CEDAC, the Cambodian Cen-tre for Study and Development in Agriculture, began operat-ions in Cambodia in 1997. CEDAC president Yang Saing Koma spoke with Post reporter Sieam Bunthy about rice production and the future of the Kingdom’s rice exports.
What do you think about rice production and the agricult-ural sector in Cambodia?
We have seen that the rice sector in Cambodia has made progress. First, the land that is being cultivated is larger than it was before. Second, rice yields have increased. Ten years ago, we yielded about 1.5 tonnes of rice per hectare compared to 2.5 tonnes per hectare now. On the other hand, we have seen that the production of fragrant rice has risen a lot. What is important is having more capital to invest in the sector. Development has resulted from a lot of training from the government, CEDAC and other civil society organisations. At the same time, since 2007, rice prices have increased from 600 or 700 riel a kilogram to 1,000 riel a kilogram.
What do you think of the policy for increasing rice production? Does the policy help farming households?
The policy has responded to the current reality of the global market. There is more demand because many countries in the world are lacking rice. Second, our country previously didn’t produce enough rice, but now our production is very good. Therefore, the policy has helped uphold the living standards of farming households as well as benefiting the national economy.
What obstacles are Cambod-ian farmers facing?
There are two factors affecting farmers the most. First, an internal factor is that farmers themselves have yet to change from traditional farming to more cultured farming. Second, it is an obstacle to control water, because we don’t have enough irrigation systems yet.
Should the Cambodian government increase rice prices to bolster farming, as Thailand has done?
The Thai government can do this because it has a lot of money and, as we know, Thailand is the world’s No. 1 rice-exporting country. Thailand has a lot of power in world markets. Cambodia does not have the power or the money to do this. We believe that when the Thai government does this, it affects Cambodia. Cambodia should have two polices to counteract this: the first is that when rice prices go down, the government should have the capital to prevent the price from going down sharply by limiting the price. The price of dry-season rice must be prevented from falling below 800 riel a kilogram. One kilogram of rainy-season rice cannot fall below 900 riel, and fragrant rice should be prevented from falling below 1000 riel a kilogram. It’s simple: when rice floods the markets, the government must have capital to buy rice.
The government has set a goal of exporting one million tonnes of rice by 2015. Do you think this goal will realised?
What we are concerned about is competing with Vietnam and Thailand. We also need the capital to buy rice for stock, because we need about two million tonnes of rice to export one million tonnes. But one tonne of rice costs between US$300 and $400, so we need at least $600 million to buy rice. It should be questioned whether or not banks have enough capital for rice buyers to borrow. Also, most rice buyers do not have property to put to put down as a guarantee. Therefore, if the government helps borrowing money from banks by pawning its rice stocks and lowering the interest rate to six per cent or less, we believe it will be successful. Currently, the interest rate is between 10 and 12 per cent a year.