The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Khmer-Australian Association of Victoria Inc on November 19 slapped down allegations linking milled-rice exports to Australia with human rights abuses.
A group of former activists of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) led by Khieu Dara, which claims to represent Cambodian-Australian citizens, has filed a petition to an Australian lawmaker with the accusation.
In a statement issued on November 18, the ministry voiced deep regret and outright denial of “Dara’s baseless insinuation”.
It said Cambodian farmers are turning from “extensive” to “intensive” agriculture and venturing into agribusiness in their pursuit of more remunerative livelihoods.
“Intensive” agriculture is an approach to crop cultivation that uses larger quantities of labour and capital relative to land area than its “extensive” variant.
The ministry said the Kingdom is shifting from an agriculture-dependent country to an agro-industrial exporting nation against the backdrop of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
It said: “Millions of Cambodian rice farmers are pleased to have rice market access to Australia, which buoys revenue from rice production and enriches their livelihoods.”
Khmer-Australian Association of Victoria Inc president Bou Sambath has also come out in condemnation of the former CNRP activists for slandering the reputation of the Kingdom’s milled rice and damaging the interests of Cambodian farmers.
The association voiced its full support for imports of Cambodian milled rice and agricultural products into the Australian market, and the strides made in bilateral trade ties.
“We, the representatives of the Cambodian community in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, are very regretful and deeply saddened by the clique of partisans, who claim to represent the Cambodian community but are hell-bent on undermining the interests of Khmer farmers,” it said.
The Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) made a similar statement on November 16.
It called on farmers not to be used as political pawns, or spoil the Australian market for Cambodian milled rice, which, it noted, the Kingdom had fought tooth-and-nail for.
Cambodia exported 4.88 million tonnes of agricultural products to international markets last year, representing a 17.3 per cent surge from the 4.16 million tonnes registered in 2015, according to data from the ministry.
Milled-rice exports clocked in at more than 620,000 tonnes last year, piling on 15.24 per cent from the 538,000 tonnes logged in 2015.
The Kingdom exported 25,994 tonnes of milled rice to Australia in the first 10 months of this year, up 52.70 per cent year-on-year.