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Rising Food Prices Pinch the Poor, a Boon to Farmers

A vendor, right, hands a plastic bag of rice to a customer at a roadside store in Phnom Penh.
A vendor, right, hands a plastic bag of rice to a customer at a roadside store in Phnom Penh.

Rising prices for food and other necessities have cut into the daily lives of many poor Cambodians, even though some farmers say there are benefitting. Prices for beef, pork, fish and vegetables have continued to climb, pinching budgets of many who have seen little adjustment to their earnings.

Peter Brimble, a senior economist for the Asian Development Bank in Cambodia, said that rising food prices are a threat to Cambodia’s goals for poverty reduction, with the poorest spending large percentages of their incomes on food.

However, he said, Cambodia remains a net food exporter, especially with rice, making it somewhat less vulnerable.

Still, a spike in prices has been felt by Cambodians of many walks of life.

Khan Touch, a 36-year-old garment factory worker, told VOA Khmer this week she earns about $90 a month, with overtime, but bills for rent, $35, and utilities, $15, leave little left for food.

“Before, if I had 5,000 riel [$1.25], I could buy enough food for one meal,” she said. “Now if I have 5,000 riel, I can’t.”

Primary school teacher Ma Lay, 48, said her monthly salary of $70 does little in the face of rising prices.

“I can’t buy quality rice to eat,” she said. A third of a kilogram of fish now costs what half a kilogram costs not long ago, she said. Pork prices have doubled.

“My salary has not increased,” she said. “But rising food prices continue.”

Along with food prices, fuel prices are a growing concern for tuk-tuk driver Ha Sa An, 36. Over the past six months, he said, his daily take home has dropped from $7.50 to $2.50.

“The government should think of this problem,” he said.

Minister of Economy Keat Chhon said recently that food prices have become a general concern worldwide. But the rising prices of rice, soybeans and other agricultural goods have been a boon to farmers, he said.

He said the high value of the Cambodian riel has offered a buffer for state and private workers in preventing even high costs.

Var Khan, a 62-year-old cassava farmer in Banteay Meanchey province, said the price of his produce has gone from $0.06 per kilogram to $0.10 per kilogram in the last five months.

“I can earn nearly $3,000 on one hectare of cassava plantation,” he said. “I am very happy for the high price of cassava.”

Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, said high prices for cassava, corn, soybeans and rice have all helped farmers, even if it hurts consumers.

Farmers that can earn more from their goods are able to save money, expand their production and look for more markets, either locally or for export, he said.