The tyranny of taste: The case of organic rice in Cambodia

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Abstract

Fair-trade and organic products are often sold at price premiums justified by smaller production volumes that are associated with greater social and environmental responsibility. The consumption of these products confers on the consumer a greater sense of morality – and usually a claim to better taste. This paper tells the story of attempts to promote organic/fair-trade rice production by de facto organic Cambodian farmers for export to North American and European markets in order to assist poor farmers to trade their way out of poverty. It demonstrates that instead of promoting sustainable agriculture and fair trade between developed and developing markets, organic/fair-trade projects may impose First World consumer ideals and tastes that are out of step with the larger realities of agrarian transition in Cambodia and the wider region of developing Southeast Asia.

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