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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia seals rice export deal in Senegal

Cambodia seals rice export deal in Senegal

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Rice farmers bring in their harvest in this file photo. TRACEY SHELTON

CAMBODIA plans to sell 120,000 tonnes of rice to Senegal in 2009 - the first time it will export rice to Africa since the 1960s, officials said on Sunday.

"Africa is a potential market for Cambodian rice because it demands a lower quality than Western countries," said Tes Ethda, president of the National Rice Millers Association of Cambodia (NRMAC), representing nine rice-producing  provinces.

"We made an agreement with Senegal to supply 10,000 tonnes a month for one year, but we are currently sending rice samples to be inspected, hoping that the export process will begin next year," said Tes Ethda.

The UN Development Program, Francophone countries, the international trade centre and the Ministry of Commerce are encouraging NRMAC to export rice, in part to cut illegal rice exports, believed to amount to hundreds of thousand of tonnes a year.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, Cambodia has illegally exported about 100,000 tonnes of so-called "hush" rice to Vietnam.

Mao Thora, a secretary of state at the  Commerce Ministry, said Friday that Senegal needs about 900,000 tonnes of rice a year because local production meets less than a third of demand.

"We will unilaterally push for greater rice exports with the support of international organisations, as we want to diversify our exports rather than depend on neighbouring markets," said Mao Thora.

Cambodia expects to have a surplus of 2.6 million tonnes of rice this year, up from about two million tonnes in 2007, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

In 2006, Prime Minister Hun Sen recommended establishing an association of rice-exporting countries based on the oil cartel model of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, but his idea was delayed because of the military coup in Thailand that ousted then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Yaing Sang Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture, applauded the announcement, but added that he is worried that the exports could lead to a local deficit.

"We have to understand local production capacity and the real amount of local consumption, and the amount of rice being traded along the border before exporting if we want to avoid a shortfall," he said.

Song Hong, vice president of the Cambodian Rice Millers Association in Battambang, said exports must be a government priority.

"We will be able to use husks [from exported rice] as a source of energy in place of wood. We can also use it as animal food, and provide about 3,000 jobs to local people with these rice exports," Song Hong said.

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