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Government Plans Export Reserves of Rice

The government will prepare a reserve rice stock of 2 million tons for export overseas in 2009 in an effort to prevent price shocks and shortage rumors, officials said Thursday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen in April ordered a temporary ban on rice exports, as a perceived domestic shortage of the staple drove prices in Cambodia's markets uncomfortably high.

Ministry of Agriculture officials said during a rice conference Thursday they would seek to prevent a similar scenario in the future with their export stocks, which would be under the control of the Ministry of Commerce.

In March this year, as prices rose in Cambodia, other Southeast Asian nations sought to buy up the stocks of rice producers like Thailand and Vietnam.

Cambodia has the capacity to export its own rice, said Chan Tong Yves, secretary of state for the Ministry of Agriculture.

In the first nine months of 2008, Cambodian farmers exported 5,400 tons of rice directly to the European Union and an unknown amount through Thailand and Vietnam, he said.

However, Yong San Koma, president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, said he did not believe Cambodia could set aside 2 million tons of rice for export.

"We are not able to mill the rice for export," he said. "Until now, our capacity to export rice is still weak. I hope that in a few more years, we can solve this problem, if there is investment from the private sector."

Rice production in 2008 had decreased compared to 2006 and 2007, he said.