The engine fires up and the cogs begin to turn. Season four for Ibis Rice is well underway, and the wildlife friendly rice is going from strength to strength.
“We started in 2009 with 10 of Siem Reap’s socially responsible hotels and restaurants, now we’re in about 25 venues and 25 retail outlets,” explains Karen Nielsen of the Wildlife Conservation Society who has spearheaded the rice initiative.
Ibis is a collaboration between the society and Sansom Mlup Prey, an organisation created to promote and market wildlife friendly products and crafts. Born from the need to prevent expansion of rice paddies into neighbouring forests and wetlands, farmers who sell to Ibis Rice agree to help protect the habitats of local wildlife.
“The idea is to have Cambodia support its own wildlife,” says Karen.
And it’s working. Karen says illegal expansion has decreased massively, while sightings of critically-endangered species and nest protection have increased vastly.
So far 139 families have worked with Ibis to sell their Wildlife Friendly-certified rice, with Sansom Mlup Prey expanding to work with 11 villages this year, despite rice costs rising as a result of flood damage to crops.
Ibis works with two mills near Siem Reap, producing both brown and white rice in several grades.
Karen says the next step for Ibis is to market its brown rice, which despite being seen internationally as the more healthy variety, is known as “pig rice” in the Kingdom.
“We’ve produced a new grade of brown rice and we’d love to get the word out there that’s it’s just as good, in fact better for you than white.”
Despite Ibis’ infiltration among many of Siem Reap’s hotels such as Le Meridien, La Residence d’Angkor, Soria Moria, and restaurants such as Sugar Palm, Karen says the uptake tends to be for white only.
“There’s certainly a market for brown. People want the choice, but expats need to start asking for brown at their favourite places.”
Given it’s something we eat every day, and are surrounded by it the minute we step out of town, rice is certainly something we rarely think about. “Everyone has a role to play,” explains Karen. “The consumer, tourists, the farmer, and the middleman. With continued growth and support, Ibis Rice will be well on its way to being a staple on the plates of Cambodia.”