Milled-rice exporters said major European buyers have increased their orders from Cambodia and Thailand in 2022 after they discovered that Vietnamese milled rice contained high levels of agrochemicals, which exceeded EU food safety limits.
This was despite a free trade agreement (FTA) between the EU and Vietnam, which came into effect in August 2020.
Signatures of Asia Co Ltd general manager Chan Pich told The Post that since the FTA, the EU has increased their purchases of Vietnamese milled rice.
“However, EU buyers discovered that Vietnamese milled rice contained more agrochemicals [tricyclazole, acetamiprid and buprofezin] than EU food safety limits allow, leading to increased milled rice orders to Cambodia and Thailand,” he said.
At present, most of Cambodia’s milled rice is grown and processed in a traditional way, which Pich says ensures good quality and safety, as well as the sustainability of production.
However, exporters are concerned that the Kingdom’s milled-rice market and exports could be put in jeopardy, should the use of chemical fertilisers among Cambodian farmers maintain its ascent, he said.
He urged Cambodian farmers to cultivate rice according to the techniques and guidelines of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
“Use natural or organic fertilisers, or natural pesticides to expand Cambodia’s milled rice market, which will provide both quality and safety for consumers,” he said.
Amru Rice (Cambodia) Co Ltd CEO Song Saran told The Post on June 8 that although Cambodia’s use of agricultural pesticides was still lower than Vietnam’s, the Kingdom was still experiencing an influx of pesticides and chemical fertilisers from neighbouring countries, especially in bordering provinces.
Saran added that exporters are concerned that if the policy is not properly implemented in five to 10 years, Cambodia may suffer from the use of these toxic fertilisers and might be beyond help.
“For Cambodia to become a green agricultural country, it is necessary to have a policy on the use of pesticides and fertilisers, where the private sector must contribute towards the effective implementation of this policy, particularly by encouraging investment in organic fertiliser processing for domestic use,” he said.
He added that the promotion of organic fertilisers not only reduces the toxicity of agricultural land, but also saves money. “We want farmers to start changing their habits in the use of fertilisers and pesticides.”
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon told The Post that the government’s approach is to inspire farmers to incorporate Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) into day-to-day production so as not to create any undue risk to the export of agricultural products, especially rice to the EU.
“We are also encouraging farmers to use natural fertilisers to reduce costs and keep the soil fertile for a long time, while avoiding the use of pesticides that could damage soil quality,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Penn Sovicheat made it clear that milled rice, along with other Cambodian agricultural products, is thoroughly inspected before it can be exported, especially to China and Europe.
“In view of milled rice exports to Europe and China, we are always very cautious because these two are our big markets. So it is imperative that we do not allow this to happen, which could damage our reputation as a food-producing country.
“Our milled rice is the best in the world, having been ranked number one many times. We have never had a problem in the EU … even if their conditions are strict, we can still comply,” he said.
Between January and May this year, Cambodia exported 88,167 tonnes of milled rice to 23 European countries, the Cambodia Rice Federation said. This represented an increase of over 49 per cent year-on-year.