Until recently, rice milling in Cambodia worked at a very basic level. Millers
typically operated only at harvest time offering to process farmers' rice, keeping
the rice husk or bran as payment. This was sold to pig farmers.
The more ambitious millers bought rice during the harvest season when the prices
were at their lowest and stored it for several months for sale later. That approach
varied - during their May, 2000 conference, many millers from the southern provinces
admitted they had not been to Battambang or even considered alliances.
"That is changing drastically with the opening of newer marketing channels,"
said EDC's Knowles. One example was that a rice miller back from a study trip in
Thailand repainted his mill, installed meters to monitor the moisture level in the
rice, and reconfigured his machinery.
The first lesson in better processing and marketing techniques came when the Thai
Rice Mills Association visited Cambodia and met with three Cambodian rice miller
associations. The Thai association wanted to include Cambodia in a plan for a regional
alliance involving Vietnam and Burma.
During the meeting, they told their Cambodian counterparts not to expect instant
solutions and advised them to move towards integration in the market economy.
First, make the best use of what they already have and ensure they return a profit.
Second, persuade the farmers to grow better quality rice. Third, avoid US dollar
It was around this time that the project to organize the rice millers was set up.
In 1997 Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces - two of the largest rice producers
- received aid and technical assistance from the UNDP among others. By 1999 Siem
Reap, Prey Veng, Takeo, Kandal, Pursat and Svay Rieng had joined in.