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IRRI & Cambodia: Their New Deal

Posted by James Plamondon on August 04, 2016 . 0 Comments

You can find, here, a PDF of the recently-signed deal between Cambodia and IRRI (the International Rice Research Institute). So far as I know, it's not available in the Internet anywhere else, as of this writing.

IRRI has been active in Cambodia for decades, doing great work, including the development (with CARDI) of Phka Rumduol (as described here).

Last month, IRRI signed a new deal with the Cambodian government. Although this was mentioned in the press as being a milestone, the deal itself wasn't made publicly available.

Being a naturally curious person, I wondered: What does this new deal involve, exactly? I couldn't find the agreement on the Internet anywhere, so I emailed IRRI and asked for a link to the deal-defining document, or for a copy thereof. After making sure that it was OK to do so, IRRI's Rona Niña Mae Rojas-Azucena was kind enough to send me the PDF referenced above.

  • On the one hand, it is a rather boring document, because it does not describe any new research or extension activities (which is what I was hoping for).
  • On the other hand, it is quite exciting, because it sets the stage for IRRI to open a new Country Office in Cambodia. In the document, Cambodia grants IRRI's new Country Office the same rights and privileges of a foreign government's embassy...which makes perfectly good sense.

Cambodia poses an intriguing challenge to IRRI. As I have documented elsewhere, Cambodia is getting squeezed out of the commodity rice exporting business. Its future lies in the exportation of "the world's best" jasmine rice.

However, no standard metrics currently exist for determining which samples of cooked jasmine rice are "the best" among a given set of samples. Nor are there benchmarks for "best-ness." Nor are "best practices" currently known for growing, drying, milling, or storing jasmine rice to maximize its "best-ness" from paddy to plate. Nor is research focused on breeding jasmine rice that is "the best" by those non-existent metrics. Producing those standards, best practices, breeds, etc. is a Research & Development problem for which IRRI (with CARDI) is ideally suited.

IRRI could, in Cambodia, do "the usual things" to increase yield and productivity. However, even if the "usual things" work perfectly (which they never do), they can't overcome Cambodia's geographic and socio-political impediments, and hence cannot reduce its costs by enough to keep it in the commodity rice exporting industry as global prices resume their centuries-long downward trend, and sleeping giants such as Myanmar and India awaken and re-enter the rice-exporting industry.

Cambodia cannot win a cost-driven race to the bottom. It needs IRRI's help to start a new race: a Race to the Top. A race that targets a new definition of quality. A race that Cambodia can win!

Hopefully, IRRI will embrace that focus...to hedge its bets on commodity rice, if nothing else.

We'll see!   :-)

Thanks again to IRRI for being open enough to share this PDF with me, and hence with y'all.

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