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Mr Bounthiene Keosipha, confirmed the payments at a press conference recently.

He spoke to local media in response to a question raised through the telephone hotline of the recent ordinary session of the National Assembly.
Through the hotline, a corn grower had called for the authorities to push for payments amounting to 320 million kip for about 600 tonnes of corn, which farmers had sold to a middleman.
He [Mr Oudsy Vongkham,Deputy Director of the Industry and Commerce Department in Huaphan province] said a Viet namese company gave the money to the province's state food enterprise to buy the corn from farmers in Sone – a newly-built district in the province. The crop was destined for Vietnam.
The state food enterprise then contracted with a local businessman nicknamed Mr Khamtui to purchase the crop from local farmers.
“The businessman later gave the money to other middlemen to help with the purchase of the crop, but those men didn't pay the farmers,” Mr Oudsy said, adding that the corn was sold last fiscal year.
After learning about the problem, the department contacted police officials in charge of economic affairs, asking them to look into the matter and identify the responsible parties.
Mr Khamtui has now had his assets seized in a bid to accelerate the payment of the outstanding money to farmers and this is now being carried out'.
To corner the rubber market, Thailand needs to get an agreement with Malaysia and Indonesia. The Nation (Jan. 31):  
'PRIME Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told Malaysia yesterday that a tripartite meeting should be held as soon as possible between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia to find urgent ways to tackle the falling price of rubber'. 
It's so strange, the former Thai government had an ill-conceived plan to corner the rice export market, fails and then is seen as criminals for trying. Current government does the same, the new heroes?

Cambodia Daily (Feb. 6): 
'Cambodia’s rubber export volume increased by about 33 percent last year compared to 2013, while the value of rubber decreased by about 9 percent during the same period, according to figures released by the Ministry of Commerce on Thursday.
Ly Phalla, who heads the Agriculture Ministry’s general directorate of rubber, said the increase in exports last year was likely the result of plantations hurrying to offload their excess stock'.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


There's really not much to mention in this update ...

All clear
For instance there's the boring news from Thailand: how is the junta trying to tackle the former government?
Bangkok Post (Dec. 19):
'The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has cleared senior Democrat Party figures of wrongdoing in connection with rice sales made in 2009 when the party led the government'. 
The Nation (Dec. 22):
'Former Deputy Commerce Minister Yanyong Phuangrach yesterday voiced doubt over results of the government's audit of the rice-pledging scheme, saying they appeared to have been gravely distorted and that granary owners and surveyors should sue the panel in charge of verifying the state stockpiles'.
The Nation (Dec. 28):
'The director of the Marketing Organisation of Farmers (MOF) has been summoned to explain to the government's newly-established National Administrative Centre against Corruption tomorrow about the disappearance of over 100,000 sacks of rice from the government stock'.
Bangkok Post (Jan. 5):
'Attempts to clear the debts incurred by the rice-pledging scheme continued on Monday with the launch of 100-billion-baht bonds by the Finance Ministry and the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperative (BAAC)...'.
Bangkok Post (Jan. 12):
'An inquiry committee set up by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to question former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra about the NLA's impeachment motion is expected to focus mainly on the losses under the rice-pledging scheme'.
Cleaning their hands already?

While rice farmers see some hope in the current Thai regime, rubber farmers remain dissatisfied (Nation, Dec. 15):
'The rubber industry will today ask the government to compensate farmers for a market price below Bt60 per kilogram after initially seeking compensation for prices below Bt80.
The news comes as the government has revealed that it believes a planned rally by rubber farmers in Phatthalung on Friday in response to falling rubber prices is not an attempt to put pressure on the government but merely an information-gathering exercise.
Domestic rubber prices range between Bt35-37 per kg compared to a peak of almost Bt180 over the past few years.
"If the rubber market price is Bt45 per kg, the government will have to compensate farmers for the Bt15 gap. If the price is Bt60 or higher, the government has no need to subsidise," said Manoon Ouppala, chairman of a network of rubber planters in Surat Thani'.
Meanwhile, pepper farmers are doing well, thank you. The Phnom Penh Post (Jan. 6): 
'The price of black pepper rose from $11 per kilogram in 2013 to $15 this year, while red pepper increased from $15 to $25 and white pepper went from $18 to $26, said Nguon Lay, president of the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association.
“The total harvest is expected to be 40 tonnes, while the total cultivation area has increased from 15 to 20 hectares,” said Lay.
Lay said that a lack of supply to keep up with demand was the reason behind the surge in prices'.
Pepper farmers may be the exception to the rule. In Laos, with prices of agricultural commodities going down, agro-industries are also feeling the heat. Vientiane Times (Jan. 6) reports on cassava farming near the Lao capital.
'Pakngum district Governor Mr Vongdeuan Bounnhaseng told Vientiane Times yesterday, “Farmers here have abandoned the cultivation of cassava and are now planting rubber trees instead.”
Farmers in more than 10 districts of Vientiane and nearby provinces had been growing large areas of cassava in recent years to supply the tapioca factory in Pakngum district, which has the capacity to produce 320 tonnes per day.
But their luck ran out when the company ran up a massive debt to the bank that had given it a loan, and was unable to pay farmers for the cassava they supplied'. 
An answer may be niche marketing. In practice, Vientiane Times (Jan. 3):
'As the main producer of khao kai noi rice in Laos, Xieng Khuang province is not only eyeing up more domestic markets, but also plans to expand into foreign markets.
The province is encouraging farmers to grow more khao kai noi rice using organic methods, hoping to attract the interest of consumers in Japan and France.
According to provincial authorities, prospective purchasers from France and Japan have visited the province to look into the situation ...'.
Smelling a rat?
Achievements in growing hybrid rice are sometimes marginally better than those grown normally. So why not shift the focus elsewhere?
One of the biggest threats to rice productivity are rats. Especially in south Vietnam where rice is grown year round, rats can gobble up as much as 20% of the intended harvest. So it's no surprise that rat catching is big business.
The Bangkok Post (Dec. 19) has a very informative article on what they name Vietnam's rat king, Tran Quang Thieu. Mr. Thieu had developed his own trap with a powerful spring. the article mentions that 30 million of these traps have been sold.
'His five children have all joined the family business and between them they now run six specialised companies to trap rats.
... he's signed contracts to help hospitals, hotels, restaurants and schools to exterminate pests - even the Hanoi police headquarters.
"Once, we trapped some 300 kilos of rats in just one night at a tourist resort in Hanoi," he said proudly.
Over the last few years, the rat population has exploded in Vietnam due to a decline in the population of their natural predators - snakes and cats'.
A very interesting read on domestic ingenuity.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


The biggest news this past month for rice growing Cambodia is the fact that Cambodia's jasmine rice, or Phka Romdoul won the world's best accolade. For the third time running, so actually not so newsworthy.

As reported by the Cambodian Daily (Nov. 21). But then they add:
'But this year, the coveted title—awarded by a panel of judges at the World Rice Conference at the Sofitel Hotel in Phnom Penh—was shared with hommali fragrant rice grown in Thailand.'
And though it doesn't mean any extra sales or possible higher prices, it does increase market awareness of Khmer rice. 
Phnom Penh Post concludes much the same: 
'Sok David, vice-president of Golden Rice Cambodia, said the award has show-cased the Kingdom’s quality.
“If your [client] wants a lower price with specific quality, Cambodia can do it,” he said'.
Then the World Rice Conference itself. The Phnom Penh Post (Nov. 20):
'Giving Cambodia a makeover was the focus at the sixth World Rice Conference, which was held yesterday at Phnom Penh’s Sofitel hotel.
Minister of Commerce Sun Chanthol opened the day’s events calling for better branding of the Kingdom’s products and investment environment.
“We need to do two kinds of branding. One is to do branding on products, and another one is to do branding on our country’s image,” Chanthol explained'. 
This article clocked up a response, but possibly not one the minister would like:
'Excellency Mr Minister, the world is not illiterate or stupid. Nobody thinks Cambodia is still in KR era. But everybody knows it is a supremely corrupt country without the rule of law and without human rights. So if you are looking for a Brand and for FDI just get those things fixed and the Kingdom will shine as in the Angkor era. Respectfully, FN'.
The risoitaliano website continues it's ongoing feud with duty free rice imports into Europe. at the possible cost to Italian rice farmers. Roberto Magnaghi (Dir.-Gen. of Ente Risi) in an interview applauds recent drops in imports witnessed from Cambodia, but only to see imports from Burma  overtake  ....

Enhancing Cambodia's rice sector: China will loan cash to Cambodia for building storage capacity. The Phnom Penh Post reports (Nov. 17): 
'China is set to loan Cambodia up to $300 million to build a series of warehouses aimed at assisting the Kingdom’s fledgling rice industry.
The loan is to be used to build more than 10 warehouses equipped with dryers capable of storing at least one million tonnes of Cambodia’s paddy. The facilities will be located along key rural production areas, urban markets and ports along the country’s value chain'.
Farmers problems, according to an article in the Phnom Penh Post (Dec. 5) concerning a consultation process between farmers, ngo's and the government: 
'A lack of irrigation, rising costs of production and finding new markets to sell their produce are problems that plague Cambodian farmers, attendees at the annual National Farmers Forum were told yesterday'. 
No news there.

On a broader level, the Cambodian PM sees that lagging other nations in export compliance is a further hindrance to getting more market share. The Phnom Penh Post (Dec. 2): 
'“Some big developed countries still practise farmers’ protectionist policies as a barrier not to let our products flow into their countries,” he said, without naming any specific nations.
Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) procedures, or the rules concerning food safety, and the application of animal and plant regulations on exports were an added barrier, the prime minister said'. 
Anybody involved with importing (or even exporting) via Cambodian custom officials will also note that less fortunate nations are often hindering all foreign trade ...
Is there no news on rice-pledging? Marginal. The Bangkok Post (Dec. 12) notes that the attorney-general seems still to have insufficient evidence so as to indict former PM. Not so clear cut?

However it's mostly the rubber farmers ruffling the feathers of the junta. 

Failure by rubber producing nations to agree on cuts in rubber production have seen prices drop resulting in more pain to rubber growing nations and their farmers. Predictably those farmers in Thailand want their government to act.
The Bangkok Post  (Nov. 25) reports that about 50 farmers are decrying new proposed legislation to help rubber prices.
'The Rubber Planters Rescue Alliance, which demonstrated in defiance of martial law's ban on political gatherings, also demanded the National Legislative Assembly scrap a proposed law aimed at supporting the rubber industry. Coalition coordinator Sunthorn Rakwong claimed the bill won't boost prices because it was drafted mainly by academics, civil servants and politicians. 
"We want the national assembly to scrap the draft because small-time rubber farmers will have very little say in it and it is not a genuine support measure," said Mr Sunthorn, speaking for 14 southern  farmer groups, told Reuters. "If the national assembly does not scrap it, then rubber farmers all over the country will rise up and protest." 
The draft aims to set up a Rubber Authority of Thailand, including farmers and representatives from the public and private sector, to oversee policy and prices. But Mr Suthorn said the plan would not help all farmers, especially who grow rubber trees but don't own land, and rubber tappers'.
Looks more a class war. One of the proposed actions would be Thailand cutting trees. Now how does that look when Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are still planting more ... 
The solution sought, has been to set up a rubber fund. The Nation reports (Dec. 13) on how an outlay of somewhere near 10 million $US is the answer. With rubber prices currently at just 20% of those in 2011, it seems this outlay will be do little to bring prices up. And certainly do nothing to the long term prospects: more and more rubber is coming onto the market while demand is slow ...

And the rubber farmers are getting restive as witnessed by them now setting an ultimatum to the junta. The Nation (Dec. 10): 
'Disgruntled rubber farmers said yesterday that they were giving the government a few more weeks to push the price of rubber up to at least Bt80 per kilogram, or they would kick off massive rallies'. 
The Bangkok Post the day before than this article notes that the minister can't afford the demanded prices!

As said it's not just Thailand struggling with low rubber prices. The Cambodian Daily (Nov. 27) sees more strangeness: 
'And while Cambodia’s natural rubber export tariffs are set at between 2 and 10 percent, Vietnam has moved to ease the impact on its rubber farmers, slashing export taxes from 5 to 1 percent last December before removing tariffs altogether on October 2'. 
With larger amounts disappearing into the apparent illicit trade to Vietnam, rubber factories in Cambodia are caught. Unable to meet prices offered in the trade to Vietnam, they can go higher only to see them stuck with produce taxed higher than that of neighbours and thus unsalable ....

And in the Vientiane Times of November 6 farmers from the northern province of Phongsaly are hoping that authorities will help them out with selling their rubber. The answer: 
'The provincial authorities asked all the relevant companies to assist the people in their district and proposed the government consider implementing suitable policies for the companies'.
Now how will these lessons translate once rice prices drop. Or fail to rise in the coming years?
Further afield, in Nepal after the showing of the film the Seed Wars, there's discussion on how far companies can be allowed to possess seed patents and therefore the future of farming. The discussion was published in the Nepali Times (14-20 November). Besides this article there is also an opinionated article in the same Times, which promotes the use of GMO, but favours curtailing the power of companies. 
There is quite a lot of reaction to this point of view to suggest that the author may well be barking up the wrong GMO tree ...
Outside of Asia, there is quite some focus on an article on the healthyhomeeconomist website (Nov. 13), a brainstorming process which starts off with non-scientifically trying to link wheat consumption in the US with food allergies. It notices that this doesn't always take place, has it got to do with GMO's? Hybrids? The article then links the practice of drenching wheat with Roundup just before harvest, to gain a few % more yield, a common practice in the US.

On alternet (Dec. 4) the arguments are laid to rest. If Roundup were the cause then we would see much more intolerance of say soy or corn. It's not so says the article's author Jill Richardson. 
Of course most of the comments oppose this. Two counter arguments: Roundup is highly soluble. Only with wheat is it used shortly before harvest with no moist to either dilute or wash off the herbicide. The other is that setting up experiments to link the two might take decades: maybe it's better to err on the safe side ...

Back in Asia, but yet again off-topic
Vientiane Times (Nov. 21) reports on cardamom in the northern province of Phongsaly. In what seems an anomaly for state officials there seems to be problems with prices: come harvest time, prices drop only to recover once the harvests have finished and the stock sold!
'He [Deputy Governor of Khua district Mr Phonethavy Xaymonty] added that more farmers have switched from growing rice to growing cardamom which is a positive sign for reducing slash and burn cultivation'.
Finally, Hong Kong customs have raided a warehouse where counterfeit [!] rice were being packed / sold (Bangkok Post, Dec. 14), this to the detriment of trademarked Thai rice. The report fails to detail what kind of rice was being sold instead ...., possibly cheaper Thai rice?

Thursday, November 13, 2014


A couple of seemingly non-related articles once again featuring the curse of company politics forcing lab developed foods on consumers. With too many unknowns concerning the outcome. Other than lining the pockets of whom we already know (thanks to Thomas Piketty): the rich getting richer ...

It all seems innocent.
While sceptics are holding the fort in Europe, the US is still full steam ahead for GM crops. Or so it seems. The latest are potatoes. The New York Times (Nov. 7):
'A potato genetically engineered to reduce the amounts of a potentially harmful ingredient in French fries and potato chips has been approved for commercial planting, the Department of Agriculture announced on Friday.
The potato’s DNA has been altered so that less of a chemical called acrylamide, which is suspected of causing cancer in people, is produced when the potato is fried.
But the approval comes as some consumers are questioning the safety of genetically engineered crops and demanding that the foods made from them be labeled. Ballot initiatives calling for labeling were rejected by voters in Oregon and Colorado this week, after food and seed companies poured millions of dollars into campaigns to defeat the measures.
Genetically modified potatoes failed once before. In the late 1990s, Monsanto began selling potatoes genetically engineered to resist the Colorado potato beetle. But the market collapsed after big potato users, fearing consumer resistance, told farmers not to grow them. Simplot itself, after hearing from its fast-food chain customers, instructed its farmers to stop growing the Monsanto potatoes.
This time around could be different, however, because the potato promises at least potential health benefits to consumers. And unlike Monsanto, Simplot is a long-established power in the potato business and presumably has been clearing the way for acceptance of the product from its customers'.
All-in-all a not so positive article for GM proponents. But then again they have the approval in the bag. 

The same innocence applies to this article concerning GM eggplant in Bangladesh (CGIAR, Oct. 10):
'Any day now, a hundred Bangladeshi smallholder farmers will be planting their annual aubergine crop.  But this year this select band will not be planting their usual seeds of the crop they call brinjal and many know as the eggplant.
These family farmers, chosen by the country’s agricultural researchers, will be growing a genetically modified (GM) variety.  Bt brinjal has been developed by crop scientists in Bangladesh and neighbouring India to fight off insects that often halve yields and force farmers into daily spraying with dangerous pesticides.
For many, that is a much bigger and more immediate issue, especially with key GM technologies dominated by a handful of companies — most notably, and most notoriously, Monsanto. But do we have to translate a fear of big bad agribusiness into a fear of GMs?  Why, to put it another way, should the devil have all the best tunes?  If our main problem with the technology is who owns it, then let’s liberate it for the common good.
Yes, the technique is owned by Monsanto.  And the company got a lot of stick for initially charging high prices for Bt cotton, when it was first introduced in India two decades ago to fight bollworm.  But Monsanto doesn’t see any profits in a crop like brinjal.  Though one of South Asia’s most popular vegetables, it is mostly grown by poor smallholders.  So a decade ago, the company gave local scientists free use of the gene to put into brinjal and other local crops, such as chickpeas.
Now you might see Monsanto’s free licensing of their technology for brinjal as a Trojan Horse to get GMs into potentially big seed markets like India.  You might be right.  But surely it is also a chance to take a valuable new technology out of the hands of its rich owners and use it in the service of family farmers'.

The author also gets some stick from respondents as he seemingly avoids some of the more contentious issues. One response laid to rest our distrust of Monsanto's ulterior interests:
'You forgot to mention that Mahyco, the Indian seed company who developed Bt Brinjal is 26% owned by Monsanto?
You also forgot to mention that Mahyco Mahyco became India’s first commercial entity to be accused of bio-piracy, or misappropriation, of local germplasm'.
The author also forgot that the seemingly public good of helping farmers also has a distinct private interest: getting consumers used to GM foods. Bangladesh can hardly be an example of consumer protection. Even China, which has invested heavily on hybrid rice, will seek to avoid GM foods from being imported.

And thus we come to the rhetoric concerning Golden Rice: GM rice, again very innocently engineered to pursue a public good (higher vit. A) intake, but to opponents just the next step with which private companies will assault public consumption.

Once again IRRI, the globe's biggest rice research center for public good has given it's support to the development of Golden Rice (Oct. 30):
'“No farmer must be left behind” was the challenge addressed to 1,500 scientists and delegates, hailing from 69 countries, who are here in Bangkok to attend the 4th International Rice Congress (IRC2014).
“This call to action adds all the more to our resolve to continue the research on Golden Rice, a potential new food-based approach to help fight vitamin A deficiency (VAD), a form of hidden hunger,” said Dr. Violeta Villegas, Golden Rice project coordinator at IRRI'.
It again questions it's distracters and emphasises it's public good. 
But fails to see how the introduction of Golden Rice is paving the way for private companies to do likewise, but with the potential profit not being dedicated to a public good, but to private investors ...

Interesting in this is the blog post by Sally Brooks from June last year, referring to a UK government standpoint (hoping for more GM). She replies:
'This is not the first time that the specific case of the Golden Rice project has been deployed as the lynchpin of an argument for policy and regulatory changes to accelerate the commercialisation on GM crops in general. This is problematic for a number of reasons which I have set out in a new article
As well as bringing more heat than light to an already overheated debate, the deployment of Golden Rice as ‘poster child’ in the GM crop debate has had serious consequences for the way the research has been carried out ‘on the ground’ over the years. In research stations in Southeast Asia, the pressure cooker environment surrounding the project has not been conducive to the kind of open discussion and debate – among crop scientists, nutritionists, public health experts, and others – that an ambitious research effort such as this warrants and requires. Unfortunately, too much hype ‘upstream’ has tended to close down opportunities for open scientific enquiry and debate ‘downstream’, just where it is most needed '.
With the outcome yet to take place, debate could at least take a backseat until the pro's (and cons0 have been able to prove their case. In real terms.

No surprises
While we're on institutional nonsense let's bring ADB's most recent nonsense on Cambodia. The Phnom Penh Post (Oct. 30) has an article on an ADB report:
'Cambodia's rice industry remains hindered by the size of cultivation land and an absence of domestic milling facilities as well as irrigation, according to an Asia Development Bank (ADB) report launched this week.
The ADB’s study, released Tuesday and titled Improving Rice Production and Commercialization in Cambodia, states that Cambodia’s average rice yield ranks the lowest among almost all Southeast Asian nations.
The study concludes that agricultural productivity in Cambodia would increase with strengthened land titling and skills development efforts from the Cambodian government, and improved access to finance, which in turn could prompt investment in irrigation and domestic milling.
Srey Chanthy, independent economist, said the ADB report’s findings were not surprising and represent the same issues that have been plaguing Cambodia’s rice industry for almost two decades.
“If we thought we had all the answers, then why is the issue still there? We have to ask how policy is being implemented,” Chanthy said, adding that little domestic revenue is spent on strengthening the agriculture sector.
Chanthy said improving knowledge and skills in farming should be the first priority for the Cambodian government. He called for commercial banks and microfinance institutions to increase the amount of credit available to the fledgling industry from an estimated $800 million to more than $1 billion'.
It is hardly revealing, wonder how much the study cost. It also means questioning the data itself. Thailand is a no. 1 country in export but has a very low productivity, comparable to Cambodia ....

Other rice news from Cambodia. The Phnom Penh Post (Oct. 6):
'The latest rice export figures have disappointed industry representatives with a lower-than-expected increase over the first nine months.
A report from the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture published Saturday shows that from January to September, the Kingdom exported about 270,000 tonnes of rice, up 1.2 per cent from the same nine-month period last year'.
Out of touch
Phnom Penh Post (Oct. 24) with the latest on it's cassava industry:
'Cassava industry officials have brushed off concerns over an industry-wide slowdown amid the release of third-quarter export data.
The latest figures from the Ministry of Agriculture show that from January to September, Cambodia exported about 1.2 million tonnes of cassava. The third-quarter figure is equal to just 62 per cent of last year’s annual export total of more than 2 million tonnes'.
The same source (Oct. 17) has an interesting interview with Chan Sophal (an independent agriculture economist) concerning growing of vegetables. The background:
'But despite agriculture sustaining the livelihoods of the vast majority of the country, Cambodia still imports a large portion of its vegetables from neighbouring countries – Vietnam and Thailand – just to meet domestic demand.' 
One of the reasons, the interview emphasizes, is that Cambodia doesn't have the correct techniques. However much of what is imported are vegetables which can't grow in Cambodia, climatically. 
It is a strange interview as Chan Sophal seems to be out of touch with how to grow vegetables: 
'Vegetable growing is far more different and requires a new set of skills, compared to rice where you simply sow the seed and leave it there. Our farmers do not have this vegetable growing attitude as it requires so much attention and farming technique. The big issues are capital and skill. To start a commercial vegetable plantation, farmers need at least half a hectare to a hectare of land area and at least $5,000 to $10,000 to invest in irrigation systems, which reduce labour costs and ensure high yields. Only farmers with adequate capital will be able to run this kind of plantation'. 
In my experience vegetable growing is an ideal way to generate income for often resource poor farmers, simply because capital is not required, there's little risk and the market easily can absorb what's produced.

In other vegetable news we witnessed a knee-jerk reaction. Phnom Penh Post reports (Oct. 14): 
'Cambodian authorities are stepping up inspection efforts of vegetable imports along the border after Vietnamese produce shipped to the European Union was found to contain harmful bacteria, an official from the Kingdoms import inspection unit said yesterday'. 
This thinking would imply that (hygiene) standards in Vietnam are worse than in Cambodia. At the very best these standards are equal ...

Over to the rubber front which has many similarities: an important crop for many farmers and high prices disappearing. 
Let's start off with Cambodian news on rubber.

Counting the losses
The Cambodian Daily (Oct. 16) reports on Asian wide measures to shore up the rubber market:
'Representatives from Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea met in Malaysia and agreed not to sell rubber below $1,500 per ton, said Men Sopheak, secretary-general of the Association for Rubber Development in Cambodia.
The move will hopefully give those in Cambodia’s rubber industry, which has seen many producers abandon the trade of late due to shrinking profits, more incentive to continue production, he said'.
The Cambodian Daily (Nov. 8) notes that after the agreement prices rose. But for how long?

More rubbery news partially from Cambodia. But it starts in Vietnam. Apparently Vietnam's drive to business success is once again driving corruption. This time round it's the state run Vietnam Rubber Group which has lost a couple of hundred million $ in the past 5 years. Thanhniennews (Nov. 10): 
'State inspectors have recommended penalties for rampant financial mismanagement at the state-owned Vietnam Rubber Group which lost nearly US$391 million over the course of six years
One major violation, according to the inspectors, was the group's significant investment in the Phu Rieng-Kratie Rubber Company which began cultivating rubber in Cambodia in 2007.
Mismanagement of the foreign subsidiary may have resulted in VND483 billion ($22.75 million) in losses, not to mention nearly $1.9 million in loans the company cannot pay back.
Much of this money was lost due to Phu Rieng-Kratie Rubber's investments in non-core businesses, the inspectors said'. 
Most though were investments outside rubber plantations which yielded nada. The Phnom Penh Post chimes in (Nov. 12):
'In 2011, VRG said it had invested $200 million in 100,000 hectares of plantations in Cambodia. Companies are legally allowed to own only 10,000 hectares in economic land concessions.
In February, Phu Rieng Kratie Co transferred 90 per cent of its shares to a Singapore-registered company called Kratie Plantations Holdings, owned by investor David Gardner [most probably website].
Gardner, who could not be reached by phone or email yesterday, is listed as director of Asian and African investments for Global Forest Partners, a multibillion-dollar US-based investment fund which has received money from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation to conduct climate change mitigation programs.
In November last year, Gardner became director of the board of another VRG subsidiary with a 10,000-hectare rubber plantation in the same district.
According to a Global Witness report released last year, VRG has 161,344 hectares of rubber plantations in the Kingdom'. 
Obscuring the truth?

Over in Thailand, the Nation (Oct. 12) dedicates an article to the reverse side of the disappearing of subsidies for rubber farmers: 
'As rubber prices slump, hard-up farmers in Thailand -- the world's top producer of the commodity -- are appealing for a bailout, testing the junta's resolve to end populist policies and an entrenched subsidy culture.
With dawn creeping over his plantation in Pa Ko subdistrict of Phang Nga province, Jade Charongan said tapping his 500 trees for the once-lucrative sap yields around $130 a month.
Three years ago he earned five times that amount ...
Farmers’ groups are calling on the military government to guarantee the price at 80 baht a kilo.
They also want the suspension of a plan to release 210,000 tonnes of stockpiled -- but fast-degrading -- rubber to the market, fearing it will further depress prices.
Their disquiet threatens a fallout with the junta'.
The Nation (Oct. 19) follows up with a small article on how farmers are measuring up government price policies:
'Rubber farmers in Surat Thani said yesterday the government's goal to push for a price of Bt60 per kilogram while also providing farmers Bt1,000 per rai, for up to 15 rai as in a fertiliser subsidy, was acceptable'.
On the 29th the Nation notes the discontent.
'Leaders of rubber farmers in the South have expressed disappointment with the government subsidy of Bt1,000 per rai, limited to a maximum of 15 rai each.
Tossapol Kwanrod, chairman of the rubber and palm oil farmers' network in 16 southern provinces, said the government had ignored calls from the rubber farmers to offer sustainable solutions. It had opted to provide short-term remedies similar to those of previous governments'.
Counting the cost
The Bangkok Post has the inside story on the rice pledge scheme: 
'The government's rice stocks have been found to be in a very poor state, with as much as 90% classified as substandard — and the cost to the state could be 580-700 billion baht'. 
That would be 18-20 billion US$! It continues:
'On Tuesday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha revealed the outcome of a nationwide rice audit led by ML Panadda Diskul, permanent secretary for the Prime Minister's Office, that reported only 10% of the 18 million tonnes of rice was of good quality.
"The report shows 70% of the rice is tainted with a yellow colour, while the rest is in bad condition and not edible and should only be allocated for ethanol production," said Gen Prayut.
The inspection also found about 100,000 tonnes of rice missing.
A Commerce Ministry source said the figure of only 100,000 tonnes of rice missing from state stocks was quite insignificant compared with the 3 million tonnes reported missing in June 2013 by former deputy finance permanent secretary Supa Piyajitti, who chaired a subcommittee overseeing the accounts of the pledging scheme'.
Then later (Nov. 6) it reports losses might just reach 1 trillion Thai bhat (~30 billion $US). It's a very extensive account with lots of doomsday scenario's: it even emphasizes that the country will go broke if an elected (and democratic) government ever gets into power!

And on the thirteenth, Bangkok Post notes the following:
'More than a dozen rice-pledging schemes since 2004 have cost the country 682 billion baht, but about 76% of those losses were caused by the previous government’s four programmes, the Finance Ministry said'.
So what is the cost?

Ways forward
The Nation (Oct. 20) notes the new Thai government policy towards rice farmers:
'Rice farmers nationwide will today receive the government subsidy of Bt1,000 per rai - up to 15 rai - per household.
The registration period for the subsidy will continue until November 15'.
The Bangkok Post on the same day mentions that the first farmers already have the cash on their accounts.

But there are other ways to help poor people. Take this example (The Nation, November 5): 
'A large area of public land covering 5,000 plots in 22 provinces is set to be distributed by the middle of next year so poor and landless citizens around the country can rent areas to grow crops for at least five years, the Lands Department announced yesterday'. 
Farmers were not satisfied, they want to have something they can sell ...
The news follows Thai Prime Minister recent promise to help poor Thais regain happiness via the allocation of public land as a gift in the New Year.

The future for rice marketing may well be niche marketing. Bangkok Post (Oct. 29) has an interesting example of doing business via Facebook:
'Sirimanee Maneethapho, a new-generation farmer in tambon Tha Tarn of Bang Krathum district, said she and her friends had been contacted by a middleman to grow Hom Nil rice in the previous crop with a promise of getting 10,000 baht a tonne for unmilled rice. The group bought seed from the middleman, who said the rice would be sold to health-conscious consumers.
But after they harvested the rice, the middleman did not show up to buy the produce as promised. Ms Sirimanee said at that time she was in urgent need of money to care for her sick mother so she decided to try advertising Hom Nil rice on Facebook. To her surprise, the product received a warm welcome, so much so that she could sell almost five tonnes within three months at around 30,000 baht each. For the new crop, Ms Sirimanee has allowed pre-orders. She plans to grow riceberry — a crossbred variety between brownish purple and black aromatic rice — as well as white jasmine, fragrant and white rice'.
Bangkok Post (Oct. 9) mentions that now the rice pledging scheme has ended, the rice export market has returned to the old situation: Thailand returns to the no. 1 position. Excerpt:
'Two years after losing its place as the world's biggest rice exporter, Thailand has displaced India to return to the top spot, global-industry information firm IHS Inc said Thursday'.
It also mentions this sentence which seems to go beyond that of impartial reporting:
'Global buyers refused to buy it [rice pledged] in retaliation for Ms Yingluck's attempt to manipulate the market by hoarding grain'.
Bangkok Post (Oct. 29) in an unrelated article has these lines:
'Prices have dropped 19% this year, heading for the biggest loss since 2001 and helping keep a lid on global food costs that the United Nations said fell for a sixth month in September. The Bloomberg Agriculture Index of seven commodities slid the most last quarter since 2008 as the USDA projects combined global output of rice, corn, soybeans and wheat will advance to a record this season'.
The Laotian government announces more land deals with China, now also in the south of Laos. So reports the Vientiane Times (Oct. 29): 
'The project will cover an area of 10,000 hectares and the project activities will include rice plantations, irrigation systems, livestock husbandry, fruit tree plantations and modern processing factories'.
The Lao government hopes to increase production of rice for export (Vientiane Times, Oct. 10):
'The government is focusing on increasing rice production for export sales as the country has been growing enough to meet local demand for more than ten years.
In response to the recommendations of the government, farmers all around the country have been changing their growing methods by adopting new planting techniques and acquiring improved seeds.
A large number of farmers have shifted to a more automated form of ploughing and seeding for their rice planting and again at harvest time as the use of the machines speeds up the work and requires much less labour'.

Vietnamnet (Oct. 30) has an article on how subsidies on rice and rice growing work for Vietnam. They don't. 
'The policy on rice subsidy does not benefit Vietnamese farmers and consumers, as rice export prices are even lower than domestic prices'.
One way for a solution would be to remove VAT tax of 5% levied on domestic consumption.