Yang Saing Koma.
Several ASEAN countries, including Cambodia, have witnessed a growing demand for organic rice that local producers cannot satisfy, according to Winfried Scheewe, adviser to the Cambodian Organic Agriculture Association (COrAA).
The COrAA is a nationwide, private sector organ-isation working for the promotion of organic agriculture in Cambodia.
Scheewe says demand for organic rice is on the rise, especially in the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, but also outside ASEAN, such as in Hong Kong. “In Phnom Penh, there is also more demand,” he says.
According to COrAA standards, producers interested in organic farming need to revamp their whole farms to a sustainable organic farming system, banning chemical fertilisers or other chemical substances such as pesticides and fungicides.
To be certified as organic, a farm needs to follow organic procedures during fertilisation and crop protection for a conversion period of three years.
Although it is, for example, possible to use an ordinary mill for organic rice farming, the whole system needs to be flushed before milling organic rice in order to ensure it is clean.
“I emphasise we are working with nature: conventional agriculture works against nature,” Scheewe says.
Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), agrees that demand for organic rice has been growing in Asian cities in the past three to five years. “People are aware of the environment,” he says.
According to Yang Saing Koma, it is also important to build on the brand, such as CEDAC.
Claudius Bredehoeft, adviser to CEDAC, agrees, saying: “It is really the brand name, like CEDAC rice. It was established in 2004, and now everyone knows it.”
“This year, CEDAC was sold out very quickly.”
Growing demand for organic rice can also be witnessed overseas, and the idea of Cambodian organic rice is catching on. According to Yang Saing Koma, they could not supply as much to the US as planned.
CEDAC’S partner in the US is Lotus Foods, selling Cambodian rice under the brand name Mekong Flower.
He says they also have a lot of requests from other countries such as Canada and France “because they know that we have certified organic rice”.
According to Bredehoeft, they will have their first-ever shipment of organic certified rice sent to Germany, and Europe in general, this year.
In Germany, most supermarket chains either have a specific corner for organic products or they are labelled as organic and can be found on the same shelves as regular products.
Scheewe says there are different associations of growers, such as Bioland, Naturland and Demeter.
Progress has also been made in terms of certification. “Last year, we only had international organic certified rice out of Takeo,” Scheewe says. Besides Takeo, Kampong Speu and Kampong Chhnang have also successfully received organic certification this year.
Organic rice can be exported only if it meets the specification given by the importing country, such as meeting US and Japanese standards or, in the case of Germany, meeting the European standard.
According to Scheewe, some people say the Japanese standard is the most rigorous one.
Cambodia aims to export a million tonnes of rice by 2015. According to Bredehoeft, the inclusion of organic rice would be an advantage, given that organic rice can be sold for 20 or 30 per cent more than the price of ordinary rice.