Prior to 2013, Dom Dorn, a farmer in Phnom Sruoch district of Kampong Speu province, used oxen to farm his white-rice paddies; now, after just his second harvest of sowing phkarmalis (also known as jasmine or fragrant rice), he is using a kor yun, or hand-held motorised tractor to plant his seeds.
“The revenue from selling phkarmalis paddy has improved my family’s living conditions,” Dorn told the Post yesterday. “It is very easy to sell, and the price is good.”
Traditionally sourced from Thailand, fragrant rice also flourishes in Cambodia’s climate and soil conditions, a fact that has led to a sharp rise in demand for the Kingdom’s product.
Data released yesterday from the Secretariat of One Window Service for Rice Export show that Cambodian rice exports for the first three months of 2013 amounted to 95,228 tonnes, already close to half of last year’s total exports, and almost three times the 36,430 tonnes exported in the same period of 2012.
And although there is expected to be a slight seasonal decrease in exports from June to December, the amount of fragrant rice exported in the first three months of 2013 is already nearly 80 per cent of the total amount exported by Cambodia’s top 10 exporters in 2012, according to figures from the One Window Service.
Kim Savuth, president of the Federation of Cambodian Rice Exporters (FCRE) and director of Khmer Food, the country’s second-largest exporter, told the Post that the jump in exports is attributable to the rising recognition of the quality of Cambodian fragrant rice.
“Growing export numbers and rising added value from fragrant rice is helping to diversify Cambodia’s sources of revenue and also improve farmers’ livelihood,” he said.
“With the potential fragrant rice export, we would like to appeal to farmers to change their seeds to fragrant paddy plant, because it is very competitive and easy to access the market.”
While Cambodia is now seeking to expand its milled rice exports, Cambodia’s perfumed variety of jasmine rice was awarded top prize at the Rice Trader World Rice Conference in Bali, Indonesia, last year.
David Van, deputy secretary general at the Alliance of Rice Producers and Exports of Cambodia, says Cambodian fragrant rice quality is on par with rice from Thailand, though the Kingdom can’t command the same premium in prices, as the Thais have worked to establish their brand for decades.
“The price gap between Cambodian and Thai fragrant rice is only about $100 a tonne on average, and therefore buyers are gradually attracted to cheaper but similarly good-quality Cambodian fragrant rice,” Van told the Post.
Sok David, vice president of Golden Rice Cambodia, the largest exporter in this year’s first quarter with 12,210 tonnes exported, says he is happy to see new markets opening for Cambodian rice.
“We are not focused on the ranking and the quantity, but more on the quality,” he said.
Exporters say that a greater reliance on fragrant rice rather than white rice will help to insulate the Kingdom against global market shocks of the sort that occurred after India relaxed its export laws to
become the world’s largest exporter last year.
“We have inherited the great soil to support growing fragrant rice for export, which is a great competitive advantage to challenge other exporters,” said Savuth of FCRE. “Fragrant rice export is truly our competitive area in the long run.”
According to the figures, Poland was the largest importer during the first quarter, followed by France, Thailand, Malaysia and China.
Back in Phnom Sruoch district of Kampong Speu province, the home village of Dom Dorn, many farmers are seeing the advantages of growing fragrant paddy in the hopes of boosting their income.
“I am happy for the current achievement, so there is no reason why I wouldn’t expand the cultivated area with fragrant seed,” said Dorn.