Cambodia agriculture

Farmers Battle Against Rising Costs

Struggling farmers call on the government to raise and fix rice prices as they battle against increasing fuel and fertilizer costs.
Rice sellers in Phnom Penh on December 8, 2021. Picture: Sam
Rice sellers in Phnom Penh on December 8, 2021. Picture: Sam

By SANN KONNGA, KEO DALIN, PHOUNG SOMPHORS

Takeo - Farmer Phan Chhan bends down in the middle of the lush paddies in Takeo to fertilize the rice he is growing. His face lights up as he inspects the fresh green rice.

The 75-year-old, who lives in Tuol Krasaing Khor village, said crop yields have vastly improved due to the plentiful water that enables him to cultivate rice three times a year. One hectare can produce between eight and 10 tons of rice.

Phan Chhan
Phan Chhan

However, he adds rising costs are stamping out his profits. Recently, fertilizer prices have risen. Each bag costs 180,000 riels ($45) or 200,000 riels ($50) if he pays in installments. Prices were between 100,000 riels to 120,000 riels before. Additionally, the price of gasoline is increasing, leading to unbalanced income from his rice sales.

Another hurdle farmers in Cambodia face is they have to go through brokers when selling their products, which leads to a further loss of profits. The Covid-19 pandemic has also triggered a spike in the cost of agricultural products that is inconsistent with the price of rice.

"As far as I know, the price of rice provided by Vietnamese buyers to the Cambodian side is 1,500 riels per kilo, but Cambodians oppress Cambodians by buying from us at a low price to resell to Vietnamese traders,” Chhan said.

In Takeo, 90 percent of people are engaged in agriculture.

Chhan said he is lucky this year as he has had enough water for farming. This is in contrast to the previous year when farmers were forced to pump water to fill the fields – a slight reprieve to the rising price of fuel.

Before, Chhan said, costs and rice yields were both high. However, rice was cheap at 700 riels ($0.175) to 800 riels per kilogram.

He is now urging the government and relevant officials to pay attention to the plight of farmers and find a market to sell rice at a reasonable price. He added the price of rice per kilogram should be 1,000 riels ($0.25). This would be enough to enable farmers to save small sums of money.

Det, 47, is the wife of Doeum Kor village chief in Takeo’s Borey Chulsar district. She glances at her rice sacks with sadness in her eyes as she talks to other female farmers about the problem of low-cost rice. "I am a farmer who farms 12 hectares of land," she said.

Det
Det

During farming, Det was forced to spend a lot of money on labor to hire people to plow and help with the rice harvester machine. In addition, she rents her farmland and had to fork out extra money on fertilizers and petrol. She said she has almost lost the strength to continue working as a farmer. The rice she sells costs 800,000 riels ($200) per ton.

She blames the brokers for lowering the price of her rice. The rice she first sold was to Cambodian traders, who bought it from her and resold it directly in Vietnam. Some Cambodian traders resold it to other Cambodian traders and then onto Vietnamese traders.

She added that in Vietnam, the price of a ton of rice is 1.1 million riels ($275). However, Cambodian traders are lowering the price to make more profit, buying a ton of rice for 800,000 riel ($200).

Det is calling on the government and authorities to find a market for more expensive rice so that costs are consistent with income and enough to make a living. She added this would also encourage farmers to continue their trade.

Lay, a farmer in Koh Andet district, harvests a handful of rice under the baking heat. He sweats profusely in the middle of a yellow and red rice field. He is only able to grow one crop a year due to the farm being in an upland area with less water than lower lying Choulsar and Angkor Borei districts. There are no floods in this area and the occasional drought.

Lay
Lay

Lay said rice in this area sells for between 800-900 riels per kilogram. He adds it is hardly worth growing rice, with a bag of fertilizer costing 200,000 riels. Also, most of farmers use rice harvesting machines that are rented.

Nhor Sopheap, founder of an agricultural community based in Siem Reap, said Cambodia’s agricultural sector is limited in terms of technology, resources, markets, irrigation, agricultural policies, as well as transportation of agricultural products, compared to neighboring countries.

He added that he believes the agricultural sector could provide farmers with a decent living wage, if stakeholders, especially the government and the Ministry of Agriculture, make some changes.

“In my observation, as a farmer myself, agriculture can help farmers prosper if there is support from all sectors, both government and private, and civil society,” Nhor Sopheap said.

Several rice traders in Takeo were contacted but declined to comment.

Minister of Agriculture, Veng Sokhon, also refused to comment when contacted by telephone. He said he did not have time to explain this issue repeatedly.

“Why rice is cheaper, fertilizer is higher, I already wrote it all on Facebook, journalists asked again and again, I'm bored,” he said.

In a Facebook post on October 18, 2021, he said the high price of pesticides and fertilizers is due to producing countries having issues with production. He added there is also a shortage of raw materials for fertilizer due to a shortage in labor. In addition, there are many countries that order these products, which is why the supply is insufficient.

"The cost of repackaging is also a burden that requires packaging to be printed in Khmer. A large number of suppliers do not go directly to the factory, buying through brokers, resulting in higher prices than the factory price, and at the same time, consumption growth has increased significantly."

(Reporters for this story are from Newsroom Cambodia)