Potatoes to take root

Sok Chan / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
The Royal University of Agriculture is encouraging farmers to grow potatoes in Cambodia. Reuters

Cambodia’s eastern Mondulkiri province will become the country’s first hub for potato growing after a successful pilot project, researchers say.
Cheang Hong, of the Potato Research Center at the Royal University of Agriculture, said a team spent several months studying weather conditions, potato varieties and farming.
Mr. Hong said some varieties need cool weather while some need warm weather. They identified Mondulkiri as the best place to plant.
He said potatoes could offer a yield in three months, and during the pilot program six metric tons were grown in a farm of less than one hectare.
Mr. Hong said the project confirmed that potatoes can be grown in Cambodia, however the researchers were putting more effort into finding varieties to grow in provinces other than Mondulkiri.
The researchers are looking for varieties to grow in warmer climate provinces such as Battambang, Preah Vihear and Pursat.
“To find a proper potato variety to grow in both cool and warm weather provinces will take another three years,” Mr. Hong said.
Researchers brought around 24 varieties of potato from Germany, South Korea and Peru. A few were suitable for the Cambodian climate.
The researchers say potatoes could replace rice because they contain all the vitamins, and the yield of potatoes is higher.
They say potatoes could yield to about 18 metric tons per hectare and sell for 3,000 riels per kilo.
Mr. Hong said growing potatoes would be a challenge for farmers because they are not experienced with this kind of crop, and there has yet to be any research on potato-growing in Cambodia.
Ngo Bunthan, rector of the Royal University of Agriculture, said the potato market in Cambodia is huge because Cambodians and expats consume a lot of them.
“In the past, we have not had the varieties and farmers had no experience in growing potatoes. Now it’s different and we hope to have them grown in Cambodia,” he said.
“We worked with the agriculture department and farmers in Mondulkiri and now we are searching for a better variety which offers the best quality, high yields and is suitable for our climate.”
Heng Sengly, general manager of Park Cafe, said it was good news that Cambodia would be able to grow potatoes.
He said his restaurant consumed about 500kg a month, mostly imported from the United States at $2 for a kilo.
“If Cambodia could grow them, it would be good. The price would be good for consumers and restaurants could sell to clients at a lower price,” Mr. Sengly said. “Farmers could profit greatly by growing potatoes to supply restaurants, hotels and supermarkets.”
Mr. Sengly said there is a growing trend for eating potatoes as a fast food, especially among young Cambodians and expats.
“The market for potatoes is big due to the fact that lots of famous brand shops from western countries have come to Cambodia, especially restaurants and hotels from Japan, America, and Europe,” he said.
“We try to support local products. Even if the price of local potatoes is a bit higher than imports, we will purchase from local farmers.”
Hean Vanhan, director-general of the general directorate of agriculture at the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, posted on Facebook yesterday that Cambodia produces about 420,000 metric  tons of vegetables annually and about the same amount is imported.
With potato consumption rising, the ministry unveiled the $200,000 research center it hopes will study and develop potato varieties most suited to the country.
Speaking at a ceremony outside the new center, Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon stressed the increasing importance of potatoes in the nation’s diet.
“The demand for potatoes in the kingdom is growing year-on-year, not only due to demand from foreign tourists, but also local people. As such, the potato market is growing remarkably,” Mr. Sakhon said.
He added that the center was built in collaboration with the Korean Project of International Agriculture, the Korean International Cooperation Agency and the Ministry of Rural Development.

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