Cambodian farmers grow several varieties of rice, including the award winning Pkha Rumduol – but that’s far from the only type. Another variety of interest is Neang Am, which originates from Kratie province and even has a backstory to it.
According to a recent publication from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Neang Am rice originated in Svay Chreah commune of Snuol district in Kratie province and was cultivated by an old woman named Am.
The ministry’s history of Neang Am rice said that during the 1980s, after the rice harvest was over, a woman named Yeay Am saw a bunch of paddy rice of an unknown type lying near a field with seeds present in it, so she stripped off a handful of them and wrapped them in a clean cloth and stored it away.
When the sowing season arrived, she planted the rice on a separate plot of land from her family’s main fields and then harvested it in a small basket and sewed it again. When she finally tested the rice by cooking it, she found that the rice variety was delicious and very fragrant.
The ministry said that since that day, Yeay Am has been promoting her rice variety by sharing the seeds with other villagers until Neang Am rice began to be recognised for its high quality by the farmers in her commune and then spread from there to other parts of Kratie.
Farmers have continued to cultivate this rice variety by sowing fields of it separately from other varieties, a practice that Yeay Am has encouraged because she wants the rice to keep its original characteristics since it is named after her.
Though not as popular as some more famous types of rice such as Phka Malis or Phka Rumduol, Kratie’s Neang Am rice is gaining traction and demand for it is growing, while cultivation is relatively easy, according to Chheun Sopheasey, owner of Srey Mom 99 milled rice shop.
“As far as current demand goes for Neang Am milled rice at my shop, I would generally say that when I started selling it in the market the demand from customers began to constantly increase, partly through our advertising and partly through word of mouth or due to people’s recommendations, and support for it continues to grow,” said Sopheasey, who also grows Neang Am rice on 200ha of land.
She said sales of Neang Am rice are growing each year, but most customers are not yet familiar with it.
“Most of Cambodia’s 16 or 17 million people know about rice like Phka Malis, Phka Rumduol and Phka Phnhi and so on, while Neang Am rice remains relatively unknown… When I first sold it some people were skeptical, but after tasting it they were so impressed that they would buy 10 bags of it, because there’s nothing else like it,” she said.
This rice variety is also unique in that it is weather-resistant, easy to care for and grow, and – most importantly – when cooked it has a pleasant aroma and taste.
Sopheasey claimed that Neang Am rice is a naturally hardy variety that is resistant to weather and can withstand going without rain for 10 to 20 days, even under bright sunshine and that although the rice’s appearance may not be as beautiful as some others due to its short grains, the quality and taste are not inferior to any of the more famous rice varieties.
“Another feature of Neang Am milled rice is that when it is cooked it softens but doesn’t turn mushy. It stays firm, but not hard, unlike some other cheaper kinds of rice. Neang Am rice grains are a heavier weight than other varieties and when eating it you find that it makes your stomach full and you won’t get hungry again as quickly,” she said.
Sopheasey said that whether farmers plant in April or in July, they will still harvest Neang Am rice between November 15th and 25th.
“What is more difficult is that we can only plant it once per year, because it is a kind of paddy rice that is a wet season rice and we cannot breed it into other seeds to be able to plant it in the dry season,” she said.
Sopheasey said that given the reasonable price of Neang Am rice and the growing demand, she would like to form an agricultural community based on the variety, in order to work together to expand the market for it.