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Goal of 1 Million Tons of Rice Export Unlikely

A Cambodian vendor cleans rice at her shop in a roadside market in Phnom Penh, file photo.
A Cambodian vendor cleans rice at her shop in a roadside market in Phnom Penh, file photo.

Several years ago, prompted by Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia’s rice exporters set a goal to ship out 1 million tons of milled rice by the end of 2015. But millers and traders now say they are unlikely to reach that goal.

In the first seven months of the year, Cambodia has exported just over 312,000 tons. That’s a good jump from around 203,000 tons for the same period last year, but far from what’s needed to meet the 1 million ton goal.

Experts blame a lack of capital, which means not enough rice in its husk can be bought and stored before it’s processed.

Hean Vanhan, director general of the Ministry of Agriculture’s general directorate, said about 67 percent of Cambodia’s milled rice exports went to Europe, 11 percent to Asia and 27 percent to other destinations. A small portion went to the Middle East, he said. Cambodia sent 74,000 tons of rice to China, the largest shipment to a single country, followed by France, which received 40,000 tons, then Poland, Malaysia, Netherlands, Czech Republic, England and Greece.

Hean Vanhan said it would be nearly impossible to achieve the 1 million ton mark. “But if we all try in the next five months, perhaps we can accomplish it,” he said.

Cambodia is able to grow about 5 million tons of rice each year, but much of it is either consumed in the country or shipped out, unprocessed, via Thai and Vietnamese traders, to be processed in those countries and sold. Farmers need to sell their rice right away, Hean Vanhan said. “They won’t keep their rice. They need money immediately.”

Se La Len, general manager of Hak Se, a rice trading company, said they spent a lot of money on heavy machinery to meet international standards for export, but he cannot compete with buyers from Vietnam, who buy rice from farmers. His company has exported 72 tons of milled rice.

Other companies have similar complaints. Lor Reaksmey, a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, agreed, saying that farmers often must sell their rice to middlemen, allowing it to be processed—and profited from—by neighboring countries.