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Low quality hurts rice exports

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High international standards and the need for better post-harvest processing have left Cambodia’s rice sector struggling to find overseas markets

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON

A worker stands amid stacked rice sacks in O’Russei Market in Phnom Penh.

CAMBODIA'S failure to produce rice that meets international hygiene and quality standards has seriously hindered exports to foreign markets, a senior agricultural official said Thursday.

Chan Tong Yves, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said poor rice cultivation techniques, rural poverty and outdated post-harvest technology  makes Cambodian rice poor in quality compared with other nations.

"Foreign markets depend on phytosanitary (SPS) certification to prove that export products are free of disease or harmful chemicals. We have not been able to control SPS quality to conform to international standards," he said.

Chan Tong Yves addressed his remarks to a roundtable discussion group organised by the Club of Cambodian Journalists.

Quality control

The Agriculture Ministry has begun efforts to improve the quality of rice to bolster foreign exports, he said.

"The market is difficult for us. We have been trying to find new outlets for local rice so that we are not just producing it for food security," he said.

A key consideration to such improvements was more investment in irrigation systems and post-harvest technology, he said.

Much of Cambodia's rice sector depends on the rainy season. Only 44 percent of the country's rice fields are irrigated, according to official figures.

WE HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO CONTROL...QUALITY TO CONFORM TO INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS.

Problems in post-harvest processing also hinder exports, particularly to European markets.

"Our rice mills are small. When rice is processed, the grains break into small fragments, which are not suitable for the overseas market," Chan Tong Yves said.

Srun Sokhom, deputy chief of the ministry's Department of Agronomy and Agricultural Land Improvement, said delegations from Kuwait and Qatar had expressed interest in importing Cambodian rice but have not yet made a decision.

"We gave them samples, but they have not responded to us on the quality or how much they might want to import," Srun Sokhom said.

Cambodia exported 5,400 tonnes of organic rice to European countries in the first nine months of this year, Chan Tong Yves said. The rest of the country's rice exports have gone to Vietnam and Thailand.

High int'l standards

Mao Thora, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce, said Cambodian rice does not meet European standards but was suitable for African markets.

"Our rice quality is based on two classifications: simple rice and polished rice," he said, adding that simple rice was suitable for export to Africa.

"We currently have no purchase orders from African countries, but we hope they will buy rice from us in the future," he said.

Mao Thora said better post-harvest processing would be necessary to increase production of polished rice and bolster exports to European markets.

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