PHNOM PENH - Economists and agriculture officials say Cambodia could export 1 million tons of milled rice by 2015, but that depends on improvements in the sector, along with some global factors out of the control of the country’s farmers and millers.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has set the goal for 1 million tons of exported rice by 2015, but the country is so far below the target.
Cambodia exported 200,000 tons of rice to 48 countries last year. The goal is to reach 250,000 tons this year.
So far this year, it has exported around 78,000 tons of milled rice, an increase of 4,000 tons from the same time last year, said Hean Vanhan, director of the government’s One-Stop Service for Rice Export.
“We will boost the rice export as planned,” he told VOA Khmer.
However, a governmental review on its rice policy concludes that the country won’t meet its goals at the current growth rate.
Part of the challenge is that Cambodia is wedged between two major rice producers. Thailand exported 10.5 million tons of milled rice last year. Vietnam exported 7.2 million tons. These exert price forces on rice that is not up to Cambodia, no matter its production.
Mey Kalyan, a senior adviser to the government’s Supreme National Economic Council and a key contributor to the rice policy, said he is “optimistic” Cambodia can meet its export goals. But he said it is not entirely up to “internal efforts.”
“For example, if Thailand dumps the paddy or milled rice from its stocks, the global price of rice will decline, while our rice price remains high, so we won’t be able to export,” he said.
Peter Brimble, deputy country director the Asian Development Bank, said the target is “eminently achievable.”
“It relies on the comprehensive value-chain approach embodied in the ambitious rice policy, combined with careful coordination of government and development partner projects in related areas,” he said.
The bank is supporting rice production through a $55 million project aimed at bolstering the rice sector.
Cambodia’s rice production overall has continued to increase, from about 8.2 million tons in 2010 to 8.8 million in 2011, according to government figures. That’s from about 3 million hectares of land, and a population that is 80 percent agricultural. But experts say the secrot needs more investment in farming to improve.
Hang Chuon Naron, secretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, recently pointed out that Cambodia needs investments worth around $350 million to achieve the target in the next three years.
Lim Bunheng, president of the Cambodian Rice Exports Association, says that by calculating the surplus milled rice, about 2 million tons, Cambodia has the capacity to export 1 million tons by 2015, with the right investments.
“If the government or the banks want to prioritize rice export, they need to provide enough loans for us to buy paddy from the community and local farmers so that we can have enough rice stock for export,” he said. Loans for millers are the best way to increase the flow of exports to neighboring countries or other international buyers, he said.