Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Quitters

Little, precious little to share, barely warrants a posting. 
Probably the most notable would be non-agricultural: free press in Cambodia folding in the face of dictatorship, so expect more reports to toe the government policies rather than being market conform or informative.


Even when the press were free, we were constantly receiving very much non-critical messages as the following. The Phnom Penh Post (May 1):
'The total export of agricultural products rose to 5.13 million tonnes last year, up from 4.7 million tonnes the year before, a sign that the sector was on the right track according to Agriculture Minister Veng Sokhon.
Speaking on Monday at the release of the ministry’s 2017 annual report, Sokhon said that while farming in Cambodia had seen remarkable growth in the past few years, more work needed to be done to increase exports, ensure crops were processed in the country and increase compliance with health and safety standards.
...
Rice exports grew by 17.3 percent to reach 635,697 tonnes last year, while rubber also expanded by 30.14 percent to reach 188,832 tonnes, according to the report'.
More but similar from Xinhua (May 2):
'Cambodia produced 10.5 million tons of paddy rice in 2017, up 5.7 percent year-on-year, Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen said on Wednesday.
With the amount of production last year, besides local consumptions, the country would have some 5.56 million tons of un-husked rice, or 3.56 million tons of milled rice, left over for exports this year, he said during the closing ceremony of the annual conference of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries'.
Could we miss what follows (Phnom Penh Post, May 9)?
'Cambodian rice exports have dramatically declined over the past four months compared to the same period last year, causing significant concern for the rice industry even as plans are in the works to expand exports by thousands of tonnes, according to government officials.
The data, released by the General Department of Agriculture yesterday, show that total rice exports in the first four months of this year totalled 197,354 tonnes, compared to the 212,394 tonnes exported in the same period last year, a year-on-year decrease of 7 percent'.
Will the Phnom Penh Post (Apr. 23) be allowed to report from other sources, as whar follows doesn't seem to toe the national line:
'Cambodia’s rice production and exports will likely continue to grow this year and next year despite low milling rates, buoyed by strong demand from China, according to a report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In the report released last week, the USDA forecasted a 4 percent year-over-year increase in rice production during the 2017-2018 harvest seasons, estimating the total haul at 8.1 million tonnes.
...
The rice production estimates are similar to those reported by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) last month.
Also included in the FAO report was an estimate that 44 percent of Cambodia’s total rice exports would be smuggled out of the country this year, with total legal and illegal rice exports increasing by 5 percent to reach 1.35 million tonnes of rice'.
Even Singapore notes (Business Times, 3 may) that the royal oxen predict a bounty harvest ahead. 
'Cambodia's royal oxen predicted a bountiful harvest of rice, the country's biggest crop, as well as corn and beans at an ancient royal plowing ceremony on Thursday.
...
During the ceremony, which signals the start of the new rice growing season, two oxen ate 95 per cent of the rice and corn on offer and 80 per cent of beans presented in ornate bowls'.
Will the oxen fall foul of sensors in the future?

The Khmer Times (May 9) with some niche (?) news:
'The government yesterday announced that a new rice variety known as ‘japonica’ is officially available for farming after having passed performance tests.
Officially called ‘oryza sativa japonica’, the rice variety will be planted in 200,000 hectares around the country, and will be shipped primarily to China, where it is very popular, Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon said Monday.
Tests on japonica and its adaptability to the Cambodian soil have been conducted in Kampong Speu province, after the ministry signed an agreement in January with two Chinese laboratories, Hunan Hybrid Rice Research Center and Jiangsu Long An Agricultural Technology, to study the grain jointly.
...
“As planned, 200,000 hectares of land will be used for planting japonica seeds, producing up to six tonnes of paddy rice per hectare,” he said, although he failed to go into details regarding the provinces where the plantations will be located.'
Trust
No regional bizniz it seems so let's look at some other alternatives. The Khmer Times (Apr. 12)
'Demand for Cambodian cashew nuts remains robust in 2018, with the price of the commodity in the global market having experienced moderate growth in recent months, according to an official from the Ministry of Agriculture.
Kong Pheach, director of the agro-industry department at the ministry, told Khmer Times that the price of cashews is higher than last year, while production of the commodity has also expanded. Demand continues to rise, he said, explaining that more plantations are popping up around the country to meet it.
...
“Almost 95 percent of Cambodian raw cashew nuts were shipped to Vietnam. Only one or two percent of our cashew exports were processed,” Mr Saran (Song Saran, CEO of Amru Rice and founder of the Cambodian Agriculture Cooperative Cooperation (CCAC)) said'.
The Khmer Times (Apr. 28):
'Exports of rubber rose moderately during the first three months of the year, as the market for the commodity continues to be hampered by unstable prices.
During the first quarter of 2018, rubber exports grew by just 880 tonnes, reaching a total of 25,416 tonnes. During that same period, the price of the commodity decreased.
...
Lim Heng, vice-president of An Mady Group, expressed similar concerns.
“With the cost of production being very high in Cambodia, a low price is bad news for farmers and producers, who won’t be able to make a profit,” he said.
In Thailand and Vietnam, the price of the commodity is not affecting the industry as badly because the costs of production is much lower, Mr Heng said, explaining that in these countries the government grants tax cuts to farmers and producers of the commodity.
In 2017, Cambodia exported more than 190,000 tonnes of rubber latex, an increase of 30 percent year-on-year. Vietnam, China, Singapore and Malaysia were the biggest buyers.
Cambodia is the sixteenth largest rubber latex producer in the world'.
The Khmer Times (May 9):
'The government will issue a standard for the type of mango known as ‘keo romeat’, a move that seeks to bolster sales abroad as well as consumer trust on the product, a high-ranking official revealed yesterday'.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Worried

Popping up on the mid term horizon is the never ending quest by Italian farmers to shoulder out cheap imports. Even though they are not in direct competition, there might be something to say for displacing non-risotto rice growers forcing them to solely focus on that market. Anyhow, full grades to the Italians for persistence. 
The Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 30):
'The European Commission has found sufficient evidence to launch an investigation into whether Cambodian rice exported to the EU puts an unfair burden on European rice farmers, potentially imperiling the Kingdom’s tariff-free exports to the bloc.The investigation was launched on March 16 in response to a request from Italy, which called for “safeguard measures” – most commonly import restrictions or tariffs – to be imposed on rice from both Cambodia and Myanmar, according to a notification of the investigation published in the EU’s official journal....Cambodian rice sector representatives said yesterday that the investigation was worrisome, and questioned the legitimacy of Italy’s complaint.“Our rice species are different from Italy’s rice, so what they raise up, it is not possible to hurt their local producers,” said Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodia Rice Federation....The share of the EU rice market captured by Cambodian rice has grown from 13 percent five years ago to 21 percent last year, according to the EU. Meanwhile, the share of the rice market controlled by European producers has fallen from 52 percent to 30 percent over the same period.Italian rice farmers have complained about Cambodian rice imports since at least 2014, but this is the first time a formal investigation has been launched by the commission.EU regulations stipulate the investigation must be completed within a year of its March 16 starting date'.
Note that despite all assurances the EU representatives are not well known for voting with know-how, it's more about voting with their feet.

Cash
It's not the only problem on the horizon. The Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 29) reports on the lack of data adding up:
'The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is forecasting that 44 percent of Cambodia’s total rice exports will be smuggled out of the country through informal channels this year, a persistent problem that weighs down profits and threatens to cripple the industry.The FAO’s forecast, released earlier this month, predicted that Cambodia’s rice exports in 2018 would reach 1.35 million tonnes, a 5 percent increase over last year. But only 750,000 tonnes of that would  be formal exports, according to Shirley Mustafa, an economist at the FAO'.
It continues (Apr. 6):
'Cambodia’s rice exports declined in the first quarter of the year, down 3 percent compared to the first three months of last year, a slide that rice exporters and industry representatives blamed on smuggling operations operating with impunity.According to Agriculture Ministry data released yesterday, Cambodia exported 161,115 tonnes of rice in the first quarter of this year, down from 166,678 tonnes last year.
That’s despite a bumper year for the rice crop, as an improved harvest and strong international market have drawn higher prices from brokers and middlemen coming to buy rice and transport it illegally into Thailand and Vietnam....Smuggled rice is a regular problem for Cambodia’s rice sector. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation forecasted that 44 percent of Cambodia’s total rice exports this year would be smuggled out of the country, which, while problematic for the industry, would be an improvement over previous years.Song Saran, CEO of rice exporter Amru Rice, said that fluctuations in the rice market were normal, and said that farmers would benefit from the higher paddy rice prices. “It is a good option for farmers to sell their paddy rice, they don’t have to worry about the price since brokers from [neighbouring countries] also pay a good price,” he said. Dem Srey Lim, a rice farmer in Battambang’s Sangke district who owns 5 hectares of rice fields, said the price this year for paddy rice was good, up to 1,700 riel per kilogram, compared to just 1,200 riel per kilogram the year before. “Our paddy rice price is good, we are happy to sell all paddy rice,” she said, “We like to sell to Vietnamese brokers, as they pay us cash directly in the field. If we sold to a local broker, they are a week late to pay us.”'
Once again what's important is what returns farmers get. Only then look at the larger scale. And then discover that as a nation you are being outrun by the competition. Improve and improve. And only then complain.

On a side note Channelnewsasia (Mar. 6) looks at Cambodians floating rice:
'Grown in floods and thriving without pesticides, floating rice offers Cambodia a sustainable alternative for its eco-friendly food production amid threats from climate change.
...
In 1975, there were 410,000 hectares of the crops in Cambodia, according to research by the Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment and Society. By 2015, the area had shrunk by 88.6 per cent to 46,759 hectares.
“While high-yield variety rice has a clear domestic and international market acceptability, the same cannot be said for floating rice,” said Dr Van Kien Nguyen and Assoc Prof Jamie Pittock in their research.
The crops, they added, are unpopular in urban markets and largely consumed by farmers, who believe in their health benefits'.
The Khmer Times (Mar. 12) comes up with  chainbloc technology to assist farmers.
'Oxfam Cambodia and Amru Rice will launch next month a pilot programme based on blockchain and smart contract technology to improve living standards for local farmers.
The project, called BlocRice, is powered by cutting-edge technologies and aims to improve farmers’ livelihoods by increasing the transparency and traceability of international supply chains, according to Lim Solinn, Oxfam’s country director.
Smart contract technology lies at the core of the programme. According to Ms Solinn, smart contracts are digital three-way arrangements between producers, exporters and retailers. Their mission is to facilitate, verify or enforce the negotiation and performance of a contract'.
Ups
Nikkei Asian Review (Mar. 08) looks at the Thai rice market noting that it too has it's marketing problems:
'Thailand's production of premium rice has fallen this year for the first time since the country began growing the crop more extensively a decade ago in an effort to shift agriculture to more value-added export products.
...
Total output of premium Thai rice is expected to fall by 40% to around 4 million tons from 6.1 million tons (in paddy base) in 2017, according to the Thai Rice Exporters Association. The association normally makes a fairly precise projection of the annual output based on surveys of farmers and the rice industry each March.
...
The reduced outlook has pushed up the price to $1,150 a ton this week, a more than 50% increase from $750 a ton last year.
...
Charoen Laothamatas, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said Thailand faces "fierce competition" at a time when the strong baht has pushed Thai offer prices to uncompetitive levels. Major competitors include India and Vietnam.
Charoen blamed the reduced output on excessive rains during the harvesting period that reduced yields.
He said offer prices for premium rice ranged between $1,150 and $1,200 a ton this week -- well above the $800 to $900 for comparable grades from Vietnam and Cambodia. The strong baht has made matters worse.
...
Thailand will remain in second place this year, exporting some 10 million tons against India's 12.5 million tons, according to the U.S. department of agriculture. Vietnam is expected to come third with 6.3 million tons'.
But then again there's this from the National News Bureau of Thailand (Mar. 31):
'According to the Thai Rice Exporters Association, Thailand sold 1.9 million tons of rice worth 30.318 billion baht to overseas buyers around the world between January and February. The value and the quantity of rice sold increased 16.1% and 10% respectively compared to the same period last year'.
And yes, Vietnam is also doing well, thank you. Xinhuanet (Apr. 2):
'Vietnam exported nearly 1.4 million tons of rice worth 668 million U.S. dollars in the first three months of this year, up 9.1 percent in volume, and up 23.8 percent in value against the same period last year, according to the Vietnam Food Association on Monday'.
Initiative
When your pleas get ignored there are avenues unknown on which to achieve your justice.

The Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 29) reports on farmers being displaced by a sugar growing behemoth:
'A group of some 70 people gathered on Wednesday outside Phnom Penh Sugar Company’s factory in Kampong Speu asking for compensation in a long-running land dispute.
At least some of those at the demonstration on Wednesday participated last year in protests against the NGO Equitable Cambodia, which had been working to settle the dispute on behalf of villagers – leading to allegations that they had been hired to smear the NGO by the company, which is owned by ruling party Senator Ly Yong Phat'.
However, Inclusivedevelopment.net (Apr. 2) shows a way out:
'Displaced farmers from Cambodia have filed a landmark class-action lawsuit against the Thai sugar giant Mitr Phol. The legal complaint was filed in a Thai civil court by two plaintiffs representing a class of approximately 3000 people who were violently displaced and dispossessed of their land and livelihoods in five remote villages in northwestern Cambodia to clear the way for a Mitr Pohl sugarcane plantation between 2008 and 2009. Mitr Phol, the world’s fourth-largest sugar producer, supplies global brands including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestle and Mars.
...
Following a two-year investigation of the case, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand found Mitr Phol directly responsible for human rights violations committed in conjunction with its operations in Cambodia. The land grab led to the “collapse of the community,” former commission chairman Niran Phitakwatchara said at a press conference in 2015. The commission’s final report held that the company “must compensate and redress the damages caused to affected people.”
Mitr Phol told the commission that it would compensate affected people in accordance with international standards but has failed to do so.
...
In 2011, the displaced families lodged a complaint against Mitr Phol with Bonsucro, the sugar industry sustainability initiative. Instead of holding member company Mitr Phol accountable for violations of its code of conduct, Bonsucro instead presented the sugar producer with its annual sustainability award in 2015. Bonsucro has yet to address a complaint that was resubmitted to the group against Mitr Phol in 2016'.
The Bangkok Post (Apr. 2) picks up on this.
'Farmers from Cambodia have filed a lawsuit in a Thai civil court against Asia's largest sugar producer, accusing it of rights abuses after it allegedly kicked farmers off their land, a rights group said on Monday....Mitr Phol said after it withdrew from the project, it had recommended that the Cambodian government return land "to the affected communities".Seng Loth, a spokesman at Land Management Ministry, which was responsible for the government's involvement in the project, said when contacted by Reuters he was in a meeting and too busy to comment.Government spokesman Phay Siphan said he could not comment and referred queries to the Land Management Ministry'.
There seems to be some lack of clearance on another land grab affair.  Channelnewsasia (Mar. 10):
'Security forces in Cambodia have said they acted out of self-defence in clashes with civilians who were involved in a land dispute with a rubber plantation company in Cambodia’s Kratie province.The confrontation occurred on Thursday (Mar 8) between more than 100 security officers and about 200 villagers, according to local authorities.Initial reports from independent local media, based on eye-witness accounts, suggested several protesters had been killed and dozens injured. However, authorities have denied those reports, saying only two villagers had been injured, along with seven officials....The land dispute, involving hundreds of families, has been running since 2008 when the Memot company was granted 9,000 hectares of land as an economic land concession in Pi Tnou commune'.
Blooming
In other news from Cambodia's ag sector the Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 15) notes:
'A Chinese-based investment firm has announced plans to begin construction on the first of 10 cassava processing plants next month, with a total planned investment of $150 million, according to Agriculture Minister Veng Sokhon.
Hong Kong-based Green Leader Holding Group signed a memorandum of understanding with the government in January, and its first factory is planned to cover 20 hectares in Kratie province’s Snuol district'.
This is followed up, yet again by the Phnom Penh Post (Apr. 2):
'Hong Kong-based Green Leader Holding Group broke ground on a $20 million cassava processing factory in Kratie province’s Snuol district yesterday, part of the company’s plan to spend $150 million on 10 processing factories in the next 3 years'.
How did the pepper season fare? Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 20):
'Farmers of Kampot pepper have had a rough planting season due to climate change, but the decrease in production is unlikely to seriously affect the market, according to the head of the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association (KPPA).
KPPA President Ngoun Lay said he expected his members to harvest just 75 tonnes of pepper by the end of the growing season in June, which would mark a 26 percent decrease compared to last year’s production.
“The yield is less than last year, as in the beginning of season, the flowers of the pepper plant fell a lot because of climate change,” Lay said, adding that it wouldn’t be an immediate problem for farmers due to adequate reserves.
The KPPA is the governing body of farmers who label their pepper as Kampot pepper, which was given geographical indication (GI) status from the World Trade Organization in 2010.
The association’s membership swelled from 387 farmers and 21 distributors last year to 440 farmers and 29 distributors this year, according Lay.
Last year, the group’s members produced 102 tonnes of pepper but sold just 67 tonnes, and currently have about 60 tonnes in reserves, he said'.
The Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 26) also has an interview with Kampot Pepper Promotion Association (KPPA).

Secure
Heading now to the miscellaneous.
An article in the Mongabay (Mar. 8) concerning growing rubber in Southeast Asia and the use of carbon credits to keep land forested, i.e. not become rubber plantations:
'Warren-Thomas and researchers at other universities in the UK as well as U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society and the Forestry Administration of Cambodia investigated how profitable rubber plantations are and if carbon credits are priced competitively enough to discourage deforestation.
The team’s results indicate that they are not. In fact, they found carbon credit prices would need to be increased six- to ten-fold to match the revenue generated by rubber plantations'.
Monsanto is in the court (Guardian, Mar. 5) and is required to prove Round-up is safe. An interesting read. 
Did we also report (Reuters, Feb. 28) that Monsanto will be purchased by Bayer? So expect more opposition to chemical-free agriculture. 

A very interesting youtube vdo on Forest tea in northern Laos. Basically, communities are saving older tea trees when practicing swidden agriculture. A great find suggested by LaoFAB Facebook page (Mar. 30).

Outside the region, but still relevant. We may fume about the ignorance of authorities for all policies on agriculture but even In Australia things are not always hunky-dory.

The SMH (Apr. 2) has an article on how all seeds into the nation will be fumigated, thus rendering the Australia organic sector void of non-national organic seeds.
'Australia is almost totally reliant on imported vegetable seeds. However seeds treated with fungicide would not be considered organic, meaning the range of organic or pesticide-free vegetables grown in Australia would fall dramatically under the proposal....In a statement, the department said Australia’s biosecurity was paramount and the review aimed “to ensure ongoing protection for Australia’s vegetable industry from increasing biosecurity risks”.The review recognised the importance of ensuring Australian producers could access imported seeds, but also “that there is an increased risk of seed-borne pathogens ... and the importance of managing that risk.”“The proposed mandatory treatment ... will help manage the risk of these pathogens being introduced to Australia,” it said'.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Crude

Concerning Cambodian rice news, what surprises most is the source, the Khmer Times. However the news it reveals is less prone to surprise. 

First of all the Khmer Times (Feb. 27) reports :
'The price of Cambodian rice abroad has been on the rise since the beginning of February due to higher demand in China and the European Union, a representative of a local rice export company told Khmer Times'.
Basically it's following overall price increases on the globe. 

Then the news that the Cambodian government wants to assure it's customers. The Khmer Times (Feb. 15): 
'The Ministry of Commerce launched a new agency whose aim is to inspect the production and supply chain of rice branded as ‘made in Cambodia’ to guarantee its origin and provide assurance to foreign buyers.
With Cambodian rice having won multiple international awards for its quality, the move seeks to prevent the sale of foreign rice falsely claiming to hail from the kingdom.
The initiative is precautionary as, according to a ministry official, very few cases of ‘fake’ Cambodian rice have been reported to date'.
Finally, more interesting, an article from the Khmer Times (Feb. 23) concerning contract farming:
'Contract farming schemes in the kingdom work best under the centralised and the multipartite models, a study released yesterday by The NGO Forum on Cambodia revealed.
...
The study looks at contract farming schemes implemented by a group of agribusiness companies, including Amru Rice, Angkor Kasekam Roongroung, Confirel, Golden Rice, Lors Thmey, Cedac, East-West Seed, Entree Baitang, Mong Reththy and Natural Garden.
Researchers interviewed 70 small landholder farmers engaged in six different contract farming programmes, including contracting farming through agricultural communities and semi-formal contract rice farming.
Findings showed that “Contract farming can benefit both small landholder farmers and agribusiness companies the most when programmes are properly designed for a long-term relationship.
”It also concluded that even poorer, marginal farmers can take advantage of contract farming opportunities and that governmental policies that impact access to seeds and land rights are not sufficient to meet the needs of both small landholder farmers and agribusiness companies.
The study recommends the donor community to do more to encourage long-term, mutually beneficial contract farming programmes and to promote other engagement modalities between small landholder farmer and agribusiness companies'.
Lightheaded
Looking over the border the Bangkok Post (Feb. 9) also reflects on the nation's rice market conditions:
'Paddy prices for hom mali fragrant jasmine rice have surged to a five-year high, boosted by rising global demand.
According to Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, purchase demand has led to a surge in paddy prices, particularly for hom mali paddy, whose price stands at 17,000-18,000 baht a tonne, the highest in five years and up from 9,500-11,600 baht a year ago.
"The ministry is upbeat that paddy prices will rise further, especially for hom mali rice, which is in high demand among rice exporters because of limited supply and depleted state stocks," Mr Mr Sontirat said. "The prospects of Thai white rice are likewise positive, thanks to higher purchase demand from foreign buyers and depleted state stocks."
He said overall rice exports look promising after Thailand shipped 1.2 million tonnes of milled rice worth US$578 million or an average $474.91 a tonne in January. Shipment volume rose by 16.5% from 1.03 million tones in the same month in 2017. The Commerce Ministry forecasts rice exports to stay at 9.5 million tonnes of milled rice this year, easing from a record high of 11.6 million tonnes in 2017'. 
The rise though of the local currency vis-à-vis the dollar may make Thai rice less competitive.

The Nation (Feb. 21) shows a vdo of what should have been an auspicious occasion: 



Accompanying text:
'The rice saplings that were thrown to mark an auspicious start to the government’s Thai Niyom scheme – which aims to diagnose people’s problems at a local level – were supposed to land in a rice field.
Instead, they accidentally landed on Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s head, prompting a lighter atmosphere amid the stress that has been building up on the government around the scheme, which some see as a political move by Prayut ahead of the election'.
In reality it's actually seen as another sign that the junta's time may well be up ... 

Power
A chapter for snippets. 

Away from the rice, the Phnom Penh Post (Jan. 31) reports on promised developments for the cashew sector:
'Cambodia and Vietnam signed an agreement earlier this month to greatly expand Cambodia’s cashew exports by 2028, but the proposed export level would require several hundred thousand hectares of additional land and there is no concrete plan yet to meet the target.
Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture and the Vietnamese Cashew Association (Vinacas) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to increase Cambodia’s cashew exports to 1 million tonnes by 2028, up from the about 73,000 tonnes exported last year. Vinacas also gave the ministry a $66,000 grant to support the same target in December'.
Cassava is on the up. The Phnom Penh Post (Feb. 21): 
'The price of cassava jumped sharply this year as many farmers who were fed up with low profits for several years in a row changed crops, thus decreasing the market’s supply and raising the price.
Last year during cassava harvesting season – traditionally from December to April – the price for 1 kilogram of fresh cassava was about 108 riel, or $0.026, while this year it was up to 250 riel, according to Kim Hout, director of Battambang’s Provincial Commerce Department. The price of dried cassava was 715 riel per kilogram, up from 575 riel in 2017'.
The Bangkok Post (Feb. 25) on the kingdom's rubber throes: 
'Farmers have urged the government to help shore up the price of rubber by bartering with foreign countries for military equipment and vehicles'.
And an article by the Bangkok Post (Feb. 6) concerning how agricultural trade takes place in Thailand:
'Welcoming Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to her neighbourhood along the Chanthabun River yesterday, 58-year-old Siripataorn Thanaphurikiatkrai said she hopes the government will help lessen their dependence on merchants or middlemen who are predominantly foreigners, especially Chinese, and who usually have the power to set prices which sometimes are unfair to growers'. 
Blazed
Grain (Feb. 22) has an article on the golden rice developments which seem to be edging forward, a movement in which the hybrid rice industry draws hope that if regulated, then so will their products become acceptable.
'The recent release of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) approval report of International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) application for a Golden Rice ‘safety stamp’ and trade liability clearance have garnered negative reactions and widespread critique.
Testbiotech, a non-profit organization founded as an Institute for the Independent Impact Assessment of Biotechnology in 2008 in Munich, Germany concluded that the “application does not show substantial benefits. Furthermore, the risk assessment as performed by FZANZ is not sufficient to demonstrate safety of food derived from GR2 (Golden Rice 2).” Aside from expounding on the questions of nutritional viability and genetic stability of Golden Rice, Testbiotech also criticized lack of toxicological studies, exclaiming that “…it is self evident that food products with no history of safe use must be subjected to highest standards of risk assessment before the most vunerable groups of the population are exposed to it…”
Civil society in Australia and New Zealand also challenged the soundness of FSANZ decision and appealed to review its approval'.
Continuing with big money issues, the Guardian (Feb. 27) reports on action in Sumatra concerning oil palm expansion:
'Dramatically carved into the landscape of a Sumatran oil palm plantation that borders one of the world’s most unique rainforests are three ominous letters: SOS.
The message stretches half a kilometre alongside a snaking river; a bird’s-eye view gives the eerie sense the land has been given voice, and is issuing a mayday.
“From the ground, you would not suspect anything more than just another palm oil plantation. The aerial view, however, reveals the SOS distress signal,” says the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. For a week Zacharevic has been carefully plotting his concept out tree by tree – or oil palm by oil palm – all 1,100 that were cut down to etch out the message.
The work in Bukit Mas, Sumatra, is intended to convey a pressing distress signal, drawing attention to the ongoing destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests and the critically endangered species, such as the Sumatran orangutan, that reside within it.
...
This year the artist has collaborated with the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS), which, together with the cosmetics company Lush, raised the funds to buy the 50-hectare (124-acre) oil palm plantation with the intention of reforesting it entirely.
Before the oil palms are replaced with tens of thousands of native seedlings, Zacharevic was offered the chance to bring his idea to life.SOS’s director, Helen Buckland, was on site as the art project was under way and cheered as the oil palms were felled'.

Interesting to see, that despite all the negatives surrounding palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia, it's hard to convince policy makers that the route taken needs to take a different direction. 

It's very well illustrated in the documentary Green Gold, which I viewed recently. 
Europe's response to the oil crisis has been to advocate oil substitutes such that even these have become big business with the gross misconduct concerned with large players. 

Even on small scale this has it's imitators. 
Mongabay (Mar. 1) describes how on Borneo even local politicians are setting up companies for relatives awarding these with the necessary permits after which the companies are then sold to larger companies, all at the expense of local communities / environment.

What Green Gold perfectly portrays, is how when the bigger companies smell money to be made, there's precious little that can stand between them and their profits. Energycollective (Nov. 20):
'Ghizzardi recounts the case of UPM, the Finnish paper company that discovered biofuels on a hunt for new products to make up for falling paper sales. It started making biodiesel from crude tall oil (CTO), a by-product of pulping pine trees. The result? A furious chemicals sector coming out with guns blazing to protect what it regards as one of its own raw materials'.
Profit seeking behemoths are dictating our future rather than ourselves.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Interesting

It's the start of the year, when Cambodia sees it's big bosses discuss rice. No difference there, this year. 
Probably the most significant snippet from the meet is the announcement of a national rice brand. The Khmer Times (Jan. 22):
'The annual rice forum starts in Phnom Penh today, bringing together farmers, businesses and researchers for a two-day event that seeks to find solutions to some of the sector’s most pressing questions.
...
Malys Angkor, the first brand name of Cambodian premium rice, will be formally launched during the event'.
Even the Bangkok Post (Jan. 24) chimes in:
'Rice authorities unveiled the “Malys Angkor” rice brand, a new certification mark that encompasses a range of Cambodian fragrant rice varieties'.
The Phnom Penh Post (Jan. 22) delves deeper into the issues of the single brand and more urgent problems as unveiled at the meeting:
'The Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) today announced a new “Malys Angkor” brand to be used as the official moniker for four species of Cambodian fragrant rice.
The first day of the two-day Cambodia Rice Forum also featured the release of a remarkably frank report on the industry group’s internal issues, which acknowledges that the CRF’s numerous flaws are currently preventing it from acting as a proper representative of the country’s rice sector.
Sok Puthyvuth, president of the CRF and son-in-law of Prime Minister Hun Sen, lauded the branding effort at the launch of the forum at Phnom Penh’s Sofitel Hotel today.
...
The Malys Angkor branding push is part of the CRF’s long-term goal to promote the country’s rice sector, but those efforts are being hampered by significant internal problems, according to the group’s “Strategic Plan 2017-2021”.
“Current assessments suggest that there are many challenges facing the CRF,” the report says, noting that board members appear to have “commitment discipline issues” and that many board members only attend meetings “when the meeting is about their interests”.
Other complaints include farmers being pushed aside in favor of millers and traders, as well as more wealthy or connected members having greater access to the CRF’s services and attention than regular members.
Money also appears to be a problem, as “lack of sufficient financing” and few technical experts results in the CRF lacking a way of “sustainably handling requests from of [sic] members of the rice sector.”
In addition, board decisions “often remain unimplemented”, and a new scheme to increase local-level monitoring of the rice sector by placing CRF representatives in various zones around the country may run into trouble because “the CRF appears to not possess all the requirements” to implement the program'.
So, despite the hoopla concerning the single brand it seems the rice sector is more based on lining each participants pocket(s) as she/he wishes. Nothing new to the current Khmer climate, where it seems that there's only one party in town. Literally.

As if the single brand isn't sufficient the Khmer Times (Jan. 23) notes that there's also a focus on having a GI within the brand:
'Rice authorities in the kingdom are exploring the possibility of applying for Geographical Indication (GI) status for rice grown in areas around the Tonle Sap Lake.
Speaking during the Rice Forum in Phnom Penh, Sok Puthyvuth, president of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), said his association will present a proposal to the Ministry of Commerce to consider awarding GI status to rice grown in Siem Reap, Kampong Thom, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat and Battambang, the provinces that surround the Tonle Sap.
Mr Puthyvuth said that creating a brand name for rice grown in areas around the Tonle Sap will make for a sound marketing strategy, helping increase demand for the product in European markets'.
Is this not complicating things?

Ups
Then there's the stocktaking of 2017. The Phnom Penh Post (Jan. 2) notes the numbers are up:
'Cambodian rice exports in 2017 increased 17 percent by volume compared to the year before, with exporters pushing to fill orders under China’s expanded import quota while shipments to European markets remained steady, according to Agriculture Ministry figures.
A total of 635,600 tonnes of rice was exported to international markets in 2017, up from 542,144 tonnes the previous year, according to a Facebook post by Hean Vanhan, director general of the general directorate of agriculture at the ministry.
China, which agreed to accept 200,000 tonnes of rice from Cambodia in 2017 – doubling the previous limit – and will expand the quota to 300,000 tonnes this year, was the top destination for rice shipments.
Over five years, total rice exports have grown 67.78 percent from 378,800 tonnes in 2013, the figures show'.
But are the returns in money terms also as positive? And what is the actual price being paid for becoming more and more dependent on the Chinese market?

The Bangkok Post (Dec. 29) jots down the Thai story of rice over 2017. Quite similar:
'Rice exports hit an all-time record in 2017, increasing by 14.77% this year to at least 11.25 million tonnes as of Dec 27, the Ministry of Commerce said. The price per tonne has risen above US1,000 for popular Jasmin fragrant rice, or hom mali'. 
The Phnom Penh Post (Jan. 10) looks at the government loan scheme. To big business mainly:
The government has provided $30 million in loans to rice millers since September to facilitate the purchase of paddy rice, with the head of a state-run bank saying more money was available if necessary.
The loans were issued to 38 rice millers by the state-owned Rural Development Bank (RDB) following September’s rice harvest, and would need to be paid back by April this year, according to RDB’s CEO Kao Thach'.
A lesser bit of national rice news, but more encouraging. The Khmer Times (Dec. 28) reports on how the Ibis Rice project has been successfully expanded to Stung Treng province.

Seething
Major news from the massive palmoil sector in the region, touching on one potential for Cambodia's ag sector. 

Hoping to cash in on the ill-ventured biofuel programmes (I mean you need more fuel to grow the crops than you receive after harvest) the boom may well be leading to a bust. 
Despite warnings, palmoil plantations have done little to ensure a decent level of sustainability. And no surprise then, that the EU will be discontinuing the palmoil component within the regions biofuel programme. Euractiv (Jan. 17):
'The European Parliament decided today (17 January) to phase-out palm oil by 2021 and cap crop-based biofuels at the member states’ 2017 consumption levels and no more than 7% of all transport fuels until 2030....“The Parliament has sent a message that not all biofuels are created equal by focusing on getting rid of those that drive deforestation like palm oil. But its amendments still risk making it harder for EU member states to realistically boost renewables in transport,” Secretary-General of ePURE Emmanuel Desplechin said'.
The decision has especially Malaysia and Indonesia up in arms, both crying foul play. Mongabay (Jan. 19):
'Officials in Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s biggest producers of palm oil, have lambasted the European Parliament’s decision to phase out the commodity from motor fuels over the next three years due to environmental concerns.
Indonesian Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita said Thursday that the vote to reduce to zero “the contribution from biofuels and bioliquids produced from palm oil” by 2021 was misguided and unfair, given that Jakarta had taken steps to address the environmental impact of the palm oil industry.
The trade minister’s remarks came a day after the European Parliament voted on targets to cap crop-based biofuels, which follows the parliament’s overwhelming decision last year to ban the use of vegetable oils in biofuels. The amendments will now go to the European Commission and member states before they become law.
The move will have serious ramifications for Indonesia and Malaysia, who together produce nearly 90 percent of the world’s palm oil.
...
While the governments seethe, conservation and indigenous rights activists have welcomed the phase-out vote, citing the massive toll the palm oil industry has taken on tropical rainforests and the local communities dependent on them.
Eep Saefulloh, a researcher with Sawit Watch, an NGO that monitors the palm oil industry in Indonesia, criticized the industry talking points that the deforestation caused was legally sanctioned.
“If we’re talking about large palm oil plantations, of course they cause deforestation,” he said. “Unless we’re talking about small farmers only need a hectare or two. But if we’re talking about large plantations that can extend beyond villages and districts, what do we call that if not deforestation?”
This news takes some time to seep through to Cambodia. The Phnom Penh Post (Jan. 24):
'New proposed rules from the European Union restricting the import of palm oil would likely affect Cambodia’s nascent palm oil sector, but the country’s main exporter is hoping that demand from India and China will cushion the blow.
Cambodia’s palm oil exports rose by a whopping 143 percent last year, according to Ker Monthivuth, a sanitation expert at the Ministry of Agriculture. The country exported more than 44,000 tonnes of crude palm oil in 2017, up from nearly 19,000 tonnes the year before, he said.
...
“We will look to what happen in India and China, if they increase [consumption] volume,” he [Prachak Kongtanomtham, vice president of sales and marketing at the Mong Reththy Investment Cambodia Oil Palm Co Ltd] said. “We should find how can reduce our production cost, especially logistic cost and utility,” he added, noting that costs were “very high” in Cambodia'. 
Flied
From the kingdom's fruit front, it's mostly mango making the moves. The Phnom Penh Post (Jan. 22) looks at the export of  the fresh produce:
'Cambodia’s mango shipments have been routinely blocked before making it to the international market, with the Ministry of Agriculture claiming the mangoes are not of a high enough quality to meet the sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements necessary to ship outside of the Kingdom.
According to Hean Vanhan, director general at the General Directorate of Agriculture, the main obstacle for Cambodian mangoes making it to the international market has been the prevalence of fruit flies, which infest prospective shipments of the produce.
“It is not a matter of the quality of our mango – the main obstacle to the market is the fruit fly, which blocks our mango exports and makes it difficult to achieve SPS certification,” he said, adding that the SPS certificate could only be granted to shipments of mangoes devoid of “injurious pests”.
...
In Chayvan, president of Kampong Speu Mangoes Association, said that while the fruit fly has been a problem for mango farmers in the past, most have established methods that ensure there are few to no flies in their mango shipments.
The real reason Cambodia’s mangoes are unable to reach the international market, he said, is because they are often blocked for perceived hygiene-related issues, and he urged the Ministry of Agriculture to hasten its administration of SPS certificates to encourage neighbouring countries to buy Cambodian produce.
“The fruit fly is not our main concern when it comes to being blocked from the international market,” he said, adding that most mango shipments that had been prepared to leave Cambodia had met the SPS requirements. “Our main issue is that the SPS certification is too hard to get from the ministry, and so we have no access to ship to surrounding countries.”
But on the upswing, the same source (Phnom Penh Post, Jan. 4) notes positives for the export of dried mangoes:
'Phillipines-based dried fruit exporter Profood International has begun construction of a new factory in Cambodia that, when completed, should see 4,000 tonnes of mangoes dried annually, according to Philippine news outlet Sun Star.
Justin Uy, Profood founder and president, told Sun Star the 11-hectare plant was expected to begin operations in 2019, and that all mangoes dried at the facility would be slated for shipment to the Chinese market to satiate the nation’s annual 30,000 tonne demand. The company’s entry into Cambodia is intended to strengthen its foothold in the Southeast Asian market. Profood products are sold in 52 countries'.
And now something totally unrelated, but I think it's relevant to this blog. It has  very little common with all the other subjects explored this time round, but I still feel I need to explain. Anyway the Vientiane Times (Jan. 24) reports:
'Chemical and pesticide experts from Laos and other Asean member countries are meeting in Vientiane this week to discuss the harmonisation of maximum pesticide residue limits in the interests of food safety.
...
So far Laos has adopted 768 out of 808 Asean maximum residue limits but lags behind many Asean member states in this regard'.
Boom to bust
Contrasting news.
From Cambodia (Phnom Penh Post, Jan. 18) on the increasing expansion of rubber cultivation, though with a side note on smuggling to Vietnam. Beats me , why Cambodian producers would need to pay an export tax, totally uneconomic.
'The total amount of rubber exported by Cambodia surged 30 percent last year, but widespread rubber smuggling on the Vietnamese border crippled potential profits from the booming industry.
Cambodia generated about $300 million in revenue by exporting nearly 189,000 tons of rubber last year, according to Pol Sopha, general director of the rubber department at the Ministry of Agriculture. The revenue boost was also helped by a 24 percent increase in the average price per ton, which was up to $1,586 last year, compared to $1,283 in 2016.
But while small-scale rubber farmers were able to sell their crops for a profit, the industry as a whole was crippled by massive smuggling operations that shipped much of the country’s rubber into Vietnam tax-free, according to Sopha'.
But over in Thailand, there's more focus on the low prices. The Bangkok Post (Jan. 6):
'Rubber prices are expected to rise to 60 baht a kilogramme in the first quarter after Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia pledged to withhold exports of 350,000 tonnes of natural rubber (NR) from this month until March.
...
Thai natural rubber prices have been falling for several years, largely due to oversupply from major rubber-producing countries. The weak global economy subsequently cut demand in the auto industry, damaging rubber producers as a result.
The drop was also attributed to the growth of rubber plantations in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam in the past 10 years. The CLMV countries currently supply 5.3% of the commodity to the global rubber market'. 
Seeing the pie has not increased, the new entrants are claiming a share, but Thailand seems reluctant. A solution put forward was to allow large scale investment (read take-over) in the Thai rubber sector by China. But the Bangkok Post (Jan. 7) reports on the distrust issue:
'China's plan to invest in rubber plantations in Thailand must be carefully considered, says Grisada Boonrach, minister to the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, but such projects must not impact local farmers. His comment was made in response to a report that China Hainan Rubber Industry Group is set to invest more in rubber plantations in the country, as it has done recently in the CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam). Under these schemes, Chinese nationals oversee rubber production on land leased by the company.
...
Mr Grisada said that as the issue is quite sensitive a thorough study must be undertaken to ascertain the impact on domestic producers. His major worry being that there might be a repeat of the price dumping by Chinese middlemen in fruit markets in the eastern provinces'. 
Then it's reported (Bangkok Post, January 24), that producers will still try to keep the prices reasonable:
'Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are hopeful of seeing the end of sagging natural rubber prices after agreeing on export cutbacks, Agriculture Minister Grisada Boonrach said.
The minister expressed Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are hopeful of seeing the end of sagging natural rubber prices after agreeing on export cutbacks, Agriculture Minister Grisada Boonrach said. The minister expressed confidence about the turnaround of rubber prices following the implementation of the three countries in the International Tripartite Rubber Council to curb exports for three months starting from Jan 10'.
Sugar
The great sell-off in practice. 
The Khmer Times (Jan. 12) notes how Cambodia is counting on China to take some sugar:
'During a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen asked China to increase imports of Cambodian sugarcane.
...
The kingdom imports between 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes of sugarcane every year, according to a representative of Phnom Penh Sugar.
However, only 100,000 to 150,000 tonnes are absorbed by the local market, with the remaining sugarcane being re-exported.
During the meeting yesterday, Mr Li agreed to increase their quota for imports of Cambodian milled rice, from 200,000 tonnes to 300, 000.
During the opening of the LMC summit on Wednesday, Mr Hun Sen also encouraged China to purchase more Cambodian cassava.
Umm, the sugar isn't even Khmer.

Bangkok Post (Jan. 17) describes the measures taken to meet WTO rulings:
'The government has invoked Section 44 to float the local price of sugar, says Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana. The local price had been subsidised by the Thai government. But the government wants the local price to be on a par with the global rate, as its support was in violation of a World Trade Organization (WTO) rule, with other sugar producers such as Brazil crying foul.
The plan to float the sugar price had been postponed since Dec 1'. 
The idea is not to raise local prices, but to hope that world prices will drop to Thai domestic levels. Thus face saved.

Inclination
A few snippets concerning growing cassava. The Khmer Times (Jan. 11):
'Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon met on Monday with visiting US professors W. Ronnie Coffman and Max J. Pfeffer from Cornell University to discuss cooperation in a new project whose purpose is to yield disease-resilient, high yielding cassava.
...
CARDI director Ouk Makara, who also joined the meeting, told Khmer Times that the team of US professors use biotechnology [genomic selection] to cultivate their cassava variety.
“The next generation cassava yields 10 percent more than our cassava,” he said, adding that, on average, Cambodian cassava yields 24 to 25 tonnes per hectare.
Cassava plantations in the kingdom have increased from 30,000 hectares in 2005 to 684,070 in 2016, with total production amounting to 14.8 million tonnes last year, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture.
The provinces in which the crop is grown are Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Pailin, Kratie, Kampong Thom, Tboung Khmom and Oddar Meanchey.
Cambodia exported 2.3 million tonnes of cassava chips during the first nine months of 2017. Cassava chip exports in 2016 amounted to 2.9 million tonnes, which mostly went to China, Thailand and Vietnam'.
Is genomic selection just a short cut for natural selection?

The Vientiane Times (Jan. 15) finally shows us an example of how business should not take place:
'Many of the nation’s cassava farmers remain desperate to recover money that the Lao-Indochina Group Public Company has owed them since failing to pay for their produce in 2012.
The company’s bankruptcy resulted in the firm’s creditors, mostly cassava farmers, incurring further debts to banks, notably Nayoby Bank, leading the situation to its current deadlock.
...
The company ran up debts of 17.5 billion kip to cassava growers five years ago when it got into financial difficulties.
Only 4 billion kip of the total has been repaid to date.
In Vientiane’s Pakngum district alone, farmers sold 21 million tonnes of cassava worth almost 963 million kip to the company for processing at its tapioca factory in the district.
...
Cassava cultivation in Pakngum district is now fairly subdued.
Many farmers are disinclined to grow the crop because they are still indebted to banks as a result of their predicament.
This year, some farmers planted cassava, but in smaller quantities than in previous years with dried cassava then sold to Vietnamese traders.
Farmers want to know when they will get paid for all the cassava they grew and gave to the factory several years ago.
Many still owe money to district banks after borrowing to clear their land and plant cassava. Most of the farmers in question are now growing other crops, while some are pursuing other livelihoods'.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Sticks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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