Thursday, May 4, 2017

Not fit

GRAIN has an important feature on Golden rice, a genetically modified organism which has great institutional support as a variety of rice that through the provision of vitamin A can reach many of those facing a dietary shortage of said vitamin (Wikipedia). 
At the same time it seems claims that this is the golden bullet to vitamin A deficiency seem far-fetched and it can't be discounted that the mass of support received, is tied in with companies seeing that acceptance of Golden rice will open the floodgates to more GMO and hybrids being allowed for consumption.
From GRAIN (Apr. 20):
'Applications for the field testing and direct use of Golden Rice, a genetically modified crop touted as the solution to Vitamin A deficiency, is presently filed and awaiting approval from the Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Plant Industry in the Philippines
Asian peoples’ organizations coming from India, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines express deep concern regarding the imminent commercialization of the Golden Rice and other GM crops and its effect to their country’s food security, farmers’ livelihood and environmental health.
...
A recent study made by scientist in India showed that the derived lines of Golden Rice produced phenotypic abnormality and poor agronomic performance making it unfit for commercial cultivation'.
What follows are statements from the many regional partners of GRAIN all equally opposed.

Vetting
Cambodia's rice market is in the doldrums as exports are not adding up. And  the culprit is China, so it seems.  The Phnom Penh Post (Apr. 5):
'Amid concerns that the European Union could reject shipments of Cambodian rice, exporters are pushing for more access to China as an alternative market for the Kingdom’s principal agricultural commodity.
Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), said just 26 Cambodian millers have satisfied China’s sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards, making them eligible to export rice to the Chinese market.
However, another 55 millers “have the quality and capacity to export to China” and have requested an inspection by China’s AQSIQ (General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine) to approve their shipments for export'.
Then the Phnom Penh Post (Apr. 19) drops a hint between the conditions set by China and slowing exports of rice:
'Cambodian rice exports declined dramatically in March, causing the average export growth of the Kingdom’s dominant cash crop to increase by only 3 percent during the first quarter of this year, nearly wiping out the double-digit growth seen in January and February.
According to rice export data released by the Ministry of Agriculture yesterday, Cambodia exported a total of 166,678 tonnes in the first quarter this year, up from 162,220 tonnes during the same period last year. While growth in January and February accelerated greatly by 11 percent and 17 percent respectively, the weighted average was bogged down by a 16 percent year-on-year decline for March exports.
Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), said yesterday that the March declines can be attributed to stricter sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards being imposed on shipments to China, Cambodia’s second largest market after the European Union.
He added that only 26 Cambodian millers have been granted official approval to export to China with another 55 waiting to be vetted by China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
“A large amount of the millers that used to export to China in the past are no longer able to export there now,” he said. “If the issue over SPS standards cannot be resolved soon, our export figures will continue to decline and this year will not be good.”
According to Lak, despite CRF lobbying Cambodian authorities to fast-track negotiations with China to allow increased market access, the body has yet to produce tangible results for its members.
...
Song Saran, CEO of Amru Rice, one of the country’s biggest exporters, raised similar concerns about Chinese market access but noted that the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) preemptively submitted a list of only 18 millers, instead of the allotted 26, to China for the current harvest season.
He added that while Amru used to export 7,000 to 8,000 tonnes of rice to China annually in the past, it has yet to be included by the MoC for Chinese clearance.
“Now, we are trying to get into the Chinese market to accelerate our rice exports,” he said, adding that reliance on the EU market had reached a saturation point at about 300,000 tonnes exported annually'.
Cambodia's government's answer from the Cambodia Daily (Apr. 21):
'The Agriculture Ministry is working to have more Cambodian rice exporters permitted to sell in China, as exports to the country have almost doubled in a year, according to government reports.
A statement by the ministry’s general department of agriculture said 26 Cambodian rice companies had so far received permission to export to China, but there were eight others seeking permission who had been denied because they did not mill their own rice. The statement, released on Wednesday, said the ministry’s Chinese counterparts had not responded to requests for increased access'.
The Phnom Penh Post (Apr. 21) reports on the same:
'After Cambodian rice exports declined dramatically in March, caused by what millers claimed was a stricter enforcement of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures by the Chinese government, the Ministry of Agriculture announced yesterday that it would lobby on the sector’s behalf to allow more millers to be eligible for export.
According to a Facebook post by Hean Vanhan, undersecretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, officials sent a letter to the Chinese government asking for the country to accept rice imports from more than the current 26 that have already been approved. This is the second such letter sent to Chinese officials, according to the ministry.
Vanhan in his post asked millers to understand the difficulties the ministry was facing in reaching an agreement for exports'.
As if this is the only problem faced by rice exports, the other main market for Cambodia's rice, the EU, has also set up a target to be met. The Khmer Times (Apr. 10):
'A senior economist from the Asia Development Bank has warned the EU’s ban of Tricyclazole could damage Cambodia's agriculture sector, as farmers rush to eradicate the use of the fungicide by June.
The strict new limits on pesticides will mean rice exported to the EU must not contain more than 0.01 milligram of the chemical per kilogram of the grain'.
Tricyclazole, a fungicide, is 
'Toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects'.source
Used to contain rice blast, Cambodia's government is hoping that wishful thinking will contain the residues and will not affect the export of rice to the EU. In all honesty, it has also put some policy in place (Xinhua.net, 28-3) but policy execution remains weak within the Kingdom:
'Cambodia has banned the import of fungicide Tricyclazole after the European Commission required the country's milled rice industry to eradicate the use of the pesticide by June'. 
Verge 
Earlier in the month, the Philippines had been called upon as a potential market. The Cambodia Daily (Apr. 11):
'Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday he had urged Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to invest more heavily in Cambodia’s rice sector, while also acknowledging the need to lower rice processing costs and find new export markets to boost the competitiveness of Cambodia’s most important crop.
 ...
"So I request our farmers to produce good rice seeds and to not use any toxins or poisonous substances that can cause damage and loss of market [access],” Mr. Hun Sen said'.
More from the sidelines. The Phnom Penh Post (Apr. 25):
'Thaneakea Srov (Kampuchea) Plc, the recipient of a low-interest $15 million loan from the state-run Rural Development Bank, inked contracts yesterday with three companies to build and outfit its massive 200,000-tonne capacity silo and warehouse facility in Battambang province.
The facility, which will have an attached mill capable of processing 3,000 tonnes of paddy rice a day, signed a construction agreement with the Cambodian company NGY Investment. It will also purchase machinery from Taiwan’s Agrosun Co Ltd, and Thailand’s International Rice Engineering Co Ltd, according to an announcement by the Rural Development Bank (RDB) yesterday.
Phou Puy, CEO of Thaneakea Srov, said the construction of the facility would begin shortly, with the silo portion expected to be completed by August while the rice mill should be fully operational for the 2018 harvest season.'
And then to wrap up the Cambodian rice news, the consequences of the failing market conditions. The Phnom Penh Post (May 3):
'Numerous members of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), the body tasked with lobbying on the sectors behalf, have stopped paying membership dues and export fees, claiming that they cannot afford to as the industry continues to struggle with high production costs and regional export competition.
According to the terms of CRF membership, each miller is required to pay $200 annually and an export fee of $0.50 per tonne on white rice and $1 per tonne on fragrant rice.
Chray Son, deputy director of Capital Food Cambodia, said that despite the CRF’s efforts to provide relief to its members, the body had achieved little in lobbying the government and instead praised emergency assistance provided by the state-owned Rural Development Bank.
Nevertheless, he added that with monthly losses during the current harvest season amounting to $10,000 to $15,000, CRF fees were exorbitant and exploited millers that were on the verge of bankruptcy'.
Purity
The ongoing discussion of Vietnam's rice export strategy continues. From Vietstock (Apr. 25):
'Vietnam may itself be a major rice producer in the 10-member Asean group but the country also has a taste for the Lao grain.
In 2013, the value of rice exported from Laos to Vietnam reached over US$5.8 million and increased to US$15.5 million by last year, according to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
...
In addition, Laos plans to produce about five million tonnes of rice by 2020 to ensure food security in the country.
However, the country is importing rice from Thailand for trading.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry this year expects to export about 400,000 tonnes of rice and hopes the figure will climb to one million tonnes by 2020.
The focus will be on specialty varieties including black rice, kaynoi rice, and hom rice.
New and improved varieties such as thadokkham, thasano, phonngam and hom are also in demand across the region.
The ministry plans to increase yields so that white rice accounts for about 30 percent of the total rice crop and is certified with the Good Agriculture Practice (GAP) standard for export.
...
This year, Xuanye (Lao) Co., Ltd is targeting the export of 20,000 tonnes of rice to China.
In 2015, Xuanye (Lao) Co., Ltd was approved by China’s National Development and Reform Commission to be as yet the sole exporter of rice from Laos to China with a quota of 8,000 tonnes.
Laos was unable to meet the deal and was only able to export some 4,000 tonnes of rice including sticky rice and non-glutinous rice.
The Chinese company also ordered 7,200 tonnes of rice last year but producers were unable to supply this amount.
In 2015 and 2016, the country could supply only 5,000 tonnes of rice to China.
This was because the standard required by the Chinese buyers was really high, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce reported'.
The same, more or less from Vietnamnetbridge (Apr. 2):
'Nguyen Do Anh Tuan, director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development, commented that many Vietnamese now don’t eat Vietnam-made rice, priced at just VND10,000 per kilo. The rice products are just for export, not for domestic consumption.
..
While Vietnam focuses on making high-yield and low-cost rice, more and more Vietnamese only want high-quality products. The choosy consumers accept to pay higher prices to buy delicious rice from Thailand, Japan and Cambodia.
An analyst said Vietnamese people’s income has improved, so they have become choosier about rice price.
“They don’t need much rice; they need high-quality rice,” he commented'.
It's therefore surprising that Bayer are launching hybrid rice with the export market as it's focus. On their own website they report (Apr. 15) on
'... a special event to celebrate the launch of its revolutionary hybrid rice seed variety - Arize Tej Vang'.
It claims:
'“Vietnam is currently the world’s No.2 country in rice export, and there is a continuing need to sustainably increase the nation’s production capacity with better rice seeds so that the country can maintain and even improve its export position in the market. By using Arize Tej Vang, Vietnamese rice farmers can look to achieve higher yields and better grain quality with 7.1mm grain length, and this is proven especially when compared to open-pollinated varieties. Arize Tej Vang will contribute to better yield security and enhanced productivity, which will in turn help to secure the incomes of smallholder farmers in Vietnam,” added Sakata [Kohei Sakata, Managing Director of Bayer Vietnam].
With a grain length of 7.1mm, with a grain of rice when processing fragrant, soft and disease resistance BLB, Arize Tej Vang has the potential to compete with the current high quality purebred rice varieties and to improve the quality of Vietnamese rice exports'.
So the argument is for more quality whereas what Bayer-VN have on offer is more lower quality grain. It's claim that it has better quality than open-pollinated varieties seems shaky; as hybrid rice in the past has often been of much lower quality. 
What is very disturbing is the suggestion that exporting hybrid rice is the way forward. With consumers worldwide being sceptic towards hybrid rice the possibility of hybrid rice getting mixed with other rice varieties may well cost Vietnam dear.
 
Break
Surprisingly the tightening of the rubber market is continuing, partially due to Southeast Asian countries willing to step into the market. From the Bangkok Post (Apr. 23):
'Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are cooperating to ensure stability of world rubber prices, which continue to fluctuate after signs of recovery. 
... 
They agreed that rubber prices will continue to rise because of several factors, including lower supply due to heavy rainfall and flooding in the South of Thailand. However, the big players in the natural rubber industry see prices as still volatile'. 
Naturally this has also resulted in an upswing for rubber in Cambodia (Phnom Penh Post, Apr. 27)
'Cambodian rubber exports increased 32 percent during the first three months of the year compared with the same period last year, while prices grew 132 percent during the first quarter, an agriculture official said yesterday.
The Kingdom exported 32,000 tonnes of rubber in the first quarter of 2017 with average prices reaching $2,032 per tonne, compared to $890 in the first quarter of 2016, according to Pol Sopha, general director of the General Directorate for rubber at the Ministry of Agriculture.
“We already surpassed the break-even point for rubber and I think that rubber producers will be able to accumulate profit and increase their yields for the next production cycle,” he said. “We project that rubber prices will continue to increase this year due to the increasing demand from the international market.”
...
Heng Sreng, director of local rubber firm Long Sreng International, said the industry also faced the challenge of high logistic costs for transportation and electricity costs for production.
“We are faced with the high cost of production, and that is our biggest challenge,” he said. “Compared to neighbouring countries, they provide better tax incentives to allow the sector to survive.”'
More good news for farmers in Cambodia, cashew prices are also on the up. The Phnom Penh Post (May 4):
'International commodity prices for cashew nuts are rapidly increasing due to lower supply from Cambodia and Vietnam which is driving up profits for the Kingdom’s farmers, according to industry stakeholders.
The shortfalls of cashew supply into the global market have decreased by around 40 percent this quarter due to lower production in Cambodia and Vietnam, although demand has not diminished. 
...
Chhiv Ngy, director of the Cashew Nut Association of Kampong Thom, said that the current market for cashew nuts greatly benefited the country’s farmers, pushing their revenues to $10,000 per hectare.
“The cashew nut market is doing great and we have a lot of buyers coming to buy directly from us,” he said, adding that the association was comprised of around 4,000 farmers'.
Blooming
Wrapping up, two linkages to articles touching on rural development in the region.
In Lao, there's some sound bytes on organics. The Vientiane Times (Apr. 21):
'Expanding clean agriculture production to supply market demands together with improved international market access can serve to catalyse growth in the Lao organic produce sector, an audience including the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry was told yesterday.
...
Mr Vilaysouk [Director General of Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry] noted registration of 39 companies and farmer groups with 2,785 families under the relevant organic agricultural registration scheme.
The current area dedicated to growing the organic agricultural is around 7,984 hectares, covering the capital and the provinces of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Xieng Khuang, Oudomxay, Savannakhet, Champassak and Xayaboury, with yield estimated at 3,375 tonnes per year.
Meanwhile, the members of the Lao GAP now number some 15 farmer groups with more than 500 families, and area for GAP is around 1,400 hectares, in the capital and the provinces of Vientiane, Khammuan, Savannakhet and Champassak.
Vientiane organic agriculture group has several distribution venues across the city.
That Luang village in Xaysettha district hosts organic markets Wednesday and Saturday mornings weekly.
A similar range of produce can be found at Fa Ngum Park in Sikhottabong district, every Monday and Thursday afternoons and at Huayhong Market in Chanthabouly district every Saturday morning'. 
While in Cambodia, fish deaths close to a sugar mill are left un-explained. The
Phnom Penh Post (Apr. 7):
'Experts from the Institute of Standards of Cambodia (ISC) inspected Chinese-owned Rui Feng sugar company’s factory this week after suspicions that its runoff had caused last month’s mass fish deaths in Preah Vihear.
ISC director Chan Borin said yesterday that their team launched an investigation that lasted for two days as the factory was suspected by the local community of releasing waste into the Stung Sen River.
The factory, however, was found to have its own reservoir for waste storage, so the team went to the river for further investigation.
“We measured and tested the oxygen at the site and we figured that the water lacks oxygen, [so] the fish could not breathe and died . . . The level of oxygen is very low,” Borin said.
He added that the sugarcane waste would not have caused oxygen shortage as the “fish in the [waste] reservoir were alive”.
He suspected that plant decay had led to algal blooms, which deprive the river of oxygen'.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Suffer

Thinking globally. Grain.org (Mar. 13):
'The agricultural seed and pesticide market is already extremely concentrated. Three impending mergers between six of these corporate giants (Bayer/Monsanto, Dow/DuPont, and ChemChina/Syngenta) will further consolidate market and political power, leading to even greater corporate control of our farms and plates'.
It then presents 5 reasons why we should oppose seed and agrochemical mergers currently being lined up.
  • These mergers will harm farmers and ranchers.  
  • Consumers will see increases in food prices. 
  • Workers will suffer. 
  • Environmental damage from industrial agriculture will increase. 
  • The “lock-in” of industrial agriculture will prevent the expansion of food systems that work for people, pollinators, and planet.
More from the same source on the same subject. Grain.org (Mar. 27):
'More than 200 organisations have today raised their objections to the planned mergers of six giant agriculture corporations.
The farmer, farmworker, beekeeper, religious, international development, and environmental groups claim that the three resulting companies will concentrate market power and “exacerbate the problems caused by industrial farming – with negative consequences for the public, farmers and farm workers, consumers, the environment, and food security” in an open letter to the European Commission and Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.[1]
The European and national organisations – together representing millions of members – state that the proposed mergers of Dow Chemical with DuPont, Monsanto with Bayer AG, and Syngenta with ChemChina will lead to an unacceptable monopoly, with three companies controlling around 70% of the world’s agro-chemicals and more than 60% of commercial seeds.[2]'
Limits
The next article seems to contrast the quotes of an article following this. The IRRI.org (Mar.  28):
'An important strategy to reduce reliance on chemical pesticides in Cambodia is steadily moving through a project that encourages the use of environment-friendly biological control agents (BCA).
Over the last decade, Cambodian rice farmers have mainly relied on chemical pesticides as a major method for controlling pests and diseases. Experts warn that the rampant use of toxic chemicals is likely to lead to numerous long-term effects on the health of farmers and the environment. Integrated pest management (IPM) and BCA provide an alternative to chemical pesticides. BCAs include insects, fungi, and other natural products to manage pests'.
Cambodia Daily (Mar. 29):
'The government has ordered a nationwide recall of the fungicide tricyclazole to keep its rice exports eligible for the important E.U. market, but said it might not get the chemical out of its supplies in time to meet the bloc’s July deadline.
The E.U.’s new threshold is 0.01 milligrams of tricyclazole residue per kilogram of rice paddy, down from the current cutoff of 1 milligram.
...
Phou Puy, a member of the Cambodia Rice Federation, was more optimistic [than the government]. Mr. Puy said most of Cambodia’s rice farmers were still chemical-free and so would not be hit by the new limits on tricyclazole.
“I am not worried about this because our country does not use a lot of chemicals. Most of our rice farmers remain organic,” he said'.
Either there is a lot of pesticides usage. Or there isn't. Or the quotes simply fit the need of the day.
Xinhua (Mar. 10) notes that exports to China are gearing up:
'Cambodia had exported 46,387 tons of milled rice to China in the first two months of 2017, up 127 percent over the same period last year, according to a government report released on Friday.
China is the top buyer of Cambodian rice, followed by France, Poland, Britain and the Netherlands, said the report compiled by the Secretariat of One Window Service for Rice Export'.
Qualified
It's less than rosy for Vietnamese exports. Vietnamnews (Mar. 27):
'Việt Nam exported an estimated 1.28 million tonnes of rice in the first three months of the year, earning US$570 million. But the exports were 18 per cent lower in volume and 17.3 per cent lower in value compared to the same period last year. This was reported last week by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development'.
From Thailand news on how to get rid of rice. Bangkok Post (Mar. 11):
'The government has imposed strict criteria for bidders interested in participating in the state's first auction of 3.66 million tonnes of rice unfit for human consumption to ensure the grains are not sold on the normal rice market. According to the terms of reference revealed yesterday, qualified bidders are required to be juristic persons with an industrial factory licence, explain the purpose the rice will be used for, and guarantee it will only be used for industrial purposes'.
A central rice market for Thailand Bangkok Post (Mar. 20):
'The government is expected to decide on the venue for a central market for milled rice as a distribution channel for traders and farmers by mid-year, at a cost of 300-400 million baht.
...
Although Thailand is a leading producer and exporter of rice, averaging 20 million tonnes of milled rice a year, it has no central market for trading milled rice thus far. Such a marketplace would enable importers, wholesalers and retailers to shop for different grains'.
Currently the junta lead country only has a central market for paddy.
Spillage
A wrap up of off topic, but nonetheless interesting articles on agriculture and rural development in the region. 
Starting off with the less exciting news from the Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 22) on agricultural waste:
'Villagers in Pailin province’s O’Tavao commune say they filed a complaint to the provincial environmental department last week about the alleged dumping of cassava waste by agricultural company Khmer Viniyok Kasekam, prompting a cleanup effort by the company.
Improperly processed cassava can be toxic, and locals yesterday said runoff from the company had killed animals and caused skin irritation among children who had swam in the river, though the firm denied it had intentionally released the waste into the waterway.
...
When contacted yesterday, company manager Ok Samphors, 39, denied villagers’ allegations of dumping waste. He said that his company, acknowledging the environmental risks, had constructed two ponds in which to deposit the waste.
“However, it has rained continuously for a week, so the ponds became full and the waste spilled into the river. The company did not dump it [into the river],” Samphors said.
He added that the company retrieved the waste from the riverbank on Monday after receiving advice from authorities.
Pailin provincial environment department director Kem Sokha corroborated Samphors’s account, agreeing that the incident was unintentional'.
More waste issues. The Cambodia Daily (Mar. 30) reports on more fish deaths, this time attributed to sugar waste. 
'The Environment Ministry is studying water samples from Preah Vihear province to find out what has been killing thousands of fish in the Stung Sen River, where villagers are reportedly blaming a sugarcane plantation.
A report posted to the National Police website Wednesday’said locals living along the river have accused Rui Feng, one of several Chinese-owned plantations in eastern Preah Vihear growing sugarcane, of dumping chemicals into the waterway and killing the fish. The report said the water had turned black and smelled bad'.
And then the shocker:
'Rui Feng [Chinese-owned plantation] could not be reached for comment. Though providing jobs for some locals, the company has also attracted its share of critics.
One of five parent companies investing about $360 million to grow, process and export sugar, it has been locked in a land dispute with hundreds of local families since it started clearing the ground in 2013.
Last month, police said they had started an investigation into allegations that the Chinese managers of another of the five companies, Heng Rui, had severely beaten three workers for stealing oil and fertilizer, one of whom later died of his injuries'.
Land issues. The Cambodia Daily (Mar. 24):
'A long-running land dispute between 175 Koh Kong farmers and two sugarcane firms accused of stealing their land came a step closer to conclusion on Thursday after 73 of the farming families accepted compensation, a government official said.
...
Phav Nhoeung, a representative of the villagers and one of those seeking compensation, said the remaining 102 families had rejected the offer because the land was too far from their homes.
“We reject this option because we are living far away from that area…. It is more than 10 km from our houses,” Ms. Nhoeung said'.
Glass half full, half empty?
However more conflicts on the horizon? The Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 16):
'Cambodia's five major sugar producers exported just 4 percent of the country’s planned refined sugar capacity to the international market last year, equalling only 80,000 tonnes, a sign that government officials said means the sector still has ample room for growth as sugar companies push for higher yields.
According to data in the yet-unpublished annual report of the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft, nearly 100,000 hectares has been earmarked for sugarcane plantations with a planned capacity of 1.8 million tonnes of refined sugar per year. However, just a small portion of this land is currently under cultivation by five producers: Rui Feng and its four sister companies, Kamadhenu Ventures (Cambodia) Ltd, Phnom Penh Sugar Co Ltd, Yellow Field International Ltd, and Koh Kong Sugar Industry Co Ltd'.
Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 15 ) concerning import substitution:
'Chip Mong Group is the latest conglomerate to invest into local production of animal feed, announcing this week that it will sink $60 million into building a large-scale feed mill and industrial piggery, a move that agricultural experts welcomed but said would still not be able to curtail the Kingdom’s dependence on imported feed.
Sen Sovann, director general of the Ministry of Agriculture’s animal production and health department, said Cambodia imported over half of its animal feed last year at a cost of $135 million. It spent another $100 million to import some 400,000 pigs from neighbouring countries to meet local demand for pork meat.
...
Mong Reththy Group, which inaugurated its own $10 million feed mill last December, has the capacity to produce 60,000 tonnes of animal feed a year from locally grown corn and paddy rice. The plant currently supplies the 100,000 pigs on its pig farm in Preah Sihanouk province, as well as 100 nearby family-owned farms'.
Pepper prices following the global trends. Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 17):
'Pepper prices in the Kingdom’s largest pepper producing region have fallen over 30 percent in the last year due to growing international supply that is leading to higher competition in the market, an industry expert said yesterday.
Hong San, president of the Dar-Memot Pepper Agricultural Development Cooperative in the Tboung Khmum province, said prices have fluctuated since the harvesting season started earlier this month with pepper selling at 20,000 riel ($5.03) per kilogram yesterday, up from 17,000 riel earlier this week.
The volatile prices are far below those seen last year, when pepper was selling at prices ranging from 30,000 riel per kilogram to as high as 40,000 riel.
...
Data from the Ministry of Agriculture shows Cambodia produced a total of 11,819 tonnes of black pepper in 2016, a 20 percent year-on-year increase, with the Tboung Khmum province accounting for 8,566 tonnes of the overall harvest.
“Even if the prices are lower than last year, we are not experiencing losses at this point, only decreased profits,” San said. “It is not a big concern for us because our pepper is still of a high quality compared to Vietnam, which is struggling because they rely on chemicals.”
Vietnamese news outlets reported this week that pepper prices in the country were at a five-year low, currently standing at around $4.28 per kilogram. The decrease was attributed to a growing supply and stagnant demand.
Chhay Sor, a small-scale pepper farmer, explained that local pepper prices were unstable because Cambodian farmers rely on Thai and Vietnamese brokers to sell their products to the wider market'.
Mongabay has an article (Mar. 24) on how expanding cultivation of palm oil is cutting into protected peat land areas in southern Thailand. Part of the problem is the lack of law enforcement: 
'Thai media have blamed investors and local politicians have for using farmers as proxies by which to encroach upon protected land (Mongabay was unable to independently verify these allegations). This practice has been alleged elsewhere in Southeast Asia, where private investors distanced themselves from the process and aftermath of oil palm farming, leaving local farmers responsible for the damage.
Bribery and corruption often affect land ownership in Thailand, with the Department of Land ranked the most corrupt in the Thai bureaucracy, according to a survey done by Chulalongkorn University in 2014. Local Land Offices, which come under the Department of Land, are the key agencies for all transactions and documentation involving the sale or purchase of land, and can charge a fee for their services. But the survey revealed that land officials often demand extra money to speed up work or legalize documentation'.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Emergent


Cambodia's main rice related news concerns the governments' emergency loan, which (it seems) is not so urgently required. Or are we missing something? The Phnom Penh Post (Feb. 17):
'With the Kingdom’s main rice harvesting season wrapping up, just a fraction of a government emergency loan package that aimed at giving millers the liquidity they needed to purchase rice paddy during the harvest cycle has been disbursed, leaving the government and private sector divided on why.
Kao Thach, chief executive of the Rural Development Bank (RDB), the government-owned bank that was entrusted last September with disbursing $27 million in low-interest loans to millers, said only five loans were issued due to a lack of demand. He said that despite rice millers claiming to be suffering financial difficulties, few seemed genuinely interested in obtaining the bank’s low-interest credit lines.
...
Hun Lak, president of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), said the loans given to the millers, though small, were helpful to those who requested them. He added that it will be necessary to have similar packages available every harvesting season if Cambodia is to reach its target of exporting 1 million tonnes of rice annually.
The problem, he declared, was that the loans arrived too late in the season for millers to fully utilise them.
“The emergency loan was not made available at the right time to be best used by the whole rice sector as currently millers face low prices and smaller demand,” Lak said. “If millers cannot find buyers, they will not be able to borrow the money, which requires interest payments.”
More on the same topic. The Phnom Pemh Post (Feb. 13) has an interview with the CEO of Thaneakea Srov (Kampuchea) Plc, Phou Puy. A question on the emergency:
'Why have millers who called for emergency loans not used the funds the government made available through the RDB?
Some millers have already accessed the $27 million in loans to buy paddy from farmers, but a lot have not been able to apply for loans because they have not had the storage facilities to qualify. Because the rice loans are linked to storage collateral, they have been really slow to be used, because everybody has the same constraints'.
Armed
Likewise from the region there's not so much to mention. 
As always Thailand is concerned about their position as top rice exporter. The Bangkok Post (Mar. 3):
'Thailand continued to lag behind India in terms of rice exports in January due to long holidays during the month. Charoen Laothamatas, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said Thai  rice shipments totalled 823,401 tonnes worth 12.3 billion baht (US$346 million) in January, down 19.7% by volume and 20.7% by value year-on-year, he said'.
While in Vietnam the same concerns are heard albeit now it's the position of Vietnam as a rice exporter. The Vietnamnetbridge (Feb. 20): 
'In order to compete with the Thais, Vietnamese exporters have had to lower the selling prices. However, they would incur losses because the domestic price is on the rise.
This means that low prices won’t be the ‘weapon’ for Vietnam to compete with Thailand in the world market, especially in Africa and China, which favor low-cost products. 
Huynh The Nang, chair of the Vietnam Food Association (VFA), commented that Vietnam has to cede its market share to Thailand in some markets which have demand for white rice because it cannot compete with Thailand in prices.
 ...
In the context of slow sales, experts believe that Vietnam would rather gather strength to compete with rivals in the high-end market segment. China, South Korea, Singapore and the EU have high demand for high-end products'.
In Laos there are concerns on the growing of dry season rice. The Vientiane Times (Mar. 8):
'The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has set this year's target for dry season rice production lower after the country's rice farmers failed to meet last year's mark. 
...
Large numbers of rice farmers, especially those in the northern parts of the country, have shifted to growing small commercial crops and their export as they can spend less initial investment capital and get higher yields which lead to better profits and requires less water as well.
Rice planting requires higher capital initially and can have large water requirements but also receives lower production on average than most other commercial crops.
However, the ministry can not confirm why rice farmers' output in Laos has tended to trend downwards as the ministry says that it has not yet studied the issue in detail.
Authorities have also deemed rice fields in the northern provinces unsuitable for expansion of irrigation systems as the yield is lower and, therefore, so is the return on investment'.
Former government policies are now deemed bogus. The Bangkok Post (Feb. 21):
'The Legal Execution Department can now seize assets worth 20 billion baht from former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom and five others in the allegedly bogus rice sale scheme during the Yingluck Shinawatra government, says permanent secretary for commerce'.
Wonder what history will accord current juntas' decrees? 

Mystery
We often forget that there are opportunities for alternatives for rice growing, even thogh it remains a staple crop. The Phnom Penh Post (Mar. 2) takes a look at the cassava market situation and highlights how little prospect doesn't seem to deter growing the crop:
'Cambodian farmers continue to expand cassava cultivation despite falling commercial prices for the crop and low international trade volumes, new data from the Ministry of Agriculture show.
The total area of cassava cultivation grew 34 percent last year, with the starchy tuber planted on 771,000 hectares nationwide, compared to 574,000 hectares the year before.
Sok Vanna, deputy director of the department of industrial crops in the Ministry of Agriculture, said it was a bit of a mystery as to why farmers continue to expand cassava cultivation while complaining that it is an unprofitable crop.
...
Farmers have long complained of the crop’s price volatility and a general decline in international market prices. The price of dried cassava has fallen about 50 percent over the last two years to around 400 riel per kilo.
Yang Phirom, a business adviser for Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), said that efforts to shift farmers away from cassava have been hindered by their lack of confidence in viable alternative crops. However, he said farmers could secure better prices for their crops if they received support to help them avoid dealing with middlemen.
“Cassava cultivation has become habitual even if there is not a good market because farmers do not see that they have any other option,” he said'.
Not for everybody, but the Phnom Penh Post (Feb. 10) also looks into growing local oranges; the situation of which is very challenging:
'Orange farmer Say Samoeurth has been battling an invisible foe. He rarely sees his adversary, a tiny insect known as the Asian citrus psyllid, but wherever it goes this winged pest leaves behind a trail of destruction.
Most of the 1,000 orange trees that Samoeurth planted on his 2-hectare farm have been affected, with a bacteria transmitted by the sap-sucking insect stunting their growth and causing their leaves to turn colour and fall off. Some of defoliated trees still bear fruit, but its green, mottled appearance and bitter flavour prevents its sale in the market.
Samoeurth, who has been growing oranges on his land since 1996, said he first learned of the link between the psyllid and “citrus greening disease” from government agriculture officials. But no solutions were offered, and their advice was simply to cut down the orchard and plant something else.
...
Sovanmony [director of Battambang’s provincial agriculture department]said some small farmers had given up on oranges and switched to other fruit cash crops, such as mangoes and longans. But the high profit potential of oranges – with farmers able to rake in over $20,000 from the harvest of one hectare of healthy trees – had tempted many farmers whose fields were ravaged by citrus greening disease to re-plant oranges.
“We know that it is profitable, but it is not a long-term investment and farmers will face high risk as the disease continues to spread,” he said'.
Then there's the prospects for rubber. The Phnom Penh Post (Feb. 25):
'The government is seeking intrepid smallholder farmers to pilot a project that would transform 6,000 hectares of cropland in two provinces into a patchwork of small rubber plantations.
The Ministry of Agriculture is eyeing 5,000 hectares of land in Ratanakkiri and 1,000 hectares in Battambang for the project, and has already secured interest from thousands of smallholder farmers, according to Pol Sopha, general director of the ministry’s rubber development department.
“In the first step, we identified 2,500 farming families in two provinces, Battambang, Ratanakkiri, who were willing to invest in growing rubber and ready to convert their land from crop farms to rubber plantations,” he said yesterday.
The ministry is currently preparing a feasibility study on the substitute crop project.
...
The government’s push for smallholder rubber plantations comes as rubber prices show a bounce after a five-year global supply glut that depressed prices. The price for natural rubber recently topped $2,400 per tonne, making the cash crop profitable once again, according to Sopha [Pol Sopha, general director of the ministry’s rubber development department].
Cambodia currently has more than 430,000 hectares of rubber plantations, the majority of which are large-scale projects on economic land concessions (ELCs). Smallholder farms cultivate rubber on about 150,000 hectares.
Sopha estimates that another 300,000 hectares could be brought under cultivation.
Heng Sreng, director of Cambodian rubber producer Long Sreng International, which has over 5,000 hectares of rubber under cultivation in Kampong Cham province, cast doubt on the wisdom of the project, arguing that rubber was a cash crop better suited for large producers that can leverage economies of scale. He said smallholder farmers would be better off investing in crops such as mango or longan, which offer higher returns.
He said a farmer could earn $10,000 profit per year from a hectare of mangoes, compared to $4,500 per year from rubber and with far less risk.
“Rubber is not a priority for smallholder farmers as its market is volatile and producers remains dependant on other countries because there are no rubber factories here,” he added'.
Control
More agricultural notes from the region, starting off with northern neighbour, Laos. 
The Vientiane Times (Feb. 11) has some trade news which seems to be more an intention: there are no certifications of origin, probably meant to ease Vietnamese investment in agricultural processing in the country or better said making Laos a cheap source of agricultural profit for their eastern neighbor.
'Unprocessed Lao farm products raised and grown by farmers and Vietnamese investors in the 10 Lao provinces that share a border with Vietnam will enjoy tariff and value-added tax exemptions when exported to Vietnam.
The Lao Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry recently issued an announcement detailing the new policy under the Border Trade Agreement, which the Lao and Vietnamese governments have signed in a move to increase the volume of border trade'.
Northwards of the Lao are more neighbors to contend with. The Vientiane Times (Feb. 16) notes how the government is belatedly looking into the banana growing conundrum:
'Five companies with banana plantations in Xayaboury province have been ordered to stop growing the fruit, but can still plant other replacement crops in compliance with regulations.
Four of the companies affected are Chinese backed with banana farms located around the villages of Phonthong, Namtuan, Naluam and Nalae, with one Lao farm located at Vangkham village, all in Phieng and Xayaboury districts, Xayaboury province.
Some companies are now being instructed to remove banana trees from the farms after authorities ordered a suspension of operations after inspections revealed they were not complying with regulations.
Head of Xayaboury Agricultural and Cooperative Promotion Sector, MsSengthongPhengdee told Vientiane Times yesterday local authorities have ordered the five target companies to stop planting banana trees and remove them on more than 600 hectares in Phieng and Xayaboury districts. This follows an executive order from the Prime Minister's Office issued at the end of last year.
...
Bokeo authorities also plan to suspend the operations of 18 companies who have invested in banana plantations. The cultivation of about 6,000 hectares of banana trees by 23 companies in Oudomxay province will also be suspended.
According to investment statistics, Chinese companies have invested in more than 764 projects in Laos at a cost of more than US$7 billion in areas such as mineral products, agriculture, electricity, artefacts, and tourism. Of these projects, 552 were funded by Chinese companies, while Laos and China jointly invested in 212 projects. China is Laos' top source of foreign investment. The total value of imports and exports from Laos to China exceeded US$1.5 billion over the last nine months of 2015-16. Of this figure, the export value totalled US$950 million, while imports were valued at US$570 million'.
In a followup article from the same source (Mar. 7) the Chinese side is reflected:
'Some Chinese investors plan to shutter their banana farms in Laos and relocate to other countries while others plan to replace the yellow herbaceous fruit with other agricultural crops after sustaining losses.
...
Technical adviser to Chinese banana farms in Bokeo province, Mr Ruan Shui Jin spoke to Vientiane Times on the occasion of the China Chamber of Commerce Fujian Branch in Laos meeting in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone recently.
Mr Ruan said operators were attracted to Laos because it is proximity to China.
Available land in Laos was suitable in terms of size, quality and value for money.
However, many have not been able to turn a suitable profit due to labour supply and related cost issues. 
...
According to a Bokeo provincial authority report issued recently, Chinese investors have been operating banana farms in the province for more than five years.
In 2015 about 11,000 hectares were under cultivation for bananas. Currently just over 8,000 hectares are under cultivation by 43 companies, mainly in Huayxai and Tonpheung districts.
The area has been reduced because the operations of some banana farms have been suspended with some now growing oranges, pumpkins and mangoes instead.
More than 500 hectares of such land is now using fertiliser made from natural ingredients.
However, Bokeo provincial authorities plan to suspend the operations of 18 companies who have invested in banana plantations after inspections revealed they were not complying with the regulations agreed to. 
...
According to the regulations and policy on banana farming investment in Bokeo province, the crop may not be grown in rice fields or close to schools or communities.
Its cultivation is prohibited in areas that are adjacent to the source of waterways, while the use of chemicals is also limited.
Last year, the Prime Minister's Office ordered farms that were preparing to cultivate banana trees to cease work.
Companies that own thousands of hectares of banana plantations where trees have already been planted will not be allowed to plant any more suckers after harvesting the current crop'.
It seems that if Laos labour is too expensive at a few dollars a day, then labourers elsewhere in Southeast Asia are even being handed a more harsher deal ... Kudos to authorities taking action, even a little late.

More control. According to Bangkok Post (Feb. 17):
'The Department of Agriculture wants to control the use of agricultural chemicals, including those on its watch list, raising hopes of increased food safety.
...
The law also limits imports of harmful chemicals or allows for the import of safer substitutes'.
Oddly though, much of the chemicals banned are not imports ...
The same source (Feb. 27) has a very long expose on the celebration of high tech agriculture as it it seeks to the answer for the upcoming challenges. Little word though on how techno agriculture leads to social loss. On the other hand with little guidance change is inevitable.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Outdated

Don't know whether or not this update affords a lead, it's very much a mixed bag with unusually long quotes. It's mostly what's not rice, that's interesting.

However let's start by looking within the Khmer kingdom. The Phnom Penh Post (Jan. 6) kicks off with a review of last years rice exporting efforts:
'The growth of rice exports slowed to a crawl last year, according to new data, signalling that government initiatives to increase the competitiveness of Cambodia’s mainstay crop had fallen short and raising concerns about the future of the agricultural sector.
According to data received from the Ministry of Agriculture yesterday, Cambodia’s rice exports totalled 542,144 tonnes last year, a mere 3,700 tonnes, or 0.7 percent, more than the country shipped in 2015. The nominal increase followed a growth spurt in 2015 that saw exports climb by 39 percent that year.
...
Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodian Rice Federation, said 2016 proved to be an exceptionally challenging year for Cambodia’s rice industry. He explained that local exporters had to compete with rival rice-producing countries that were flooding the market with their product, while local farmers struggled against low paddy prices exacerbated by the sector’s shortage of capital and storage capacity.
...
Song Saran, CEO of Amru Rice, said looking back on 2016 exports, the result was “acceptable,” but not satisfying. He said Cambodia’s supply chain was flawed.
“Our supply chain is not balanced, as if you observe the export trend [during the course of the year] it is uneven,” he said.
“Our supply of rice paddy is limited at the beginning of the year, but we have an oversupply of paddy at the end of the year.”
Saran added that despite the high quantity of rice exported, the commodity’s low price level was causing profits in the industry to decline'.
The competition wades in. The Cambodia Daily (Jan. 9):
'An Agriculture Ministry official said on Sunday that slowing growth in Cambodian milled rice exports—increasing just 0.7 percent last year—was the result of outdated policies and was a concerning trend.
...
Mr. Vanhan [ministry’s director of the general directorate of agriculture] said a new rice export policy was being formulated by the Supreme National Economic Council, and would take into account the ways the last five-year plan had failed.
He said last year’s drought could not be blamed for the slowing exports, noting that the industry had hit its target of producing 4 million tons of surplus rice. By contrast, exports are still barely over half the 2015 target of 1 million tons'.
Rather than policies, it's poor market conditions that are to blame for the sluggish growth. Unfortunately the market will not change much in the year ahead.

The above were direct reports on the government data. They were as follows. AKP (Jan. 12):
'Last year, Cambodia exported 542,144 tons of milled rice to international market, up 3,748 tons or 0.7 percent compared to the amount in 2015, pointed out a report of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishery to Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen.
The Cambodian rice was exported to 65 countries, mostly to China (127,460 tons), followed by France (78,329 tons), Poland (64,035 tons), Malaysia (38,877 tons), the Netherlands (28,690 tons), Belgium (22,885 tons), Czech (22,815 tons), Italy (18,619 tons), UK (17,673 tons), Germany (16,616 tons), it added.
If classified by region, EU remains the main buyer of Cambodian rice. Last year, EU bought in total 341,066 tons or 62.9 percent of the Cambodian exported rice, it underlined.
Currently, Cambodia has 85 rice exporting companies, most of them are local rice millers'.
To wrap up this first chapter, a curious posting from the Phnom Penh Post (Jan. 18):
'A Chinese company has unveiled a plan to establish rice production on 4,000 hectares of leased farmland in Takeo province, local media reported yesterday.
The company said it would consider building a large rice mill on the land to process up to 100,000 tonnes of rice a year for export to China. It also unveiled a conceptual plan for a $100-million feed mill'.
Now we all have our doubts whether this will turn to reality, but can someone tell me why there is 4,000 ha farmland waiting for a company to be leased? Surely ensuring locals access to this, would be of a higher priority? Or has the investor been sold short?

Quitters
Cambodia's neighbors are faring none the better on the export market. Vietnamnetbridge (Feb. 3) highlights this by this article:
'Vinh Hoan Seafood Company has decided to quit rice production and export though it spent big money on building a factory and choosing high-quality rice sources for export.
Analysts said that Vinh Hoan made a reasonable decision. Many other rice export companies took a loss in the last year, had to be dissolved or kept operations at a moderate level. Many exporters reported a sharp decrease of 40-45 percent in export volume in 2016 compared with the year before.
...
Seventy-six percent of Vietnam’s rice is exported to Asian markets at low prices, which explains why Vietnam can only obtain modest profits despite high export volume, according to Kien. Meanwhile, more orders have been placed with neighboring countries'.
The news on rice exports from Thailand. The Bangkok Post (Feb. 4): 
'Thai rice exports are expected to drop by 3.8% in volume this year, with export prices likely to stay relatively low because of higher global supply and stiffer competition.
The Thai Rice Exporters Association said shipments should reach 9.5 million tonnes this year, fetching US$4.3 billion or about 150 billion baht.
...
Sales of premium hom mali rice are expected to climb 1.7% this year from 2.36 million tonnes last year. Last year Thailand shipped 9.88 million tonnes of milled rice, up by 0.9% from a year before, valued at $4.4 billion. Thailand trailed only India, which exported 10.43 million tonnes last year, while Vietnam shipped 4.95 million tonnes'.
And the prospects are not much better. The Bangkok Post (Feb. 2):
'Rice shipments from Thailand, the largest supplier after India, are likely to decline about 4% this year amid increased competition from Vietnam and other producers.
...
Competition from Vietnam may cut white rice exports by about 400,000 tonnes to 4.6 million tonnes even as sales of premium jasmine grade rise climb about 9% to 2.5 million tonnes, ...
...
World rice production will increase 1.6% to 480 million tonnes and consumption will rise 1.5% to 477.8 million tonnes, according to the USDA. Output from India, Thailand and Vietnam, the world’s top exporters, will increase this season, data show'.
Though both Thailand and Vietnam seem to be seeing adversity ahead, Lao press sees silver linings in their rice export market albeit solely in that for organic rice. The Vientiane Times (Jan. 16):
'China has approved the purchase of 20,000 tonnes of organic rice a year from Laos, according to Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith.
Mr Thongloun said in talks with Khong district authorities in Champassak province last week that Chinese premier Li Keqiang had agreed to the deal.
...
About 4,000 tonnes of sticky rice and nonglutinous rice has already been delivered to China, and this year the shipment was to be 8,000 tonnes'. 
The same source (Jan. 30) has more:
'Savannakhet and Champassak provinces may soon be producing about 40,000 tonnes of so-called 'clean', organic rice for both local markets and export.
Deputy Director of the provincial Agriculture and Forestry Department, MrViengsaySipraphone, told Vientiane Times on Friday that present estimates suggest that about 40,000 tonnes of rice will be harvested in Savannakhet and Champassak, although the figure may differ in practice.
...
An anonymous official in Savannakhet said that about eight countries from the EU as well as China are importing 'clean' rice from the province. Savannakhet is growing clean rice for export to the EU and China, he said'.
Sunrise
In seeking alternatives the Thai junta is hedging it's future on their so-called megafarms. The Bangkok Post (Jan. 16):
'The government is committed to ramping up the rice megafarm scheme this year, for which it provides soft loans, machinery and agricultural equipment to farmers in order to cut production costs and raise productivity. The scheme will cover 1.05 million rai of related farmland. 
...  
The megafarm project implemented last year entails participating farmers pooling their rice farmland together into one large plot, after which modern equipment, including harvesting machinery, is deployed.
Participating farmers can borrow up to 5 million baht at 0.01% interest from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), while the Commerce Ministry is responsible for the marketing and sales of the rice and finding buyers.
Acting as a group, participating farmers can negotiate for better access to markets and financial resources such as loans. This grouping and joint management is intended to ensure efficiency in the entire rice business -- from planning to farming and marketing to distribution.
...
Ms Chutima, a former permanent secretary for the Commerce Ministry, said the ministry will also focus this year on more actively promoting food safety and security and good agricultural practices (GAP) in the farm sector.
"One of the ministry's top priorities this year is to promote the proliferation of GAP so that we can declare to the world in the future that Thailand is a supplier of safe agricultural products such as vegetables to the world," said Ms Chutima. "Although chemicals are used while farming, it requires a long-enough period before harvesting and the residue levels must be at a tolerable rate. This, once achieved, will lead Thailand to the next step of development: chemical-free farming and ultimately organic farming."
So if the future lies ahead, why then does the future also seem behind us? I mean 50 odd years ago, everything was organic. Then we nuked this with fertilizers and chemicals, just to learn that this might be just one big mistake.

Anyway, the Bangkok Post (Jan. 19) continues to explain:
'The government aims to cut rice production to 27.2 million tonnes of paddy from an average of 33 million tonnes a year, shrinking the rice plantation area to 60.6 million rai from 68 million as part of its agricultural reform. Tanit Anakewit, deputy permanent secretary to the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry, said farming in inappropriate locations produced low-quality rice, mainly during the second crop, and such areas will be encouraged to grow other crops.
...
Mr Tanit said the government's rice megafarm scheme is a move in the right direction as it cuts farmers' production costs. The megafarm project provides soft loans, machinery and agricultural equipment to farmers to cut production costs and raise productivity. It was implemented last year and participating farmers pool their farmland into one large plot, using modern equipment to harvest.
...
Somporn Isvilanonda, a senior academic from the Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand, suggested the government concentrate more on hom mali rice development, noting how Thai premium hom mali rice has been losing its aromatic quality because of improper cultivation processes. The government is also being urged to promote growing coloured rice and organic rice that can fetch higher prices and faces less competition'.
Instead of rice. Bangkok Post (Feb. 1):
'Best known for its historical sites, Sukhothai has introduced a new attraction, a 1,200-rai field of blossoming yellow Indian hemp, grown by farmers to replace second-crop rice. Suchart Rianthong, Sukhothai land development director, said farmers could bury Indian hemp plants to make natural fertiliser for their future rice cultivation. Besides, they could sell hemp seeds at 20 baht per kilogramme to the local land development office and receive a 500-baht subsidy per rai from the government'.
And it also attracts tourists.

Juicy
There's quite a lot of non-rice agricultural news from Cambodia, mostly concerning market niches. 
The Phnom Penh Post reports on mango exports (Jan. 17):
'Sweet and juicy mangoes grown in Cambodia have been finding their way into top Asian markets for years, but until now only through Thai and Vietnamese brokers, and often repackaged or processed into juices and jams to disguise their Khmer origin.
Local producers’ lack of modern processing and packaging equipment meant the only way to access the lucrative Chinese, Japanese and South Korean markets – where the value of Cambodian-grown mangoes can jump by 6,000 percent – was indirectly through middlemen, who raked off most of the profit. But a number of companies are looking to change this supply chain model, and investing accordingly'.
A very interesting read on how an agricultural product in abundance seeks to find markets. 
More abundance, this time from avocado's which have a lot more difficulties in seeking markets, even domestically. The Phnom Penh Post (Jan. 26):
'Avocados have never been a big part of the Khmer diet, making infrequent appearances in dessert dishes or drenched in condensed milk as a smoothie. But a small local market for the green pear-shaped fruit is forming, and experts say it could be a profitable crop for intrepid farmers.
...
Sreng Cheaheng, a Ratanakkiri provincial agriculture official and avocado farmer, said he started farming avocado trees on his land three years ago and now has over 100 trees occupying half a hectare. He said the trees yield about 3 tonnes of fruit a year, which he supplies to the local market for about $2 per kilo.
...
Cheaheng said the market for avocado was growing, and profits were respectable. Dealers who pay his farm-gate price of $2 per kilo can easily sell it in local markets for up to double that price. He said compared to coffee, the other cash crop that grows well in the province’s cool mountain climate, avocados are easier to grow and have higher market demand.
...
Mexican chef Mario Galán, who purchases about 100 kilos of avocado per month for his authentic Mexican restaurant in Phnom Penh, said he experimented with local avocado varieties, but found the quality and taste inferior to Hass avocados imported from Australia and Mexico'.
The same source (Jan. 9) continues with it's ag news, but with a crop that already has a market snuffed out:
Kampot pepper prices are set to remain stable for another year as part of an agreement between local producers that caps prices through the end of 2017, a representative of the pepper association said yesterday.
Ngoun Lay, president of the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association (KPPA), said the price of Kampot pepper, which was awarded the World Trade Organisation’s geographical indication (GI) status in 2010, will not increase during the upcoming season, with harvest set for March.
...
He explained that in 2015 an agreement was signed whereby 18 local pepper producers agreed to maintain prices until the end of 2017 at $15 per kilo for black pepper, $25 per kilo for red pepper and $28 per kilo for white pepper.
“We negotiated the price increases with our buyers in order to achieve a sustainable income for our farmers,” he said. “Right now, we do not plan to increase prices after the agreement, but we will study the market in 2018, at which point, if we do increase prices, it will only be by $1 or 50 cents.”
...
Hong San, director of the Memot pepper and agricultural development cooperative [different province, i.e. not Kampot pepper], said it was difficult to compare the production and prices of the two products, though he noted that pepper produced by his cooperative sells for a much lower $6 to $8 per kilo.
“We cannot compare the price of GI Kampot pepper with our pepper because the quantities harvested are different, though we are satisfied with the current price,” he said.
“If we followed GI production requirements, our farms would not be able to survive because GI requires farming without the chemicals that we use, though our pepper is still of an acceptable standard and is of better quality than in neighbouring countries.”
Quite odd, how it are producers that are setting the prices; what happened to supply and demand? 

Glamour
Whereas the future for rice exports and rice cultivation sees plenty of speed bumps ahead, other major crops seem to be faring better, notably rubber. The
Bangkok Post (Jan. 12):
'Authorities projected a loss of around 10% of rubber output in the 2016-17 crop year after unseasonal flooding affected the country's main growing region, a senior industry official said on Thursday.
...
Thai benchmark USS3 rubber was quoted at 81.05 baht per kilogramme on Thursday, a significant jump from 71.04 baht on Dec 29, before the floods started, according to data kept by Reuters.'.
The rubber news from Cambodia is less positive. The Phnom Pehn Post (Jan. 13):
'Cambodia's beleaguered rubber industry looks set for a turnaround as international rubber prices continue their strong rebound. Local traders and industry officials said yesterday they were optimistic that rubber prices, which doubled during the course of 2016, would continue to rise as the global economy recovers and demand driven heavily by developing economies catches up with supply.
Pol Sopha, general-director of the rubber department at the Ministry of Agriculture, said local rubber producers exported 148,000 tonnes of natural rubber last year, a 13.5 percent increase on 2015’s output.
...
A $50 export tax was charged on rubber when the market price was below $2,000 per tonne. Now exporters must pay $150 per tonne'.
Seems absurd that.

Cassava fares worse. The Phnom Penh Post (Jan. 19):
'With the start of the dry harvest season for cassava kicking off, farmers are calling for the government to support the struggling sector with initiatives to address recurring capital shortages and market volatility.
Sum Heang, head of the Pailin Cassava Association, which represents 52 cassava-growing families in Pailin province, said yesterday the unglamorous root crop has always taken a distant second place to rice on the government’s agenda.
...
Cassava is Cambodia’s largest agricultural export crop by tonnage, and believed to be the second-biggest by value after rice. The cash crop, which has never been a staple of the Cambodian diet, is cultivated on nearly 600,000 hectares, yielding about 13 million tonnes a year for export.
Official export data provided by the Ministry of Agriculture show about 2.3 million tonnes of sliced cassava, 570,000 tonnes of fresh cassava and a small volume of cassava starch, were exported in 2015, mostly to Thailand, Vietnam and China. Most of the remaining 10 million tonnes were believed to have been smuggled across the country’s borders.
...
Mey Kalyan, senior adviser for the Supreme National Economic Council (SNEC), said all of Cambodia’s agricultural sectors were facing issues, and the government had limited resources to address all of them.
This meant the private sector would have to take the lead, starting first off by ending the individualism and haphazard practices that were driving down market prices.
Kalyan suggested that the cassava sector’s stakeholders band together to form an industry body, similar to the Cambodian Rice Federation (CRF).
...
Lor Reaksmey, a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, dismissed the idea of an industry body for cassava producers, claiming it was unnecessary. He said the government recognises the importance of cassava and was seeking new markets for the crop as well as solutions to the issues that farmers face'.
Sugar? Sugar prices are on the rebound, however Thailand's domestic market will have to reform first. The Bangkok Post (Jan. 14) reports on the restructuring:
'Local sugar prices will likely be floated in October, or April next year at the latest, in line with the restructuring plan for the industry. At present, the Cane and Sugar Board under the Industry Ministry sets the ex-factory price of white sugar while the Commerce Ministry sets the retail price, now at 24.50 baht a kilogramme. Thailand has long fixed retail prices above market rates to ensure profits for farmers. The domestic retail price is higher than it should be based on global comparisons, although the gap has narrowed considerably from about five baht per kg two years ago.  
... 
In March, the country slashed its forecast for 2016 sugar exports to 7.1 million tonnes from an earlier estimate of 11 million. Stockpiles in India, the world's third biggest exporter, will fall to 23.3 million tonnes next year, the lowest in over a decade, as consumption outstrips supply, the Indian Sugar Mills Association said in July. Thailand is the world's second-largest sugar exporter by value after Brazil'.
The same source (Jan. 19) continues with an outlook, less rice, more sugar:
'Ethanol shortage concerns in Thailand have subsided on the good sugar yield from the latest sugar cane crop, providing abundant molasses for the ethanol industry, says a senior industrial official. 
...
Supply of the raw materials is expected to rise substantially in the coming years and the government is encouraging farmers to switch from growing rice to sugar cane, which can generate more added value'.
Soiled
Vientiane Times (Jan. 21) describes how authorities are trying to direct banana growing (a popular alternative for upland rice) in a more sustainable direction or else. It seems the else is the only option:
'Bokeo provincial authorities plan to suspend the operations of 18 companies who have invested in banana plantations after inspections revealed they were not complying with the regulations agreed to.
...
Last year, the Prime Minister's Office ordered farms that were preparing to cultivate banana trees to cease work. Companies that own thousands of hectares of banana plantations where trees have already been planted will not be allowed to plant any more suckers after harvesting the crop.
The suspension has been ordered because of the use of hazardous chemicals by Chinese companies, which are harming people's health and the environment.
Chinese-run banana farms are not only found in the north of Laos, there are also hundreds of hectares of bananas in Vientiane province and the capital.
According to a National Assembly report in October last year, some provinces were using too many insecticides, pesticides and chemical fertiliser, but this issue did not feature in reports submitted to the Assembly.
Some people became ill and some had allegedly died after pesticide was sprayed on farms, but the reports did not say where this had occurred.
There are no bananas from Chinese farms for sale in local markets as the farms send all their fruit to China. The bananas are packed in cardboard boxes for immediate shipment to China after they are harvested'.
More on the bananas affair. RFA (Jan. 27):
'Authorities in the northern Lao province of Bokeo suspended the operations of 18 Chinese-backed banana plantations after they discovered widespread violations of the regulations governing the use of agricultural chemicals, government officials told RFA's Lao Service.
...
Instead of growing the native “kuay nam” banana, the Chinese plantations generally produce the world's top banana, the Cavendish.
While the Cavendish is the most popular banana, growing it in the northern provinces requires the use of a cornucopia of pesticides, herbicides, rodenticides, and fertilizers to boost production and ward off the 28 diseases and 19 insects that attack banana plants.
The use of the chemicals has helped the banana plantations thrive, but they have also leached into the ground water, and the thousands of plastic packages that the chemicals were packed in have been strewn across the countryside. In one case, the pollution was blamed for a death'.
Struggle
Finally, the Cambodia Daily (Jan. 12) with some lengthy quotes from an article on how land issues concerned with a proposed sugar plantation are not being dealt with:
'Some 100 farmers who have spent the past 11 days sleeping on land to guard it from bulldozers in Preah Vihear province are exhausted by empty promises from the government to solve their problem.
About 300 km away, in an office on the 15th floor of Phnom Penh Tower, an adviser to Rui Feng, part of a group of linked Chinese firms that plans to turn the area into a sprawling, $360 million sugarcane plantation, said he was feeling much the same way.

“We have struggled with the local people,” Wang Chen said on Wednesday. “The government in Preah Vihear didn’t talk to them. I don’t know why.”
When Rui Feng and its four sister companies were first considering a Cambodia investment 10 years ago, it was an imperfect but plausible scheme, he said.
“If we wanted to build a modern sugar factory—to compete with Thailand, India—we’d need 40,000 to 60,000 hectares. If the productivity of the land is less, then there needs to be more land,” he said.
Cambodia was not the perfect place for the investment. Electricity is expensive, Mr. Chen said—so much so that the company built its own biogas power plant to power its operations. The logistics of the remote site cause perennial difficulty, with unreliable transportation and shoddy roads.
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Filing for five separate economic land concessions (ELCs) to avoid the legal limit of 10,000 hectares, the companies managed to get 40,000 hectares in Preah Vihear province in 2010. They brought in state-of-the-art machinery—threshers, harvesters—to mechanize the process.
Rui Feng started to clear a stretch of land along National Road 64 in Stung Treng province that stretches as far as the eye can see, and to lay the foundations for a factory to process all the sugarcane being seeded there.
It was in 2013 that locals from all over the area started to demonstrate.
They said that Rui Feng was clearing their ancestral rice land. They slept nights in corners of the concession and nearby fields to prevent them from being cleared. They confronted tractors. They appealed to local rights groups Licadho and Adhoc, and to provincial authorities.
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Those on both sides agree that authorities in Preah Vihear, after years of promising to resolve the disputes, have achieved next to nothing.
Poek Sophorn, of the NGO Ponlok Khmer, said authorities were failing both parties.
“They make excuses, and make promises in one way. Then they come again and make excuses and make promises in another way,” he said.
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Mr. Sophorn, of Ponlok Khmer, said the government had initially leased the villagers’ land to the company, but then promised to give some back to the people living on it.
“We’ve seen their maps. The government has drawn it so the rice land of people in three districts is the company’s,” he said.
The fault wasn’t entirely the government’s, he added. Rui Feng was ostensibly required to do an environmental and social impact assessment evaluating how their investment would affect the local population.
“The government and the company joined together to violate human rights,” he said'.