The agriculture and commerce ministries have announced the forthcoming establishment of a special consultative body to promote and monitor genetically pure local rice varieties.

The commitment was announced following a January 22 meeting between officials from both ministries. 

The new body will support the seventh-mandate government’s fifth priority programme, which focuses on coordination mechanisms and financing programmes to promote production, market access, and price stability of key agricultural products.

Yang Saing Koma, secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, explained that the meeting was held to divide tasks and responsibilities for agriculture production chains. The new body will monitor the marketing and pricing of Cambodian rice, and will meet regularly with relevant provincial authorities as well as officials from the provincial agriculture and commerce departments.

Saing Koma explained that the new body has been formed in response to the fact that some foreign rice varieties are being marketed with the names of rice cultivars that could only be found in Cambodia.

“We have discovered some packaging which features Phka Rumduol, Neang Menh or Neang Khon – all local varieties – on the labelling, but with contents that are mixed with cheaper types of rice. Some sellers are doing this in order to charge higher prices. The special team will deal with this issue,” he said.

He said the ministries are working with rice mill owners and encouraging them to make the source, and purity, of each batch they mill as clear as possible.

The meeting also touched on rice production, purchasing, storage and processing, as well as food security, he added.

Lor Bunna, director of the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), a state body responsible for releasing genetically pure rice seeds, said that as of end-2023, CARDI had released more than 20 tonnes of pure Phka Rumduol seed, the Kingdom’s flagship fragrant rice cultivar.

“There was only one issue – after farmers produced the rice, its price fell. The mill operators confirmed that this was because some farmers were mixing the seed with cheaper varieties. To eliminate this problem, the agriculture ministry has encouraged farmers to use only pure seeds. It also arranged fixed contracts with several mills,” he explained.

He added that to maximise the use of pure varieties, CARDI is constantly striving to identify new luxury seeds, like the Champei Sar 70 (CPS 70) – a non-seasonal variety sprouted from the award-winning Phka Rumduol and born out of collaboration between CARDI and Australia – in order to meet market demand.

Yourng Pakk, a rice specialist and CEO of Agribee (Cambodia), welcomed the news that milled rice is to be inspected, saying this will ensure that inferior rice is not marketed as a pure variety.

He warned that it was not only on the domestic market that Phka Rumduol had been mixed with inferior varieties – similar issues had been encountered with exports. He requested that the problem be thoroughly examined.