Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina urged the media to accurately report on what he and his ministry state regarding agricultural issues in Cambodia and to avoid distorting statements and facts in their coverage.

Tina, who has held the office of agriculture minister for just two months, made the remarks while meeting with journalists during a “dialogue on Cambodia’s agricultural sector”, held at the ministry headquarters in Phnom Penh on December 6.

Last week, the ministry singled out local online media outlet VOD English for “inaccurately” referencing the ministry’s statements in a series of their reports regarding measures to deal with low paddy prices in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces.

VOD wrote in the articles that the ministry had made “threats” and “warned” farmers to “refrain from criticising” its leadership and measures to deal with fluctuating paddy prices.

The ministry dismissed the reports as “fact distortion”, saying that misrepresentation not only misleads the public but also reflects on journalists’ lack of professionalism and ethics.

“It would be one thing if what I did was wrong, but so far I haven’t seen any evidence that my decision was wrong. I’ve only seen good results from it, although it’s just a temporary measure,” he said, referring to the ministry’s recent introduction of standard minimum prices for paddy.

“In the long term, we need to do more to revamp the sector,” he stressed.

Tina noted that some issues in the agricultural sector require an immediate solution, while some others need long-term planning. The issue related to low paddy prices required an ad-hoc solution, he added.

“In the recent case of low paddy prices, the actual issue was that rice mills got jammed with paddy rice and not because they were trying to avoid buying from farmers. When we went down there, we saw that they got stuck with too much paddy rice at once, so they could only buy more when it was milled,” he said.

Last month, farmers in Battambang and neighbouring Banteay Meanchey expressed concerns about the low prices being offered for their paddy rice, prompting the agriculture ministry and relevant institutions to intervene.

The ministry then collaborated with Green Trade Company – a state-owned enterprise under the Ministry of Commerce – to introduce standard minimum prices to ensure the stability of commodity prices following a drop in the price of paddy rice in the two provinces.

Through the measures, top-grade Phka Rumduol paddy was priced at a minimum of 1,040 riel (around $0.25) per kg when purchased by Green Trade, which said it would purchase an unlimited amount from farmers at that price, which in turn prompted traders to offer that price at minimum.

The Cambodia Rice Federation (CRF) helped set up designated sites in the two provinces to purchase the paddy rice at the guaranteed rates.

Tina said the paddy price issue in the two provinces has been solved for now, but the issue will arise again when rice harvesting season comes as the problem has been occurring for a very long time.

“We solved the interface issue, but for a long-term solution, we need reforms to the whole agricultural sector over time. I raised this point at every place I visit, because farmers also need to change their cultivation habits and buyers have to change their buying habits too. But for now the government will step in to help in those situations,” he said.

He said that the issue regarding the low prices of agricultural produce like rice in particular comes as the agriculture sector has been making advancements. In the past, Cambodia lacked many kinds of foods entirely and did not have them even for daily consumption, but now what the country lacks is a market for that produce.