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'.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Permissive

From now on, readers will note the lack of references to the Cambodia Daily. Politics have determined that publishing the news should be considered contentious. That's if you fear the light of truth.
The changing climate is also described by this by Phnom Penh Post (Oct. 16):
'Svay Rieng officials on Saturday prevented a local farmer coalition from conducting a workshop on raising chickens on the grounds it had failed to get permission from district and provincial authorities, a possible sign of increased scrutiny of NGOs working in the provinces.
...
The Coalition of Cambodia Farmers Community was conducting the workshop for 25 families when Ampil commune authorities and police told them to stop, said Chhem Kosal, a project coordinator with the NGO.
“I informed them that we had informed the commune chief already, and the commune chief also permitted [it]. But they still required me to ask for permission from district and provincial levels,” he said'.
Free
Something on-topic. The Phnom Penh Post (Sep. 9) has an extensive article on everything but traditional agricultural varieties:
'The government has denied the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the agricultural sector amid persistent reports that some local farmers may already be cultivating genetically engineered “hybrid” seeds, warning that countries could restrict or ban the import of Cambodian agricultural products if use of the biotechnology is confirmed.
...
Hean Vanhan, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, cast doubt on the veracity of the reports, stating firmly that Cambodian farmers have never taken up GM seeds – and the government would like to keep it that way.
“We are still not using any GM seeds for cultivation as they remain highly controversial in the international market, and we are dependent on exports so must comply with market trends,” he said. “If we allow GMOs to exist in our market it would have an impact on our exports as some countries do not trust them.”
Vanhan noted, however, that the government has never formally banned GM seeds or issued any regulations to prevent their import or cultivation “because there is no definitive proof that they are harmful”.
...
Sam Vitou, executive director of agricultural organisation CEDAC, said while the government appears to have blocked efforts by Monsanto and other GMO producers to market their products in Cambodia, there are fears local farmers could inadvertently be sowing their fields with GM seeds imported from Thailand, Vietnam and China.
“Even though the Ministry of Agriculture has not opened our market to Monsanto our agricultural sector could be threatened by the unofficial flow of [seed imports from] neighbouring countries,” he said.
Vietnam has embraced GMOs, approving at least 14 varieties of GM corn and eight varieties of GM soybean for cultivation, while indicating plans to have up to half of its farmland planted with transgenic crops by 2020. Thailand has waffled on GMO support, taking a more measured approach after field trials of GM papayas began contaminating nearby crops, resulting in several countries banning its papayas from their markets. To date, the country has approved 15 varieties of GM crops, mostly corn.
...
The confusion extends to the media, which often blurs the line between hybrid and GM seeds or incorrectly assumes that all Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta seed varieties are genetically modified.
A news report published online last year by Monash University’s School of Journalism made the explosive claim that over 100 families in Kandal province’s Kbal Koh district switched to planting Monsanto GM corn about a decade ago on the advice of local Agriculture Ministry officials.
Bun Tounsimona, director of Kandal province’s Agriculture Department, categorically rejected the report’s claims, insisting he had personally inspected farms in Kbal Koh district and did not find any GM plantings there.
“We use only hybrid seeds for corn farming as they provide high yields, but never GM seeds,” he said, adding that farmers had been warned not to use GM seeds because of the possible health concerns and risk it could restrict their exports to certain markets.
...
Four crops – corn, soybean, cotton and canola – account for nearly 99 percent of global GM acreage. GM varieties of rice have been developed and tested in field trials, but have never been commercially grown.
Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodia Rice Federation, stressed the importance of keeping GMOs out of the Kingdom’s rice sector, adding that Cambodian rice has been tested and certified as GMO-free.
“Our farmers farm according to industry guidelines and market demands,” he said. “If GM rice is grown it will damage our export market because it is controversial and overseas buyers don’t trust GMO.”
So there does seem to be reluctance to grow GM crops, but no policy initiatives to avoid GM crops coming in. Naive at the best. Presumably GM corn is already grown with seeds available from neighbouring countries.
Perhaps the following news snippet (Business Monitor, Sept. 27) can enlighten what's going on, though arguably from the Philippines, a country which seems to have less scruples when it comes to growing whatever be it GM crop or not.
'In the Philippines, the cultivation of GM corn, such as the insect-resistant Bt-corn and roundup-ready corn varieties, is preferred over hybrid or native varieties because of its benefits, according to Romero [Gabriel O. Romero, Regulatory Affairs Lead of Monsanto Philippines Inc.].
Romero said that, before, it was only India and the Philippines planting GM crops in Asia. “Australia has its GM cotton; India has GM eggplant or  Bt eggplant. Now, Myanmar is planting GM cotton,” Rotmero said sans citing sources.
Romero added that China has been into GM cotton and GM papaya, while Pakistan is now also planting GM cotton.
“Not all of these are ‘legal planting’,” Romero said, adding that legal planting is only in the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia'.
Basically the article (without any emphasis on the negatives) bandstands Monsanto's objective to steam roll all Asian agriculture, one country at a time. But ultimately all Asian agriculture will see GM crops massively adopted, preferably those of Monsanto. 

Royal
A scathing article from the Bangkok Post (Oct. 18) notes a near Perronesque attitude to what the late King stood for. Anyway, it seems the current Thai regime has it's own ideas:
'Unfortunately, certain authorities recently seem to be doing things that contradict the late King's principles. This month, the Department of Agriculture (DOA) appeared to push for an amendment of the 1999 Plant Varieties Protection Act during the period when Thai people are mourning the late King ahead of the royal cremation ceremony. The amendment effort is also being criticised for favouring giant seed companies, enabling them to monopolise the ownership of certain "patented" plant varieties they developed from local plants and seeds. Accordingly, it will make it difficult for farmers to be self-reliant. The law amendment effort is seen to be aligned with the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) Convention of 1991. For decades, big transnational corporations, particularly giant seed companies, have put pressure on Thailand to accept the 1991 UPOV Convention.
Biothai, a non-profit organisation working for the protection of Thailand's biodiversity, issued a warning several years ago that several international free trade agreements (FTAs), particularly the Thai-US FTA and the Asean-Europe FTA, would force Thailand to change its laws to comply with the convention. And now it is actually happening. The DOA's proposed amendment to the law has been accused of jettisoning farmers' rights to save commercial seeds and regrow them. Violators risk facing criminal charges in which the punishment is a jail term or a fine or both.
However, the DOA has denied the allegation, saying that, under the proposed bill, small-scale farmers can still keep seeds for replanting, while plant variety study and innovation research will be expanded to create new strains that will bolster exports of agricultural products.
...
Still, it is stipulated in Section 35 of the bill that replanting must be carried out for the purpose of plant variety breeding and it must receive approval from a committee authorised to designate which plant varieties will be restricted or banned from replanting. In layman's terms, farmers will not be allowed to save commercial crop seeds and regrow them to make a living and feed their families. What they can do is buy new seeds from companies for new cultivation.
...
Instead of pushing for this new law, which is seen as favouring a handful of seed firms and limiting the rights of millions of farmers, the department should have followed the late King's valuable example'.
Stocktaking
Away from the controversy, exports of rice from Cambodia are ever increasing. The Phnom Penh Post (Oct. 6 ):
'Cambodian rice exports increased nearly 17 percent during the first nine months compared to the same period last year, with exporters pushing to fill orders under China’s higher import quota as European markets remained steady.
A total of 421,900 tonnes of rice was exported between January and September, a 16.7 percent increase compared to the first nine months of 2016, according to government data published yesterday.
China – which has agreed to accept 200,000 tonnes of rice this year – was the top destination for rice shipments, receiving 124,700 tonnes during the period, with 53,900 tonnes and 35,400 tonnes delivered to France and Poland, respectively'.
More in the pipeline, with the deal with Bangladesh becoming reality. The Phnom Penh Post (Sep. 29):
'Cambodia and Bangladesh have finalised terms on a massive rice deal that could see up to 1 million tonnes of rice purchased from the Kingdom over the next five years, with the first shipment due to begin by November, a source close to the deal said yesterday.
Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), confirmed that an agreement had been made between the two governments after the relevant ministries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in August that hoped to replenish Bangladesh’s stockpiles after heavy flooding earlier this year decimated the country’s crops.
 ...
He added that the deal, which will be managed by the state-run company Green Trade, allows for flexibility in the next harvest season that will begin in January. While he declined to provide the agreed upon price for the deal, he said that the current market price for Cambodian white rice was at $430 a tonne.
In late August, Reuters news agency reported that Bangladesh had agreed to purchase Cambodian rice at $453 a tonne, while local officials insisted that price negotiations were still ongoing'.
How to develop the sector? A double take from the remaining news source on improving storage and drying facilities. The Phnom Penh Post (Sep. 13):
'The government-run Rural Development Bank (RDB) has extended the deadline to receive proposals from registered Cambodian agricultural firms to develop rice storage and drying facilities after receiving a tepid response to its finance offer, a bank official said yesterday'.
Phnom Penh Post (Sep. 26):
'The state-run Rural Development Bank (RDB) received a total of 10 proposals from Cambodian agricultural firms expressing interest in developing rice storage and drying facilities across three provinces using government-backed low-interest loans, a bank official said yesterday.
Kao Thach, chief executive of RDB, said six more companies submitted proposals for the $15 million finance package after the bank extended the application deadline from September 8 to September 22 due to a low response. Only four companies submitted proposals during the initial three-week call for submissions.
...
The storage facilities are intended to alleviate the stress on farmers and millers when rice stockpiles begin to stack up and are expected to be operational by the start of the next harvest season in January.
...
Earlier this year RDB awarded a $15 million low-interest loan to Thanakea Srov (Kampuchea) Plc, the operator of the Cambodian Rice Bank, to expand its rice storage warehouse in Battambang province.
The warehouse is set to be the first privately owned centralised storage facility with a capacity to store 200,000 tonnes of wet paddy rice and to process 3,000 tonnes of paddy rice daily'.
Direction
Thailand's The Nation (Oct. 2) looks at proposed new taxing:
'Citing its likely impact of further impoverishing already vulnerable rice farmers, some academics and farming leaders are slamming a proposed new national water-use policy that would tax farmers for irrigating their fields.
...
In the volume-based billing system, water costs would range from Bt0.5 per cubic metre of water for agriculture and animal husbandry, Bt1-Bt3 per cubic metre for tourism-oriented businesses, restaurants, and recreation businesses, and more than Bt3 per cubic metre for large-scale use such as large farms, industry, and power generation.
Economics lecturer Decharut Sukkumnoed from Kasetsart University, is concerned that the seemingly sensible approach would end up further hurting already struggling farm families. Collecting a water bill from farmers would intensify their financial difficulties by generating a new expense at a time when increased farming costs and decreased crop prices are already resulting in deficits among small farmers'.
Concerning price and market. The Nation (Sep. 30):
'Charoen Laothamatas, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said yesterday that growing strength of the Thai currency has negatively impacted on the country’s exports of rice and other farm products such as rubber |sheet, tapioca and sugar. These products have 90 per cent local content, so the baht’s rise makes them more expensive than those of our competitors.
“The Thai currency has risen by 8.5 per cent against the US dollar, whereas the Vietnam dong has just risen 2 per cent against the greenback, resulting in Thai rice exporters losing market shares to their counterparts in Vietnam ,” he said'.
Bangkok Post (Oct. 17):
'Strong overseas demand for Thai rice is expected to support prices even as an influx of around 25 million tonnes of the 2017/18 major crop is about to flood the market next month, say industry officials.
Thai Rice Exporters Association president Charoen Laothammatas said hefty demand from the overseas markets could push 2017 rice exports to 10.8 million tonnes, nearly matching the record high of 10.9 million tonnes in 2014'.
What says the competition?
An interesting article from Vietnam.net (Oct. 8) looks forward and sees that rice is not the export flagship all regard:
'Phong [Hoang Ngoc Phong, deputy director of the Economic Development Consultancy Center] stressed that it is necessary to find a new direction for the delta development by changing the agricultural production model.
...
“Agriculture doesn’t always mean rice cultivation. It would be better to reduce the rice growing area to a reasonable level. We don’t strive to grow rice to export rice products at low prices, because farmers cannot make profits, while the state has to make heavy investments,” he said.
Phong went on to say that instead of trying to prevent saline intrusion, Mekong Delta should adapt to it.
In fact, in many localities, people have adapted to the saltwater intrusion when changing the crop structure. They have one rice crop and one shrimp/fish crop instead of two rice crops a year'.
But the above note is but a sideline, see this article from nhandan.com (Oct. 17):
'The Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) has set the target of raising Vietnam’s rice export revenues to between US$2.3 and 2.5 billion by 2030.
The target was announced at a conference on realising Vietnam’s rice export strategy during the 2017-2020 period, with a view towards 2030.
Under the strategy, Vietnam will gradually reduce its rice export volumes whilst increasing the proportion of high-earning varieties, with the annual volume for the 2017-2020 period targeted at 4.5-5 million tonnes and shrinking to 4 million tonnes by 2030'.
It could be argued that growing less would result in higher prices thus achieving the same return with less effort ...
From afar this article in the  Guardian (Sep. 24 ):
'India is rice country: the cereal provides daily sustenance for more than 60% of the population. Half a century ago, it was home to more than 100,000 rice varieties, encompassing a stunning diversity in taste, nutrition, pest-resistance and, crucially in this age of climate change and natural disasters, adaptability to a range of conditions. Today, much of this biodiversity is irretrievably lost, forced out by the quest for high-yield hybrids and varieties encouraged by government agencies. Such “superior” varieties now cover more than 80% of India’s rice acreage'.
It then describes a local Orissa state initiative to save it's own varieties and seeds to increase the ability to be independent of outside agents be they government or privateers.
'By reviving seeds, they are also reviving food, taste, ritual, nutrition, and sustainability – attributes often forgotten as a result of the obsession with yield. Attributes that make rice more than just a bundle of calories and starch'.
Suited
From rice to veggie growing. The Phnom Penh Post (Oct. 6) gives space for vegetable growing initiatives:
'German development agency GIZ held a consultation workshop in Phnom Penh yesterday for its two-year Facilitating Trade in Agricultural Goods in Asean (FTAG) initiative, holding discussions with Ministry of Agriculture officials and local traders aimed at identifying the most suitable fruit and vegetable crops for cross-border trade between Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam'.
Phnom Penh Post (Oct. 10):
'A $20 million Ministry of Agriculture programme has struggled to meet its goal of introducing 160 tonnes a day of high-quality locally produced vegetables to the market, with ministry officials saying that as a result of high production costs and pricing issues it was currently supplying less than a third of that amount.
...
Kean Sophea, deputy director of the Department of Horticulture and Subsidiary Crops at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that while the programme had so far signed on 2,060 farmers and 260 rice cooperatives, disagreements between farmers and buyers over prices had led to its poor performance.
“Farmers are ready to farm and sell following our food safety standards, but buyers complain about the higher prices and consumers are not happy either,” he said.
“The main challenge is still between farmer, buyer and consumer and until that is solved we will only be able to supply 50 tonnes per day.”
Pluses
Vientiane Times (Oct. 9) looks at coffee growing:
'The value of coffee exported by Laos is expected to exceed US$112 million in the 2017 fiscal year, an increase of 3 percent compared to 2016.
Coffee exports topped US$74 million in the first six months of this year, an increase of US$50 million compared to the same period in 2016.
...
Association Office Head Mr Sivixay Xayaseng told Vientiane Times on Friday that many companies have supported and encouraged local farmers to grow more coffee under the 2+3 system and to set a purchasing plan before reporting the figures to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
The 2+3 policy is a government initiative that encourages investors and land owners to partner in industrial tree plantations.
The system refers to a framework where farmers must provide land and labour while investors provide funding, technical support and a ready market for growers'.
And this (Vientiane Times, Oct. 16):
'The government is planning to develop coffee-rich Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos as the country’s top agri-business and agri-tourism destination due to its perfect climate and fertile volcanic soils.
A master plan for developing the plateau is being drafted by the National Economic Research Institute to ensure sustainable development in Bolaven'.
Life 
Bangkok Post (Oct. 1) has an expansive exposé of rice growers choosing for organic growing with the only alternative being growing sugar cane:
'A new machine stands quietly in a corner of a small rice mill north of Amnat Charoen town. Its operation will commence at the end of this year, marking an important step for local farmers to boost
their rice production. ...
When local farmers talk about "changing the world", it means supplying premium organic produce to the market. In return, they receive a reasonable income that lifts up their livelihood.
...
The self-determination movement of local farmers in Amnat Charoen is challenging the perspective of the central government and the entire agriculture sector, whose direction is determined by top-down policies. Promoting large-scale farming is on the agenda of the current military regime too, leading to conflict and public scepticism about whether it can save farmers in the long run.
...
At first, organic rice farmer Isara Keaodee didn't know who came to buy paddy fields in his community in Amnat Charoen's Nam Plik subdistrict.
It started with a few plots, then more.
The purchaser offered enticing prices for each plot. Farmers mired in debt could hardly resist such offers that delivered quick cash. Some sold their land without knowing the consequences.
It later became clear that each small tract pieced together in a large land plot, where a new sugar cane mill and a 61-megawatt biomass power plant will be soon built.
The mill, with a total daily processing capacity of 20,000 tonnes of sugar cane, will be run by Kalasin Mitr Sugar Company Limited, owned by Thailand's and Asia's biggest sugar and bioenergy producer Mitr Phol Group. The biomass plant will be fed by bagasse.
The advent of the sugar industry has raised concerns among organic rice farmers. Most of their fears concern herbicides and chemical fertiliser used in sugar cane plantations. Water seizure by cane monoculture is another major worry.
...
Funded by money from their own pockets, a group of organic farmers toured communities around sugar cane mills in the Northeast to get more information.
"I've seen many farmers suffer when they produce only to serve factories. They produce fast. They get support. But they are in great debt from purchasing chemicals and fertilisers to boost growth to catch up with the factories' demand," says Mr Isara.
"They don't actually hold market shares. They have very low negotiation power."
Two public hearings on a sugar cane mill and a biomass power plant were held at Nam Plik. Protesters claimed that the hearings did not provide complete information about the pros and cons of the project.
When Spectrum [= Bangkok Post] requested an interview with Mitr Phol, we were told by its public relations department that the executive who can comment was abroad'.
Finally, following a very interesting and intriguing video describing life in the Lao highlands. It notes the difficulties facing agriculture, practises in using chemical herbicides and eking out a living with hunting and collecting. 
More can be found here.


'This video is Part 2 of the 3-part series that covers the lives of the villagers in Houay Len over a 12-month period. It looks at the lives of three Phong women Mrs. Tong, Mrs. Bua and Mrs. Chueng and examines local women’s lives during the production season from April to August. The women talk about the work that goes into getting fields ready for planting rice and maize, as well as how they feel about pesticides and why they are used in the village. We also learn more about nutrition and where Houay Len’s villagers get their food'.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Why

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

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

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

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