Sunday, September 4, 2016

Models

The Phnom Penh Post on August 15 reports:
'Smallholder farmers have a crucial role to play in tempering the growing pains of Cambodia’s transition to an industrialised economy, but unless something is done, they will face a land shortage in the coming years, according to the authors of a new report.
They will need land!, a report commissioned by the NGO Mekong Region Land Governance, predicts that by 2030, the amount of land required to sustain Cambodia’s smallholder farmer population will have increased by anywhere from 10 to 64 per cent of 2015 levels, or 320,600 to 1,962,400 hectares. The lead author of the report, Jean-Christophe Diepart, yesterday stressed smallholders’ importance in Cambodia'.
Now there's no doubt that the need to support smallholders is required. However, how to scientifically prove this? By thorough research.

The research cited above, surely does go out of it's way to predict land hunger needs for small holders. Besides demographic models there are also economic growth models which suggest that urbanisation will temper demographic growth in rural areas.

However one is limited in the fact that prior research references are patchy and not relevant as any research pre-2007-2008 has more to do with previous situation of conflict.
What I did miss is the possible assumption that much of the urbanisation is due to the influx of exactly those that are the focus of this report, the smallholders. 
On the other hand f.i. the opportunity cost of growing rice is neglected. While exactly the availablity of rice land is the overall factor in having sufficient / insufficient land.

It's exactly this kind of modelling that limits the findings and conclusions. 
There is another recent example on which the Phnom Penh Post (Sep. 2) reports:
Climate change is threatening the Cambodian rice industry, and it is marginalised communities that will be worst affected unless the government takes action, according to a new study.
The study’s authors, Sokuntheavy Hong and Jun Furuya, took historical climatic, socioeconomic and rice-yield data as their benchmark, and used economic and climate forecasts to estimate future rice crops and prices through 2030.
Looking at both moderate and extreme economic and climate change scenarios, they found that it is not a matter of whether rice prices will go up in coming years, but by how much. In the worst-case scenario, the authors predict that by 2030, rice prices will have increased by as much as 1.52 million riel ($370) per tonne – or 88 per cent above the price of $420 a tonne, reported in December.
It seems that pure economics contradict this. If prices will go up, more land will be brought under rice, if not in Cambodia but certainly worldwide, easing prices. 

Somehow the model created fails to take future development into consideration, seeing Cambodia as a separate entity with no means to exchange with the wider world.

Cambodia
Continuing on the climate change subject, there's this snippet from the Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 26):
'About 40,000 Battambang rice-farming families already suffering steep losses from a severe drought are at risk of seeing their crops wiped out entirely by devastating floods as late seasonal rains start to kick in'.
It illustrates how Cambodia's future will be determined by climate changes: there will be winners and losers, with hopefully more winners than losers.
 
More marginal news. The Khmer Times (Aug. 22):
'Rice millers and exporters were strongly urged by the Cambodian Rice Federation (CRF) on Friday to adhere to a code of ethics, to ensure that consumers of the Kingdom’s staple grain sold in domestic and overseas markets were not cheated by unscrupulous traders mixing supplies with lower quality rice to maximize profits.
...
Cambodia’s rice exports fell by 6.9 percent from the 283,825 tons in the first six months of last year to about 268,190 tons in same period this year, according to a report released by the General Department of Agriculture last fortnight.
Hean Vanhan, the deputy director of the General Department of Agriculture, told Khmer Times the drop in the volume of rice exports was partly due to millers and exporters not having enough capital to buy rice in the harvest season to store in warehouses for processing and export, as well as the flow of rice imported from Vietnam, while Thailand was releasing its rice to the market at a lower price'.
While the CRF also points to the Ministry of Commerce. The Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 15):
'The Ministry of Commerce set up a new taskforce on Friday to address challenges faced by the Kingdom’s struggling rice industry and assess demands made by members of the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF), who have decried the ineffectiveness of an earlier taskforce set up by the ministry.
...
Tang Chhong Ngy, marketing manager of rice miller LBN Angkor (Kampuchea), said the first taskforce had been highly ineffective and the second working group was created after the same issues were raised again by the CRF.
“We saw many procedures at the national level but none that actually went into operation,” he said'.
Clouds ahead
News from Vietnam which as of yet fails to register outside of Vietnam. Ongoing trade negotiations with the EU will ease access for rice imports and there's a hunch who might be on the losing hand. The news as reported by vnexpress.net (Aug. 25):
'Vietnam's rice exports will enjoy a zero percent tariff to the European Union from 2018. 
The free trade agreement between Vietnam and the E.U. (EVFTA), which comes into effect in 2018, will allow the country to export 100,000 tons of rice each year to the E.U., quadruple the current figure.
...
In 2013, Vietnam accounted for 3 percent of the E.U. rice market, while Thailand made up about 18 percent, Cambodia 22 percent and India 24 percent'.
Vietnam.news (Aug. 31) adds:
'Professor Võ Tòng Xuân, a leading rice expert, said it was hard for Việt Nam to share the same rank as Thailand, but the country could learn from the experience of Cambodia, which has been emerging thanks to its rice winning the world’s ‘best rice’ title for three consecutive years'.
Bangkok Post (Aug. 4) predicts rice pricing for the immediate future:
'Thailand's rice market is expected to face a price war next year as a result of oversupply that will lower prices in both domestic and export markets, while the stronger baht could hurt the competitiveness of rice shipments, exporters warn'.
Crop output would be 10-20% up as more farmers expand rain-fed rice fields. Which in a way addresses some issues raised by the second model presented above: higher rainfall creates floods for some, but more irrigation possibilities for others.

Meanwhile the Thai junta hopes to encourage farmers to choose other crops. The Bangkok Post (Aug. 20):
'About 110,000 rice-growing families whose land is not well-suited for the grain have signed up to a programme to help them switch to other crops or raising animals, Agriculture Department director-general Olarn Pithak said'.
The incentives were cash hand-outs and soft loans ...
 
A video on farmers rice seed research in north Thailand (Bangkok Post, Aug. 14):



Of elephants
Away from rice there's not much to mention. The Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 8) exemplifies just how difficult developing the farming sector may well be:
'Just three months since starting production, Cambodia’s largest sugar mill is sitting idle due to a shortage of its primary input sugarcane, a provincial Agriculture Ministry official said yesterday.
...
Rui Feng claims its mammoth factory, which opened in April, is capable of processing 20,000 tonnes of sugarcane per day, turning it into 2,000 tonnes of refined sugar for buyers in the EU, China and India.
However, Trida said the mill had not operated at capacity and estimated that it processed just 10,000 tonnes of sugarcane before shutting down its production line in June'.
Still, thinking big is the way forward. It seems. The Vientiane Times (Aug. 23):
'Champassak province farmers will be supported in planting thousands of hectares of cashew nut trees after the provincial Administration Office gave the go ahead for a US$9 million Korean project.
D eputy Director of the pro vincial Agriculture and Forestry Department, MrViengsaySipraphone, told Vientiane Times on Monday afternoon that G Farm Company from the Republic of Korea will spend US$6m to construct a cashew nut processing plant and other infrastructure on an area of 150 ha with an adjacent 47 ha plot for seedlings'.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Safety first

To start off this update, we need to move away from Cambodia, away from Asia. It's the U.S.A. where a precedent is being set, which is another nail in the coffin of those banking on consumer power.

Initially it looked like a gain for campaigners, who have been able to force the U.S. government to label food from GMO sources. The bad news: the label doesn't actually have to be readable to the consumer!
Al Jazeera (Aug. 5):
'Food safety organisations in the US have condemned a new law they say will allow food producers to obscure the labeling of genetically modified ingredients in their products, despite widespread health concerns over the effects of GMOs and the pesticides associated with them.
Signed into law on Friday by President Barack Obama, the legislation permits manufacturers to inform consumers of GMO content through the use of Quick Response or QR codes, which require a device - such as a smartphone - to read.
The law was passed despite opposition from environmental and food safety groups, as well as national polls which show that some 90 percent of Americans surveyed favoured clear labeling.
...
Paul said that more than 300 food and pesticide makers spent nearly $400m over the last four years in lobbying efforts to defeat the mandatory labeling of GMOs.
"We failed not because of lack of support from consumers - but because of the enormous amounts of money thrown by the industry," Paul [Katherine Paul, an associate director of the Organic Consumers Association] said, adding that she was disappointed by Obama, who once vowed to enforce clear GMO labeling'.
The law also fails to stipulate penalties if found in breach of the law.  
Let's hope that the most probable outcome will be the opposite: food without GMO sourcing will be labelled clearly GMO-free! 

More or less on the same subject, the Ground Reality blog takes a pot shot at the conclusion arrived by Nobel laureates that we all should swallow the GMO pill. 
From IRRI.org (Jun. 23):
'On the subject of genetically engineered foods, this rings true. After years of debate, the prestigious National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has released its verdict: there is no substantiated evidence that food from genetically engineered (GE) crops were less safe than food from non-GE crops'.
Then the Ground Reallity response (Jul. 17):
'But first let’s look at the usual scientific rhetoric that I find is repeated worldwide ad nauseam: “Opposition based on emotion and dogma contradicted by data must be stopped.” Whose data? The data produced by GM companies or the data produced based on the research funded by biotech giants? 
...
To say that scientific and regulatory agencies around the world, which find GM crops as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production, is a clever ploy to hoodwink public opinion and thereby push harmful and risky crop production technologies.
...
What has to be accepted is that the food crisis the world witness is not because of any shortfall in production. The problem is because of the absence of food justice, which in other words means access and distribution'.
Gold rush no more
The bigger picture is that like many exporting countries, Cambodia is struggling in it's ambitions to gain more market share as the overall world market gives mostly purchasers the power to bargain.
The Phnom Penh Post (Jul. 8) kicks off the concerns:
'Cambodian rice exports decreased nearly 6 per cent year-on-year during the first semester, reinforcing concerns about the future of the rice industry, the Kingdom’s most important agricultural sector.
...
Rice industry experts say the sector is suffering from a number of issues, including competition from low-cost Vietnamese imports, high production costs, and millers’ lack of finance.
According to CRF president Sok Puthyvuth, who was re-elected for a second term last Saturday, the issues have already resulted in between 10 and 20 per cent of the nation’s rice millers declaring bankruptcy'.
The Khmer Times (Jul. 18) chimes in:
'Cambodia’s rice industry has been advised by the European Union (EU) to seek other markets and not just concentrate its exports to Europe, as it moves from a low-income country in its least developed country (LDC) status to a lower-middle income nation, amid calls to cut its EU tariff-free export quotas.
...
According to Oryza, the daily online markets newsletter, Italy is pushing the EU to cut LDC rice imports from Asia to protect the Italian rice market that seems to be getting bigger'.
One way round trade issues is reported by Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 3). Cambodia has asked China to double it's rice imports which as Cambodia is the only country to support China in the South Chinese Sea. Anyway:
'China will also consider increasing the export quota on Cambodian rice to 200,000 tonnes starting in 2017, as well as continuing to negotiate on the exports of broken rice, banana, mango, longan, cashew nut, pepper, coffee and soybean. The current export quota on rice to China is 100,000 tonnes per year.
Ministry spokesperson Soeng Sophary stressed that while the talks were fruitful, no official decisions were made'.
Future for Cambodia's rice not bright? Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 3):
'An industry analyst has issued a dire forecast for Cambodia’s rice sector, claiming the long-grain “white gold” that has been credited with lifting millions of Cambodia’s farmers out of abject poverty, and which seems a natural fit for the Kingdom’s agrarian workforce, is on a downward trajectory.
Jim Plamondon, a former technical evangelist for Microsoft who is developing new marketing strategies for Cambodian rice varieties, says the Kingdom’s rice industry – the lifeblood of its agricultural economy – is headed for a brutal and imminent consolidation'.
Basically lots of policies on rice import and export are based on the once in a lifetime price spike of 7 years ago, something that will not happen in the near future. With prices sluggish or dropping it's traders and millers who most probably have bought at too expensive terms and are facing losses.

Did I hear niche markets? The Khmer Times (Jul. 14):
'As the demand for organic rice in European and United States markets keeps growing, many local rice millers and exporters are moving quickly and signing contract farming deals to supply them with the premium product'.
There's ongoing confusion concerning branding Cambodia's rice. The Phnom Penh Post (Jul. 21) looks to bring clarity in this, but it seems this will not clear itself.
'The private sector’s campaign to develop a single recognisable umbrella brand for Cambodia’s premium varieties of fragrant rice looks increasingly tenuous after a government body voiced objections to the name selected, and argued instead that the country should market each variety of rice under its own individual brand name.'
Warnings
We
ll, self-explanatory, not only is Cambodia facing a difficult export market. Vietnam's Thanhniennews (Jul. 19):
'Vietnam has reduced its rice export target for the year since demand is falling as many buyers await cheap supply from Thailand’s stock clearance sale.
The Vietnam Food Association (VFA) said it has reduced the export target from 6.5 million tons to 5.65 million tons, Tien Phong newspaper reported'.
The Bangkok Post (Aug. 4):
Thailand's rice market is expected to face a price war next year as a result of oversupply that will lower prices in both domestic and export markets, while the stronger baht could hurt the competitiveness of rice shipments, exporters warn'. 
So no good news for farmers, though the absence of drought would mean better harvests. But with prices set to drop, it's traders who won't be interested in buying as they might face increased losses. So farmers will get stuck.

How should Thailand compete even better? The Bangkok Post (Jul. 27):
'The government is being urged to exercise the powerful Section 44 of the interim charter to cut red tape and speed up sales of state rice stocks'.
Same recipe everywhere ...

Moving on, the Bangkok Post (Jul. 25) has some wider implications of new trade trends:
In 2014, Thailand imported only 593,000 tonnes of wheat.
The figure rose to 3.46 million tonnes in 2015 and will reach an estimated 5 million tonnes this year.
Higher imports have affected domestic prices of maize and tapioca chips in recent years. Wheat imports come at the behest of animal feed producers which are feeding the chicken boom ...
Scape goat
The Bangkok Post (Aug. 2) notes that the nonpolitical trial of the former democratic government by the current junta revolves around the possible loss of what they now estimate as 26 bn Bhat. Though how this figure is arrived at is unsure as previous attempts to pinpoint the exact losses resulted in data that were much higher. 
It also seems that the timing of this is more significant: just a week before a referendum on a new constitution that no political party favours with the outcome that either a new constitution is voted in thereby guaranteeing the junta constitutional influence. Or if not approved by the electorate the junta will also remain; a win-win situation.
Faced with the formal accusations, the former PM responds (Bangkok Post, Aug 5):
'Former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra told the Supreme Court on Friday that her loss-ridden rice-pledging programme really helped debt-ridden farmers and the national economy.
...
Ms Yingluck told the court that pledging prices set at 15,000 to 20,000 baht per tonnes were not too high because they were aimed at enabling rice growers to earn equivalent to 300 baht per day -- the same as the daily minimum wage for labourers -- and resolving their chronic indebtedness, she said'.
Seems fair.

Flood
Vientiane Times (Jul. 28) notes that coffee is becoming an alternative crop in the northern province of Phongsaly:
'Phongsaly, long renowned for its green tea, is set to be the nation's first coffee producer in the north after around 3,000 hectares of coffee trees were planted in the province'. 
Apparently this has been going on for a couple of years under Chinese guidance.

Then
again, in Cambodia coffee growing is not so positive. The Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 3):
'Samban [director of the Agricultural ministry’s department of industrial crops] attributed the contraction to the impact of recent droughts and the volatility of global coffee prices, as well as a flood of cheap imported coffee into the market.
The shrinking market for locally produced coffee has not discouraged MK Mondulkiri Company, which has found a niche supplying organic Cambodian coffee to the local and international market.
Orn Chanthy, the company’s CEO, said the competition in the coffee retail market was fierce, but many consumers recognise that cheap products are often of inferior quality.
“It is hard to compete on price as coffee can be imported cheaply, though without any assurance of quality,” she said. “There is a lot of fake coffee in the market and some coffee [deceptively] uses the name of our coffee-growing region.”
Chanthy said exports of MK Mondulkiri coffee increased last year, with shipments going to European and Asian buyers, though she declined to provide figures'.
So with China seeking more and more land for banana's, it's no wonder that Cambodia may well be next in line. The Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 2):
'A Chinese agricultural company has agreed to establish a banana plantation in Cambodia, according to a senior government official'.
Info on Mong Reththy Group. Phnom Penh Post (Jul. 18) notes how it will step into the agrofeed mill business:
'Agro-industrial conglomerate Mong Reththy Group is constructing a new $10 million feed mill to supply its own livestock operations as well as the domestic market, the group’s eponymous president and CEO said yesterday'.
While on Jul. 6 the same source focuses on the companies palm oil operations:
'Export of crude palm oil from Mong Reththy Group, the Kingdom’s only active producer, doubled during the first half of the year despite prices showing no indication of improving, a company executive said yesterday'.
Finally the Bangkok Post has put up two video's which highlight award-winning Eastwest Seed business. There's this (Jun. 12) on the business explaining also why they are not so interested in GMO seeds. And this (Jul. 10) about the way that the company is for instance pushing the marigold business.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Assessment

Not much to mention this month, everyone seems busy in growing rice itself rather than buying, selling and / or producing hot air.

Let's start with some bytes from Cambodia itself. The Phnom Penh Post (Jun. 8):
'Cambodian rice exports have dramatically declined over the past three months compared to the same period last year, according to data released by the General Department of Agriculture yesterday. The data detailed that rice exports had a monthly decrease of 14.5 per cent in March, 30.8 per cent in April, and 28.5 per cent in May'.  
It seems that the dropping prices which are heading even more lower are driving Cambodian government policies.

Take the Khmer Times (Jun. 29):
'The government has come to the rescue of rice millers and exporters, currently in the throes of a serious financial crisis, with loans of between $20 and $30 million to the Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF). This is to help the sector purchase rice from farmers after the harvest this November, to store in warehouses and process them for export, said the CRF'.
Or this from the Phnom Penh Post (Jun. 29): 
'The Ministry of Economy and Finance announced on Monday that the government will block all illegal rice imports at its borders and limit legal rice shipments from Vietnam based on production cost.
...
According to Sarith [secretary-general of the Cambodian Rice Federation (CRF)], Vietnamese rice produced for $200 to $300 per tonne was cheaper than locally milled rice, even with a 17 per cent import and VAT tax assessed'. 
Or Phnom Penh Post (Jun. 1):
'The Institute of Standards of Cambodia (ISC) is soliciting feedback from local stakeholders as it prepares to launch two new standards for the rice industry, the country’s most important agricultural sector.
The ISC is giving the public until June 30 to comment on its proposed national standards for the production and trade of two premium rice varieties – phka rumduol and phka chansensar – Chheng Uddara, director of the ISC’s standards development, training and consultancy department, said yesterday'.
The New Mandala (Jul. 1) has an extensive view of the direction where the Cambodian rice industry should be heading. Synopsis of what needs to be done: branding, certifying and reducing transport costs.

That may seem so easy, but in all three mentioned Cambodia is far behind competitors. 
The article concludes that the only way to stay competitive is to market a different product. Alas, the article fails to mention what that different product should be.

Hurting
Further afield the Bangkok Post (Jun. 3) seems very much interested in what the junta is feeding the press
'The government is set to call its biggest rice auction to capitalise on higher demand as new supply wanes.
...
Chookiat Ophaswongse, honorary president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said the new auction was timely given high market demand, but noted the amount was relatively high. Mr Chookiat said the government's auction was unlikely to affect rice market prices, as state stocks are mostly old grains while foreign purchase orders require primarily newly harvested rice'.
Naturally then that the Bangkok Post reports (Jun. 16) on the positives of this recent rice auction:
'The government has sold an estimated 1.99 million tonnes in its latest rice auction, the biggest since the National Council for Peace and Order took control, fetching 19.4 billion baht'.
And more government sales are expected from Thailand (Bangkok Post, Jun. 28):
'Thai rice is likely to see strong sales in the second half of the year as officials visit various countries to make deals amid expected healthy demand'. 
Funny thing though is that sales are still down for 2016 at lower prices ...
 
Rice production will be down in Laos (Vientiane Times, Jun. 23): 
'Rice production this fiscal year may be less than targeted as both natural disaster, including drought and flooding, as well as insects are expected to impact crop yields'. 
Vientiane Times on (Jul. 1) reports on the sudden realisation that most of what Laos produces is de-facto organic
'Officials believe that some rice fields in Savannakhet province that do not use chemical pesticides and herbicides might have the potential to grow organic rice for the international market.
Talking on the possible markets there was this comment:
'“One of the problems we found during the training of farmers is the change from old skills to new. It's hard to tell them to change what they have learnt from their parents about farming rice,” he [Head of the plantation division of the Savannakhet Agriculture and Forestry Department] said'.
Then from Vietnam the Tuoitrenews (Jun. 11) comes with trade news:
'China has started applying more stringent regulation to ensure the safety of rice imports from Vietnam, a move some Vietnamese insiders say will benefit, instead of hurting, the rice sector'. 
It seems to stimulate official imports over illegal and give impetus to quality control while bringing down costs for verification. All good news apparently.

Peaked
A couple of other crops to hear from. Btw what's happened to our rubber press?

Anyway, the Phnom Penh Post (Jun. 14) focuses on the negatives of the black pepper boom which manifests itself in increased deforestation both to expand in area as well as to provide supports:
'While the luxury timber trade continues to eat away at Cambodia’s forests, there is another industry that poses a growing threat to the Kingdom’s trees: pepper farms.
...
Black pepper prices peaked during June 2015 at $10,900 per tonne, compared to $1,560 per tonne in July 2005, according to Nedspice. 
....
“Not only local people but also newcomers want to grow pepper,” said Prob Chib, a member of a Phnong ethnic community in Mondulkiri, adding that the new arrivals hail from Kratie, Kampong Cham, Tbong Khmum, Prey Veng, Takeo and Siem Reap. 
“First they cut down the forest and sell the wood, then they occupy the land while they grow pepper, then they cut the forest in another location to make pepper stakes. It’s double deforestation'.
More negatives, this time from the banana business. The Bangkok Post (Jun. 5) looks at the banana business driven by Chinese interests in the north of Thailand.
The article explores recent developments with large scale investment from China into banana growing. Much is made of it's supposedly over-use of chemicals, it's extraction of water from rivers and the way these leases are set up with what might be foreign entities (not allowed under Thai law). 

It makes a comparison with Japanese driven investment in northern Thai agriculture: 
'Under Lanna Agro-Industrial's model contract farmers, who own the land, have the power to negotiate prices, said Ekasit Nunbhakdi, coordinator of the Japan Watch Project and a researcher for Thailand Research Fund. "We have to ask ourselves why Thai farmers have to rely on Chinese investors, who are perceived as treating workers and resources poorly. Are we taking care of our farmers well?" ddition, Thailand does not view agriculture as important to its culture. "Unlike the Japanese who see agriculture as part of their cultural foundation," Mr Ekasit said."Thailand views agriculture as a commercial product. Thai farmers receive too little assistance, they take whatever they can get."   
Equally on the negative subject the Vientiane Times (Jun. 16):
'Imports of cassava and its products into Thailand must adhere to the specific government announcements, Thai government officials reaffirmed'.
It seems Thailand is willing to kill off imports by insisting on officialdom.


Paintbrush
Then the wrapping up of this blog some GMO issues. 

Regionally: the Bangkok Post (Jun. 9) copies as decreed by junta:
'Authorities have brushed aside farmers' concerns about imports of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) if Thailand joins the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Winichai Chaemchaeng, commerce vice-minister, said the TPP would limit GMO issues only to information exchange and cooperation on trade-related matters associated with products of modern biotechnology. Thailand has the Plant Quarantine Act that bars imports of GMOs, he said'.
Unfortunately the TPP will trump national legislation ...

Finally, the undergroundreporter notes (Jun. 15) how Brazil has a moratorium on imports of GMO from the United States: 
'The list of countries refusing Monsanto’s genetically-modified crops continues to grow. Highlighting the world divide on the issue, Brazil recently refused all U.S.-grown GM crops. While we are continually force-fed genetically modified foods — since they are in approximately 80 percent of all packaged, conventional foods in grocery stores in America — other countries are refusing to import them, grow them, or sell them within their borders.
...
Ironically, Brazil is the the second largest producer of GM crops in the world after the U.S., and grows 29 varieties of GM corn, so they are likely pulling rank for trade rather than hoping to save their population’s health  ...'.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Front

Halting the unlimited expansion of GMO crops are consumers and governments empowering them.

News office Reuters (May 6) explains the current situation concerning GMO crops and the hesitation in continuing on the same foot, albeit from a US perspective:
'Across the U.S. Farm Belt, top grain handlers have banned genetically modified crops that are not approved in all major overseas markets, shaking up a decades-old system that used the world's biggest exporting country as a launchpad for new seeds from companies like Monsanto Co.
...
The United States is the biggest producer of GMO crops and has long been at the forefront of technology aiming to protect crops against insects or allow them to resist herbicides.
That innovation is now seen as a risk to trade because it is hard to segregate crops containing unapproved traits from the billions of identical-looking bushels exported every year'.
Corporations and with them some governments wish to sell products to the public, which the same public has little or no faith in. 
The GMO lobbys' pitch is for more production (for farmers, but at lower prices ...) and lower prices (for the public, but also poorer quality); the lobbys' only real motivation is profit. 
Count ourselves lucky that there are still some governments who are able to withstand the lobbying power of these corporations. And are holding these same corporations to account.
Whether or not this will stay depends on the future of the TPP trade deal (or similar deals) as it seems the EU will cave in to business interests (source) while the companies pushing GMO and hybrids are hoping to get evermore stronger.

TPP and rice will lead to changes. The American DeltaFarmPress (May 20) has it doubts on TPP and the effect on local growers. 
Why? Mexico. 
Until 2008, Mexico had import tariffs on rice, but not on  those from the USA. Come rice price crisis (2007-2009), these tariffs were done away with and thus all of a sudden Vietnamese and Thai rice became (much) cheaper than US imported rice. Since though US lobbying has raised the tariff levels once again but the angst which concerns US farmers is that the TPP will result in the same tariffs applying to all signatories: Vietnam. So no easy market anymore for US rice. And thus little support from US rice farmers.

Considerate
Not too much from the Cambodian front. 
In the first highlight it is noted by Khmer times (May 5) that Cambodia is still no nearer ramping up rice exports to China:
'Officials from China will arrive in Cambodia soon to audit and evaluate rice producing companies and to check warehouses.
...
In December last year, China asked Cambodia to evaluate its rice exporters to determine whether they adhered to hygiene laws in China, because officials in the world’s second largest economy did not trust all of the 71 rice exporters registered with the Ministry of Commerce. They sent them the final registration list of rice producers and processors by the end of December last year and they will come to Cambodia to re-check and re-audit'.
However what about this smart marketing move from Cambodia? The Khmer Times (May 30):
'Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday asked China to consider Cambodia’s rice stocks as part of its effort to distribute food relief to other countries'.
Then the forgotten issue of illegal rice imports. The Phnom Penh Post (May 9):
'More than a month has elapsed since the government vowed to strengthen its borders to halt illegal imports of rice, yet little has been done to stem the flow of illicit rice shipments flooding into Cambodia from its foreign neighbours and undermining the export efforts of local producers'.
Not such a high priority?

Burden
On the Asian front (minus price issues), it's noted that China starts rice imports from Laos (source), see the following vdo.  Is China going Khao Niao?

Meanwhile the short term sees Philippines struggling to cope with drought. the Bangkok Post (May 4):

'The Philippines said on Wednesday that drought had caused the country's rice output to drop by about 300,000 tonnes, or a third higher than its estimate last month, and there was a risk heavy rains later in the year could inflict more crop damage'.
Insuring your rice in Thailand. PBS notes (May 22) that the Thai junta would want this to become mandatory. 
'The government is considering a plan which will make it compulsory for rice farmers to insure their rice crops with insurance companies which, in the long run, will ease the government’s burden in helping farmers'.
Just passing on the contentious bone. Eventually farmers would be compensating themselves, with insurance companies doing the admin and charging a hefty sum for the effort, no doubt.

Haggling
Prices of rice are edging upwards as everybody expects that climate disruption associated with El Niño weather patterns will bring havoc, at least some to the rice market with farmers here and there having problems with drought. This certainly has captured the global attention. Britains' the Independent (May 4): 
'The world is expected to suffer a major rice shortage after global production was hit by extreme weather patterns - potentially fuelling an international price crisis.
...
Dr
Samarendu Mohanty from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) told The Independent: “There is no doubt that the supply situation is very tight, and this will inevitably cause a spiral in demand.
“T
he extent of this crisis all depends on what happens during the upcoming monsoon season. If it goes badly in India and Indonesia and the crops don’t get the rain, there could be real trouble ahead.”
Less prominent, the Business Recorder (May 17) focuses on rice export prices:
'Benchmark Thai rice prices hit a two-year high on Tuesday as drought cut output from Asia's top rice growers and stoked demand for Thai exports, rice traders and exporters said.
Prices are at their highest level since the Thai military seized power two years ago and ended generous subsidies that  caused a glut in supply and a massive build-up in rice stockpiles in Thailand'.
Hurrah for the junta, which has hushed their own policies for Thai rice farmers?
 
The Bangkok Post (May 24) believes that prices will also rise in Thailand:
'Consumers are warned of a possible rise in the price of packaged rice as a dip in white rice output may lead packers to push for the increase over the next few months'. 
The article emphasizes how the packaged product will become more expensive, not necessarily the price farmers will receive ....
Then some bad news for the exporting nations. One of the main importers (the Philippines) hopes to become self sufficient in the near future. The Bangkok Post (May 13):
'The Philippines, the world's No. 3 rice buyer, regularly imports more than a million tonnes a year of the food staple to meet demand from its growing population'.
It's debatable whether or not the Philippines would be able to attain this. But expect this to further drive local prices down (which in return dissuades local farmers from growing (and investing in) more ...

The IRRI (May 27) has another take on this road plan. According to trade agreements, the Philippines will need to take the opposite road: no import restrictions meaning more exports to the Philippines. Or lower prices for farmers.

In the meantime there's Thailands great sell-off to contend with. Vietnam is not so fond of the Thai auction (Thanhnien, May 9):
'Thailand’s plan to sell off its rice stockpile within two months has sparked concerns for Vietnamese rice exporters, many of whom have been already hitting bumps.
They said Thailand’s clearance of 11.4 million tons, more than the country’s annual average export, in such a short period will push prices down significantly and hurt consumption of rice from Vietnam'. 
Not only is the sell-off cushioning prices, it's also distorting markets for Vietnamese exports. Vietnamnet (May 16):
'Luong Anh Tuan, director of Thinh Phat Food, also said that loyal markets had stopped negotiating to buy Vietnam’s rice. They are waiting to see the moves to be taken by Thailand before making a decision.
“Meanwhile, other partners of Vietnam from China and Africa will haggle with Vietnamese exporters about the prices and try to force the prices down,” Tuan said'.
There don't seem to be any apparent remedies for Vietnam, other than seeking new markets.  
Maybe it would be better to ride out the oncoming storm?

Meanwhile the Bangkok Post (May 18) seize on this:
'Agencies in Cambodia announced on Wednesday that the country's rice exports have increased more than fivefold over the past five years.
A joint statement released by the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, and the Cambodia Rice Federation, said "Cambodia's formal milled rice exports have significantly increased in the last five years, from approximately 100,000 metric tonnes in 2010 to 530,000 metric tonnes in 2015."
The usual 
The trials and tribulations with growing other crops, starting off with rubber from which the appeal has long ago waned. That's not so nice especially for northern Laos which bet heavily on this crop. The Vientiane Times (May 17):
'Many villagers in Phongsaly province have declined to plant rubber trees on their land following the continuing slump in the price of rubber on the world market.
A forestry expert from Phongsaly province, Mr Thongsavan Thammavong, told Vientiane Times yesterday that villagers quickly lost interest when they learnt what the sale price of rubber was.
“Many people here have wasted their time and lost opportunities by growing rubber as they can earn more by growing other crops,” Mr Thongsavan said.
Thousands of farmers in the province switched to planting cardamom after earning a good income from this crop, which they sold to Chinese traders'.
A vdo on the banana problem by Thai TV station PBS (May 5) concerning what is happening in northern Lao. 
Then the Nation (May 25) also reports on Chinese own, grow and export banana plantations in Lao PDR. The conclusions of the article:

'In Laos and Thailand, communities on both banks of the Mekong are now terrified about the adverse effects of Chinese agribusiness. People's health and the integrity of the natural environment are the first, often forgotten, casualties of this type of investment.
There has still been no official explanation by state authorities, in Thailand or in Laos, how these plantations will be regulated. Local people have been left behind to cope with this trans-border problem on their own, which is unfortunately business as usual'.
New sights are set this time for mangoes to Europe. The Phnom Penh Post (May 6) 
'Mong Reththy Group, the largest agro-industrial company in Cambodia, has sent 13 shipments of mangoes to Europe this year totalling 54,000 kilograms, the owner said yesterday'.
Laos is discovering Geographical Identification. The Nation (May 7): 
'Laos is preparing to certify its home-grown coffee with geographical indication (GI) and as a member of the International Coffee Organisation'.
Saga
The Bangkok Post (May 5) notes how research by Thai-PAN shows that much of what constitutes Thai organic fruit and vegetables is in fact non-organic: 
'The release of the findings Wednesday by Thai-PAN or the Thailand Pesticide Action Network which randomly collected and sent to labs samples of veggies from our markets showed most contain farm chemical residues higher than acceptable standards.
...

One-quarter of organic veggies that cost consumers a lot more than conventionally-grown types were found to be tainted with higher-than-acceptable levels of chemical residues.
...

More importantly, it showed that some farm chemicals that are legally banned, including carbofuran and methomyl, are still available. 
...
In all, the entire saga indicates that the state's efforts to promote food safety are just lip service'.
The article on the findings attracts many comments, mostly harsh critique denouncing practices of farmers, sellers and of course the Thai government / authorities.
Therefore one need not to be surprised on how the military-ruled government responds (Bangkok Post, May 10):
'A fruit and vegetable survey, released by the Thai-Pesticide Alert Network (Thai-Pan) late last week to widespread public concern, is questionable, says the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards (ACFS)'. 
It's a pity authorities decline to accept the very indicative results of the sample process, i.e. that there's something massively wrong. Instead they call the process flawed and one can continue to take a deep sleep ... poor consumers.