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Striking a balance on rice standards

Building an industry based on a uniquely Cambodian standard will give rice producers a clear target to work towards and instil confidence in buyers, said a panel of both government and private sector representatives at a rice quality workshop in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.

Ministry officials, rice exporters, millers and members of the Alliance of Rice Producers and Exporters of Cambodia (ARPEC) discussed the importance of the Government’s National Rice Standards established last year – that define both the quality and variety of rice – in aspiring towards a distinctly “Cambodian rice”.

While not ignoring domestic needs, Song Saran, the chairman of Cambodian rice exporter Amru, said the government should reduce the number of rice seed varieties it promotes to farmers from 10 to three. Saran says focusing on fewer varieties will encourage economies of scale in production, and enhance Cambodia’s reputation for quality.

“If we have many types of rice it is a constraint in the standard, so we want to sort out what type of variety is needed for export, and we can revise the standard again,” he said, adding that like neighbouring Thailand, Cambodia should focus on just three varieties.

“We need only long grain white rice, medium grain and broken rice.”

For David Van, deputy secretary-general of the ARPEC, a lack of resources to enforce the standards means farmers grow to multiple standards of neighbouring countries, reducing the potential for mass-market production.

“The Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy has a lab set up where they are now moving forward to get proper accreditation; once this is done, it will be a lot easier for us to refer to the official Cambodian standard,” Van said.

Chheng Uddara, director of the Institute of Standards of Cambodia at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said he understands the economic advantage of farmers aspiring to a Cambodian standard, but adds that the spread of varieties is needed to balance seasonal production for domestic consumption.

“We want to export, but it is also for the safety of our people,” he said.

“We want to produce rice for the whole year: different plantations (are needed) throughout the year.”

The standards are not yet mandatory, but Uddara says with the help of China the government is building the resources they need to test rice quality, helping to strengthen “Cambodia’s own” rice.

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