Cambodia's Phka Rumdoul variety of fragrant rice, which won the World’s Best Rice award for three consecutive years from 2012 to 2014, narrowly missed its fourth crown at this year’s awards held in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand last week.
Thailand’s own Hom Mali – a close cousin of Phka Rumdoul – took top honours at the annual event in what attendees said was an extremely close contest.
“It was a tough decision for the judging committee as our rice and Thailand’s rice were so close,” Hun Lak, vice president of the Cambodian Rice Federation (CRF) said yesterday.
Major rice-producing countries entered the industry’s top contest, submitting more than 50 samples of fragrant rice. The rice was judged according to four criteria before and after cooking: appearance, texture, aroma and the length of the grain.
Cambodia lost its crown at last year’s competition to Calrose rice from the United States.
This year, the judging committee awarded Thailand’s Hom Mali the title World’s Best Rice for the fourth time since 2009, with Cambodia’s Phka Rumdoul taking second place and third going to Japonica rice from the United States.
While noting that Thailand had the homefield advantage this year, Lak stressed that Cambodia’s second-place finish was not a concern for the Kingdom’s efforts to market its premium rice varieties internationally.
“Thailand is the owner of event and they have long experience and reputation, so we are satisfied with the result,” he said. “We are also proud that our jasmine rice varieties continue to win prizes at the World’s Best Rice Competition.”
Lak said the competition results would not only serve to elevate Thailand’s champion rice variety, but would also promote Cambodia’s Phka Rumdoul and add momentum to its marketing efforts.
“This was not just about the champion,” he said. “We gain a lot of benefits for promoting our rice and networking.”
Song Saran, CEO of Amru Rice, one of the country’s biggest rice exporters, said the second-place result was still a positive for Cambodia’s rice industry.
“The result will not have any [negative] impact on the Cambodian market as currently our premium rice is focused on exports to the European Union,” he said. “However, it could be more difficult to expand to new markets like China, Indonesia and Malaysia given that we have similar quality [to Thai jasmine rice] but our production costs are higher.”
Cambodia exported around 500,000 tonnes of rice last year, well short of its target of 1 million tonnes.
Saran said the Kingdom’s rice industry was facing long-term issues that hinder its competitiveness, including infrastructure gaps and higher production costs. He added that Cambodia must keep improving its capacity to find new markets, which will improve the incomes of farmers.
“We need real passion and commitment to solving these issues in order to help the industry as a whole and improve the incomes of farmers,” he said.
Kim Lay Sim, a rice farmer from Preah Vihear province, said she received a premium price on her crop of Phka Rumdoul this year, but if she did not already have a company supply contract it would have been hard to find buyers.
“I planted Phka Rumdoul seeds on 10 hectares of land because I have a buyer willing to give a higher price than normal white rice,” she said. “But if I didn’t have this buyer, I would have planted white rice instead because Phka Rumdoul is hard to sell and most people in our country prefer to purchase white rice.”
The World’s Best Rice Competition is due to be held in Cambodia next year. The event was held in Phnom Penh in 2014.