National Rice Industry Assembles to Crown the Top Grains

A farmer from Battambang province took this year’s honor of growing the country’s top rice paddy on Sunday as industry heavyweights gathered in Phnom Penh for the first of the three-day Cambodia Rice Forum.

“It is unbelievable,” said Hul Khlim, president of Sangha Phal Agriculture Community, when asked about winning the prize by telephone from his home in Bavel district’s Khnach Romeas commune. “I expect my customers will have more confidence in my community’s product.”

Judges evaluate rice samples at the Cambodia Rice Forum at the Sokha hotel in Phnom Penh. (John Vink)
Judges evaluate rice samples at the Cambodia Rice Forum at the Sokha hotel in Phnom Penh. (John Vink)

A panel of expert judges sniffed, prodded and measured 37 submissions of Phka Romduol varietal rice in search of the perfect grain before the master of ceremonies announced the winners to the crescendoing sounds of electronic string instruments.

Though no cash prizes were awarded in categories, which included best boiled rice and best aromatic rice, Cambodia Rice Federation president Sok Puthyvuth said the prestige associated with the prize carried financial weight.

“Generally, if someone wins a prize for their achievement, buyers would most likely go to his or her products and so the prize would also motivate them to work harder and harder,” he said.

The event featured speeches from government and industry heads interjected with several rice-inspired dances performed by bare-chested men with spears and black-clad women wearing headbands.

Experts offered several explanations for the differing qualities of crop across the country.

Sak Choeun, CEO of AQIP Seed Company in Kandal province, emphasized the importance of his company’s chief product.

“I think to grow better rice paddy, farmers need to have better seeds that would bring better rice paddy to them,” he said.

However, Sam Arth Veasna, one of the panel’s judges, who also serves as vice president of the Federation of Cambodian Farmer Organization for Development, said good seeds were useless without well-irrigated fields.

“Most farmers in Cambodia do not have sufficiently good seeds, techniques, financing and irrigation,” he said. “For example, even if you have good seeds for rice paddy, the rice paddy would be not good if you don’t have enough water.”

Others suggested that better technology could help improve the general quality of crops.

Exhibitor SMWaypoint was on hand to pitch its drone-based imaging technology, which promised “ultra-high resolution imagery down to the centimeter” to quickly suss out crop infestations and damage, according to its promotional material.

“If you detect the problem before it spreads or it destroys your field, it might be better,” said SMWaypoint sales and marketing director Verak Chhim.

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