Officially reported milled-rice exports in 2021 declined by more than 10 per cent over a year earlier, as shipments of paddy abroad surged by over 60 per cent, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
The ministry said in a statement on January 11 that the 2021 harvest was nearly completed with rice production to date topping 12.21 million tonnes, up by about 11.6 per cent year-on-year.
In 2021, official milled-rice exports reached 617,000 tonnes, rising by 10.68 per cent from 2020, and paddy sales to neighbouring countries stood at 3.53 million tonnes, ticking up 61.16 per cent year-on-year, it said. Exports of both categories combined rose by 50.9 per cent last year, topping the four-million tonne mark.
At the same time, 2021 paddy prices were around 95 per cent of 2018-2019 rates and slightly below 2020 levels – and even lower for the current monsoon-season crop– which the ministry attributed to the global Covid-19 crisis.
The pandemic led to a sharp decline in international milled-rice prices, with fragrant varieties plunging by as much as 20-25 per cent, which resulted in losses for mills, prompting them to cut down on paddy purchases, it explained.
Cambodia Rice Federation president Song Saran told The Post on January 12, that Covid shocks throughout 2021 hindered rice transport for export to international markets, save for Vietnam, which enjoyed a substantial upswing due to the convenience of its proximity.
Similarly,milled-rice exports to China rose due to the country’s proximity and ease of transportation, whereas shipments to more distant markets such as the EU slowed down significantly, he said.
“The decline in [milled-] rice exports is due to transportation factors, which will require us to turn to markets that are easier to transport to. On the other hand, an increase in shipping costs has meant trouble for long-distance routes, making transport more time-consuming and expensive,” Saran said.
But these transport woes are not exclusive to Cambodia, many countries locked down their economies in a bid to combat Covid-19, triggering a worrisome driver shortage around the world, he said.
The ministry noted that farmers have voiced concerns over the price of the dry-season crop of paddy as the harvest nears.
In Cambodia, two main crops of rice are typically grown per year. The monsoon-season (or long-cycle) crop is generally planted in late May through to July and harvested in December, whereas the dry-season (or short-cycle) crop is planted in November and collected in January-February of the following year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The ministry predicts that rates for the dry-season crop could drop further, amid considerable rises in costs for shipping and agricultural inputs such as fuel, fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals – double in some cases – which it says has prompted factories to cut production.
In the interest of undergirding rice production, it affirmed that it has taken action and called on provincial agriculture, forestry and fisheries authorities to “continue to guide farmers and agricultural communities”.
“Provide them with the rice production techniques necessary to achieve high yields, and enlighten them to the proper use of agricultural inputs to comply with those methods, reduce production costs, and ensure quality rice in accordance with standards,” the ministry ordered.