PHNOM PENH—Cambodia has lifted a ban on rice exports amid a still-unfolding global food crisis, although some limits still remain on large shipments.
In an apparent bid to free up the rice market for its farmers, the government lifted a temporary ban on rice exports, except for shipments of more than a million tonnes.
“Rice needs storage, and it costs money to buy and to pack. Because of this...from today, the temporary ban on rice exports will be lifted,” Prime Minister Hun Sen told reporters.
"I think from the point of view of a free market economy, he made the right decision. It...will encourage farmers to step up productivity as well."
Kim Savut, executive director of Cambodia’s national rice-mill association
“Any export of 20-30 tonnes across the border, just let it go,” he added. “We need to keep about four million tonnes of rice back, including 1.1 million tonnes for food and more than 0.8 million tonnes for rice seeds.”
Kim Savut, executive director of Cambodia’s national rice-mill association, said the lifting of the rice export ban would benefit Khmer farmers.
“I think from the point of view of a free market economy, he made the right decision. It is good, and it will encourage farmers to step up productivity as well,” he said.
Fears of a price surge
But rice sellers in Phnom Penh and in various provinces across the country said they feared domestic rice prices would rise sharply in the wake of the ban, as domestic supply tightened.
Cambodia, after decades of civil war and upheaval, produced a record 6.4 million tonnes of rice in its 2007-08 crop year, giving it a surplus of 2.6 million tonnes for export.
Hun Sen had imposed a two-month ban on foreign sales on March 27 to safeguard domestic supply, following suit with the country’s Asian neighbors.
Domestic rice prices from rose from 35 U.S. cents per kilo in January to 92 cents per kilo in March, which the government blamed on rising international prices.
Vietnam could follow
Vietnam and India are the world’s largest rice exporters after Thailand.
State media in Vietnam have said the government there may lift its export ban in early July after the country reported a bumper winter-spring rice crop, easing fears over international supplies.
Rice traders said most buyers were now waiting to buy at cheaper prices when Vietnam resumed exports.
Vietnam’s General Statistics Office (GSO) said farmers have so far harvested 11.5 million tonnes of export-quality winter-spring paddy, up 5.8 percent from last year.
After finishing the winter-spring crop, farmers in the Mekong Delta planted 1.12 million hectares (2.77 million acres) for a summer-autumn crop—17.7 percent more than last year—the GSO said, in a bid to cash in on the soaring prices.
Many growers of vegetables, sugarcane, and other crops have also switched to rice, officials say. The Mekong Delta grows three rice crops a year. The highest yielding winter-spring crop is mainly used for exports.Original reporting by Ath Bonny for RFA's Khmer service. Service director: Sos Kem. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Luisetta Mudie and Sarah Jackson-Han.