For those of you interested in the politics and economics of rice seed, there is an interesting discussion going on in the RMAP blog about rice seed in Cambodia. The discussion was kicked off by ANU PhD scholar Maylee Thavat. Maylee writes:

I’m currently writing … a case study chapter on an AusAID funded project in Cambodia, called the Agricultural Quality Improvement Project. This project set up four seed companies in four adjacent poor provinces in south east Cambodia to try and find a way to systematically distribute ‘improved’ rice seed from another Australian funded rice research project to farmers. Although it aimed to boost rice farming productivity, the challenge for this project was to ensure a steady and systematic supply of good quality seed to farmers. It thus choose to establish private seed companies as its main vehicle of distribution and sold seed at relatively high prices. Seed prices were high because as a bilateral aid project, given from Australia to Cambodia, the seed companies were built with high priced equipment and modern management systems.

It would come as no surprise to most readers that my research found that seed sales to farmers were mostly limited to wealthier farmers, whilst poorer farmers carried on growing their own seed or sourcing seed through seed exchanges with friends and family. The wealthier farmers then set about selling second-generation rice seed to slightly less poor farmers, at higher prices than they could sell as paddy rice but lower than seed company prices. They therefore undercut the seed company sales. The systematic distribution of seed through the private sector therefore systematically benefited wealthier, more commercialised farmers who became seed farmers. The benefits of this seed trickled down to less wealthy farmers who bought second-generation seed and generally excluded poorer ones.

That this would be the outcome of a private company in a largely subsistence country is not at all surprising.

For interested readers who are in Canberra (and I think that is where AusAID is based) Maylee is presenting a seminar next Thursday 28 May on “Gift and commodity relations in pro-poor private sector development: a case study of rice seed companies in Cambodia.” The seminar will be held from 4-5 PM in Seminar Room C of the labyrinthine Coombs Building on the ANU campus.