'World's Best Rice' Title Could Boost Cambodian Rice Exports

    29 December, 2014

    From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report.

    For the third straight year, the World Rice Conference has voted Cambodian rice as the world's best. This year Cambodia shares the award with Thailand.

    Cambodia produced just one percent of the world's rice in 2012. It is trying to increase that amount. The award may help.

    The country's rice industry is small and not well-organized. As a result, large amounts of unmilled, or unprocessed, rice is sent to Thailand and Vietnam where it is sold for a higher price. But rice is very important to Cambodia's economy. Many Cambodians survive in part by growing rice on small pieces of land.

    'World's Best Rice' Title Could Boost Cambodian Rice Exports
    In this 2010 file photo, a farmer works in a rice paddy field outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea)

    Sok Puthyvuth is the president of the Cambodia Rice Federation.

    "We need better seeds, we need a better collection process, we need better storage, we need better logistics, and also our exports need to brand Cambodian rice to be one of the top brand(s) in the world."

    The group has set a target of one million tons of milled rice exported by 2015. So far this year, Cambodia has exported around 400,000 tons, mostly to European Union countries.

    Keat Chhon is Cambodia's deputy prime minister. He says increasing rice exports will improve the lives of many of the country's farmers.

    He says the purpose of the rice policy is to reduce poverty and help people in rural areas earn more. This shrinks the development gap between rural and urban areas.

    China is loaning the country $300 million to help Cambodia develop its rice industry, including improving storage.

    But exporter David Van says the country's rice industry continues to suffer from the same problems it has had for many years. He says these include the high cost of electricity and a lack of good seeds. And he says the country's rice industry needs to change the way it markets its product to show it is different from what other countries offer.

    "You need to differentiate your product from your competitor next door. Otherwise, you will keep on being compared automatically to what the next-door competitor is offering."

    Cambodia faces other problems. Countries like Myanmar also want to increase their rice exports. And, Thailand has extra rice, which is forcing down prices.

    The award for best rice may help Cambodia grow its exports even if it does not reach its million-ton target next year. And that will help the industry and millions of Cambodia's poor farmers.

    And that's the VOA Learning English Agriculture Report. I'm Marsha James.