CAMBODIA’S rice exports declined in the first quarter of the year, down 3 per cent compared to the first three months of last year, a slide that rice exporters and industry representatives blamed on smuggling operations operating with impunity.
According to Agriculture Ministry data released this week, Cambodia exported 161,115 tonnes of rice in the first quarter of this year, down from 166,678 tonnes last year.
That’s despite a bumper year for the rice crop, as an improved harvest and strong international market have drawn higher prices from brokers and middlemen coming to buy rice and transport it illegally into Thailand and Vietnam.
“The international rice market is good ... so the demand for paddy rice increased,” said Hun Lak, vice president of the rice industry body Cambodia Rice Federation.
“Rice exporters could not buy the rice before brokers from the border bought it from the farmers,” he said, adding that the entire year’s export numbers could be harmed if authorities did not intervene to block rice smugglers.
Large strain on farmers
Hean Vanhan, director-general at the Agriculture Ministry’s General Directorate of Agriculture, could not be reached. Last week, he said the government could not crack down on rice smuggling because it would place a large strain on local rice farmers.
“Even we [rice exporters] have the orders from abroad, but we do not have the stock on hand,” Lak said yesterday. “How can we supply? That’s why the export figure went down.”
Smuggled rice is a regular problem for Cambodia’s rice sector. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation forecast that 44 per cent of Cambodia’s total rice exports this year would be smuggled out of the country, which, while problematic for the industry, would be an improvement over previous years.
Song Saran, CEO of rice exporter Amru Rice, said that fluctuations in the rice market were normal, and said that farmers would benefit from the higher paddy rice prices.