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Cambodian organic rice goes international

Cambodian organic rice goes international

Cambodia has for the first time exported organically grown rice, generating hopes

that the country could earn vital foreign exchange from the niche market.

The AKR company announced it had sold more than 250 tons of the crop to two Hong

Kong rice companies in mid-January. The company said the strain, known as neang malis,

was well received.

"They told us that our rice is very good quality," said Chiev Hieng, director

of AKR. "This rice is better than that grown in neighboring countries."

He said buyers wanted the Cambodian government to ask the European Union and the

US government to lower import duties on the product to make the crop more competitive.

Ministers seemed sympathetic to the idea.

Chan Sarun, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries, said AKR needed

to officially inform his ministry of the request.

"We have to wait for the request from the company," Sarun said. "And

after we have checked it, we will forward it to the government for discussion."

Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh was hopeful such reductions would be forthcoming,

but said his ministry wanted to see first hand which countries the buyers wanted

them to approach.

"The fact that Cambodia is one of the poorest countries, means we may be able

to negotiate this with others," Prasidh said. "I think that they might

help us. I know that AKR rice is good quality, so it should not be hard to find the

markets."

Sarun added that this represented the first time Cambodian organic rice had appeared

internationally and he hoped it would reflect well on the country's ability to supply

such products.

He said farmers would also benefit as they would have a reliable market and would

be able to command higher prices for the premium product. Another advantage was that

they would no longer have to spend money and risk their health with chemical inputs.

Hieng was optimistic that AKR would be able to find further outlets around the world.

That, he said, would give the country a good reputation and benefit farmers who would

earn more money for their families.

AKR contracted with local farmers' cooperatives in June 2001 to grow the rice, and

provided the seedlings and knowledge required to produce organic rice good enough

for export.

It expected to receive 45,000 tons of rice last year for export, but had problems

with delivery. Hieng said 30,000 families across the country had been provided with

neang malis rice, but almost half had been unable to follow the methods needed.

He explained that the rice strain has an unusual growing pattern and needs to be

planted in late July, rather than in June when most rice is sown. Some farmers had

started rice production too early which meant the plants produced insufficient grains.

"Many of the farmers do not yet understand the methods required and still follow

their traditional pattern," he said.

AKR has applied to the international organization responsible for accrediting organic

foods, and will send samples to the EU, Canada, the US and elsewhere to conjure up

interest among potential buyers.

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