PHNOM PENH —
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday urged Cambodian farmers to put off sales of rice due to recent falls in the commodity’s price on international markets.
Hundreds of Cambodians have protested in recent months over price suppression by local traders. Shortly after the protests, Hun Sen moved to set a fixed price for rice and called on ministries and officials to purchase rice from farmers.
“When our region and the world is facing a crisis about the decline in rice’s price … I would appeal to people to try to dry paddy rice and store it for a while,” he said.
“When the price rises, sales should resume.”
He said that Cambodia would stockpile 5 million tons of rice and be in a position to export hundreds of thousands of tons to countries like China and Vietnam.
The prime minister also called on microfinance institutions to help farmers, without going into details.
The traders who sparked protests were allegedly offering between 600 and 650 riel (about 15 to 16 cents) per kilogram to farmers, but when the rice arrived at the mills they would refuse to pay the full price.
Chhong Sophal, coordinating officer of NGO Farmer and Nature Net, said the government should launch a campaign to study rice production in the country, because the overheads were quickly catching up to sales and eating into farmers’ profits.
He said that farmers may spend 900 riel to operate a hectare of rice paddy but earn only 800 from traders. “If I produced three tons of paddy rice, I would lose 300,000 riel.”
Private rice mills were standing to reap the benefits of the price war, as their huge stockpiles had kept the price of milled rice artificially high, he added.
Phou Puy, president of the Bank of Paddy Rice in Battambang province, however, said the farmers would not stage further protests as there were signs that the price of paddy rice was increasing.
“We don’t have any problems. The price won’t fall in our country,” he said. “It has started to increase a bit.”