Cambodia looks to put its rice on the world’s plate

For as long as Cambodian rice farmers can remember, their product has had an unsavory reputation. Tough, dirty and unmilled, it was impossible to cook evenly, and even farmers traded it as pig feed in exchange for cash or better-quality rice from Vietnam or Thailand.

Even while Cambodia recovered from decades of war and other areas of agriculture flourished, rice production languished, a national embarrassment in a country where 80 percent of the population works in paddies. In 2009, Cambodia exported just 12,613 tons of milled rice, putting it at the bottom of the global heap.

But as Thailand, one of the world’s largest rice exporters, struggles with political instability, Cambodian exports have improved along with their quality; the rice can now be found in high-end grocery markets in the West. Last year, Cambodia was the world’s fifth-largest exporter of rice and the second-biggest exporter of premium jasmine rice. Sales of milled rice abroad reached 378,856 tons. …

Luke Hunt