Collective Rice Brands Aim to Boost Exports

As struggling rice farmers battle plummeting prices and a lack of international trade, Cambodia’s Ministry of Commerce has launched collective brands in an attempt to stimulate exports.
Workers prepare to pack rice at a store in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Workers prepare to pack rice at a store in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Despite the globe showing signs of recovery from Covid-19, exporting milled rice remains a huge challenge for one 42-year-old farmer. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Commerce has established collective brands in an attempt to boost exports to the international market.

Yors Sophorn, a farmer from Svay Rieng, said she will be unable to sell all of her rice this year due to a lack of traders. Additionally, she cannot expect a price hike as rice prices remain at 700 riels per kilogram.

“Before Covid-19, it was easier to sell. The price of Srang Teab rice can range from 800 to 900 riels, although it has recently dropped to 700 riels, and we won't be able to sell all of it,” she said.

Recently, the Ministry of Commerce established collective brands Sen Kraom rice 01 (SKO) and Damnoeb Sbai Mongkul (DSMK) with the goal of reducing the gap in market demand and production between exporters, rice millers, and farmers, as well as boost the promotion and appeal to the international market.

However, Sophorn is unaware of the collective trade's guidance. Furthermore, there is no agriculture expert to advise her in cultivation, she said.

She added she could only plant a type of ER rice and Srang Teab rice to suit the needs of Vietnamese traders. There will be no trade to buy if she cultivates other seeds, such as Sen Kraom, Mlis Krorhom, Phka Romdoul, and Phka Lmeat.

“Mostly, we cultivate only ER rice and Srang Teab rice. Fragrant rice [Sen Kraom rice] is grown only for food,” she said. “There is no market in. If we cultivate, we cannot sell well because Vietnamese traders don’t buy it [fragrant rice] as it’s soft.”

According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s report, in the first half of 2022, rice exports were 1,733,157 tons to Vietnam, totaling $401.96 million. The vast majority of Cambodia’s rice is sold to Vietnam. Phytosanitary certificate rice was 1,142,175 tons, a 2.38 percent increase compared to 2021 (1,692,813 tons).

In the first half of 2022, rice exports stood at 327,200 tons, an increase of 16.67 percent compared to the first half of 2021. Rice exports to 23 EU destinations were 98,624 tons, a 46.90 percent increase. China was 168,280 tons, a 17.44 percent increase, and four ASEAN destinations were 28 680 tons, an increase of 5.69 percent.

Song Saran, President of Cambodia Rice Federation, said the establishment of collective brand Sen Kraom rice 01 (SKO) and Damnoeb Sbai Mongkul (DSMK) aims to boost the price for farmers who cultivate these varieties of rice that can easily be made through agricultural contracts.

“It will be easier for exporters to advertise in international markets when needed, boosting production, increasing market stability, and benefiting farmers by raising rice prices,” Saran said.

The initiative launched on June 22, and Saran said he believes it will run smoothly by the beginning of 2023.

“It will take some time to promote to customers as well as educate and urge farmers to produce and follow the technology in accordance with the brand principles outlined in the brand law,” he said.

Meanwhile, Theng Savoeun, director of NGO Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC), said that the collective brand rice is only beneficial for those who cultivate crops or farm for profit.

“For smallholder farmers, as they farm for a living or sell in the community, it won’t benefit them,” he said.

He added that farmers may lose traditional rice seeds as the collective brand only refers to one kind of rice.

“If a collective brand is formed, the identity of traditional Khmer agricultural products might be lost. This is for the family farm or selling in the community,” he said. “But it might be profitable for the rice business because it’s easy to export and is popular.”