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'.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Cocktails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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