Blooming lucky: A healthy field of rice in Kandal that was not planted with low quality donated seed rice.
undreds of thousands of flood-hit rice farmers face an uncertain harvest after government
relief efforts left them with more than a million dollars worth of unplantable Vietnamese
A large part of 8000 tons of dry season rice seed valued at $1.12 million ($140/t))
supplied to the government by a company owned by CPP Senator Men Sarun has been deemed
useless for planting due to its low germination rate.
While dry season rice seed is normally expected to have an 80+% germination rate,
the seed supplied by Sarun to the Ministry of Agriculture has been giving farmers
hit by September's floods a germination rate as little as half that.
Seang Chhoeurth, Vice-Director of the Department of Agriculture in Battambang, said
the problem had become apparent after his staff tested the first deliveries of seed
in September. He said the seed came to them from the Vietnamese province of Kieng
Nyang via the department in Phnom Penh.
"[The rice seed] is not so good really. 50% germination rate for seed rice is
not enough for the farmer to use in planting," he said.
Chhoeurth and his staff had been able to swap most of the 150 tons of poor quality
seed rice they received for better seed from local farmers, but he said the substandard
relief seed had complicated efforts to help farmers to plant new crops.
Un On, 51, a rice farmer from Poumongkol Village in Kandal's Ponhea Leu District
had to dig up the relief rice seed he was given in December when it failed to germinate.
"None of the seed I was given last month germinated," he said.
On was able to dry the useless seed and swap it with a neighbor for good quality
Director of the Department of Agriculture in Takao, Ith Sarun, said his department
also tested the rice seed and found it had a germination rate of less than 30%. He
said it was black in color and damp.
When he became aware of the problem of the substandard rice seed Sarun confronted
the supplier of the seed, Men Sarun Import Export Co. Ltd, owned by CPP Senator Men
"[Men Sarun] told me to tell the farmers to exchange the seed to get better
[seed] from their neighbors and grow this instead," Ith said.
In a telephone interview with the Post , Sarun confirmed he had instructed officials
to tell farmers to turn to their neighbors to replace the substandard seed his company
However, Sarun said the rice seed Men Sarun Import Export Co. Ltd. supplied had been
bought on the basis of technical expertise from the government.
"I have no knowledge of rice seed but before I bought the rice from Vietnam,
the Ministry of Agriculture provided experts to check the rice seed and analyze it,"
Sarun emphasized this was the first time his company had bought rice seed and was
given the contract because the government had no money to buy the seed. He said his
company was a guarantor for the deal and had not yet been paid for its services.
When questioned on the quality of seed his company had provided, Sarun said his company
had not been the government's only source of rice seed and that the Ministry of Agriculture
had also bought rice elsewhere.
That account of Sarun's role in the matter is contradicted by Pith Seng from the
Department of Planning and International Co-operation, the government agency responsible
for distributing the Ministry of Agriculture's flood relief rice seed.
Seng said Men Sarun's company had been the primary supplier of the relief seed including
up to 10,000 tons of dry season rice seed. He said 8000 tons of that had been delivered,
of which 5600 tons had been distributed to farmers and more than 2000 tons were still
"Of course we required the rice to pass a germination test of over 90% - because
it's rice for planting but we cannot [conduct such tests] ourselves adequately. So
we sent the message to all the provinces [where the rice was going] and requested
all the provinces [to do tests]," he said.
Seng says he believes these tests were carried out and though he had not yet received
full reports back from the provinces, none had suggested there was any problems with
the quality of the seed.
Jean-Claude Levasser from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN (FOA)
said he had also heard of reports of poor quality rice being supplied by the Ministry
of Agriculture. He said he believes it was only a small amount and limited to only
the initial seed provided by government.
"The situation was urgent and it was necessary to do it [supply rice seed to
the farmers] quickly. This is why old rice seed was given out," he said.
"I would have done the same thing [in the same situation] but now the crisis
is over I believe the rice [seed] they have brought in is better."
Levasser was careful to distinguish the rice seed given out by the government from
that seed and eating rice provided by other aid organizations and NGOs. He said the
bulk of the rice distributed for the FOA by World Vision, Partners for Development,
CARE and Concern International was bought on the local market and would be expected
to have more than an 80% germination rate.
Sakhan Sophany, a seed product specialist at the Cambodia Agricultural Research and
Development Institute (CARDI) said the IR66 variety of rice Men Sarun bought in Vietnam
was not considered to have a very high germination rate, but the 20-30% reported
by farmers is extremely poor.
"Of course you can use it, you can eat it - but if the government thought it
was buying good germinating seed it has lost a lot of money," she said.
Sophany said CARDI had been asked by the Department of Agriculture to send an expert
to Vietnam to test the seed before it was bought. She said they had verified the
quality of only 700 of the 8000 tons, and suspects the poor quality seed distributed
to farmers was untested.