In March, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the establishment of a national Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF). Soon after, the process of electing a president for the new peak body began. Five candidates applied for the CRF’s top job including Yon Sovann, the president of agricultural exporter Bayon Cereal. This week, post reporter Chan Muyhong sat down with Yon Sovann – one of the lesser-known but equally as enthusiastic candidates in the rice sector – to talk about his reasons for standing in the May elections.
Tell us about your company, Bayon Cereal?
Bayon Cereal started in 2012 as a rice exporter. We export to distribution partners in EU countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and poland. Currently we export in small numbers because we have just started. in the first three months of 2014, Bayon Cereal has exported around 200 tonnes of milled rice. i will expand the volume once i gain more trust from buyers and rice millers.
What did you do before venturing into rice?
I was in charge of customs clearance from 1997 for a Taiwanese company who took orders and exported agricultural products between countries. So i gained all the experience from there.
I came to be involved in rice exporting because one day a friend (buyer) told me they wanted to buy Cambodian rice. i told them, “Yes, Cambodia has a lot of rice”. Then things started.
I asked them to send me their rice specification and immediately con-needed to produce rice for export.
Why are you standing as candidate for the president position for CRF?
We still need more human resources to improve the sector and i feel the urge to help. We lack someone who can find new markets and the industry is not working as a team yet. When it comes to big orders from buyers, no one dares to take the order because there is no one to oversee its progress or collect the rice needed to fill the order. For example, recently, Vietnam won the Philippines’s rice auction, which awarded Vietnam a contract to sell white long grain rice for more than $400 per tonne. Cambodia can easily match that, but we did not join the auction because we didn’t have a team in place to ensure that the orders will be delivered on time. as a result we fail to capture big markets.
What is your opinion of the other candidates?
What is important in being a leader is sticking to common interest principles and commitment to the improvement of the whole sector. industry knowledge can be learnt. as for my fellow candidates, those who do not own a rice miller or are exporters, their interests will not conflict with their job.
Kith Meng, for example, his language ability and experience in leading business is enough to lead CRF. The other candidates do have more potential than i do, but my advantage is that i hold common interest principles.
If you are elected president, how do you plan to boost the sector?
There are quite a few rice associations and federations, but they do not represent farmers and millers. The creation of the CrF allows both the rice and paddy rice sectors to work together to serve the common interests of everyone in the business. When a team focuses on common interests, i believe we can boost the market for all.
My main goal is to increase the market for the millers and provide relevant information to them, good prices and market demand. also we are often absent at international rice industry events, so i will set up a team to promote us on the international stage.
i will be bringing buyers to local rice millers and, if they need me to, help by working as a middleman in their dealings. i will look over the membership requirements, principles and mission of the CRF again. CRF should be an independent institution serving the common interest of the rice industry and be unbiased to any party, and nepotism should not be allowed.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.