Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) president Song Saran said on Sunday that the combination of farmer cooperatives, government financial loans, support from financial institutions and government policy is turning Cambodia into a leading rice exporter in the regional and global supply chain.

Speaking at the first Sustainable Rice Summit, Saran, who is also CEO of Amru Rice (Cambodia) Co Ltd, said Cambodian cooperatives, the rural bank and microfinance institutions and agricultural companies and traders are growing.

“We are proud of organising the first sustainable rice summit. It will define the path we are on for stakeholders and address the productivity of smallholder farmers.

“We hope it will ensure the sustainability of the value chain, thus promoting a partnering platform to bring people out of poverty, preserve the environment and protect the earth.

“It will contribute to society by building an ethical agreement with the private sector. This agreement will focus on financing, technical assistance and use of information technology in supporting low-cost production, better product safety rights-compliance and efficiency in the rice sector,” he said.

“It is consolidating the rice value-chain and optimising synergies among various stakeholders towards a greater cooperative movement that will build on current entrepreneurship.

After the 2019 harvest, the government expects to have a surplus of six million tonnes of rice over and above domestic consumption and local industrial needs. But more investment and connectivity across value-chain players are needed in the rice industry.

Senior Adviser at the Supreme National Economic Council, Mey Kalyan, said cooperative businesses could help strengthen local economies and empower Khmer citizens, especially marginalised people, as they tap into a community’s resources.

“The global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) emphasises that sustainable development should be at the very core of cooperative enterprises.

“As a model of business based on ethical values and principles, whose goal is to provide for the needs and aspirations of their members, cooperatives play a pivotal role in responding to local community needs and objectives,” he said.

In February, US Ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy vowed to improve access to finance for the Kingdom’s exporters, producers and small- and medium-sized enterprises.

“Major rice producers and exporters can get loan guarantees from the US Import-Export bank which will give them access to private equity lending and the capability to purchase some of the highest-tech silos to store their rice in optimum conditions.

“[Use of] first in, first out technology will continue to grow and allow Cambodia to increase rice exports,” said Murphy.

According to the National Bank of Cambodia, the total credit given by financial institutions to the agricultural sector reached $3.2 billion by August last year.

Presently, the agricultural sector contributes about 25-30 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product despite only receiving around 10 per cent of all loans from the financial sector.

Rice exports reached 620,106 tonnes last year, a 0.97 per cent drop from 626,225 tonnes in 2018. Coupled with the 1.43 per cent decline between 2018 and 2017, the modest drop marks the second consecutive year that exports have fallen.

The Kingdom’s rice exports were valued at some $501 million last year, down 4.3 per cent from $524 million in 2018, the report said.