Ministry of Agriculture credits better farming techniques for this year’s higher yields of unmilled rice, with surplus of 2.8 million tonnes expected for 2008
Farmers carry rice from a field during the harvest season in Takeo province.
CAMBODIA'S production of unmilled rice has increased 12 percent this year, a senior agriculture official has said, adding that the production spike would create a surplus of 2.8 million tonnes in 2008, up 300,000 tonnes over last year's figures.
"This surplus has come from the use of better seeds and improved farming practices," said Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun at a conference on Sunday.
"We hope the quantity of rice production will continue to increase next year."
The government expects total production of unmilled rice to hit 6.8 million tonnes, which would represent a million-tonne gain over last year, according to a preliminary evaluation conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Cambodia was the world's ninth-largest rice exporter in 2007 with 450,000 tonnes, according to figures from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
By comparison, Thailand and Vietnam exported 9.5 million and 4.5 million tonnes respectively in 2007, USDA figures said.
The increase follows at least three years of stagnant rice production, according to a report by the NGO Forum on Cambodia.
The report, titled "Agriculture Development, Irrigation and Water Management", issued last month stated that "average rice yields for the last three years (2005-2007) have not increased".
This surplus has come from the use of better seeds and improved farming.
The report noted that erratic government funding has contributed to the country's slow agricultural growth.
Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodia Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture, said the industry should focus on promoting Cambodian rice in foreign markets.
"I think if we have a secure market share, farmers will increase their production and Cambodia will be able to produce as much as 10 million tonnes of rice per year," he said.
"The government should encourage experience-sharing between successful farmers and those still using traditional methods," he said.
Prak Chres, chief of the Natural Farmers Community in Takeo province's Tram Kok district, said that farmers need more technical know-how and marketing capability.
"I think we will be able to produce more rice than we do currently if we have secure markets to guarantee production," Prak Chres said.
Chan Sarun said the government is negotiating with several countries to secure additional markets for Cambodian rice.
"We want to sign contracts for purchase orders so farmers will have more confidence that they will be able to sell surplus rice," he said. "I expect that Cambodia will export at least two million tonnes of rice in 2009 to countries in the region, in the Middle East, the European Union and in Africa."
As the government attempts to extend its reach into the international rice export market, the country still faces substantial obstacles to growth in the sector, according to the NGO Forum report.
The report noted several weaknesses in Cambodia's agricultural infrastructure, including the "low quality of agricultural produce; undeveloped food processing; poor transportation systems; the inadequacy of information on local and international trade and marketing; the lack of producer associations; limited credit services; export issues and a lack of marketing extension services".
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY GEORGE MCLEOD