Though the export of cassava from Cambodia to foreign markets increased by more than 50 percent in 2016, compared with previous years, export earnings were still low due to below-market-prices offered by buyers in Thailand and Vietnam.
According to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries a total of 13.2 million metric tons of cassava tubers were produced in 2016 and 7.7 million metric tons, or 58 percent of total production, were exported overseas. In 2012, according to the ministry eight million metric tons of cassava tubers were produced, with half a million metric ton or 7.4 percent of total production sold overseas.
“Cassava production increased sharply over the past five years due to better harvests because of favorable weather,” said Hean Vanhan, director general of the agriculture general directorate at the Ministry.
But, Mr. Vanhan added, the increase in production has not been met with better export prices.
“Cambodia depends heavily on buyers in Thailand and Vietnam for its cassava exports,” he said.
“These countries buy our cassava cheaply, below the market price, process them and then re-export it at a higher price elsewhere,” Mr. Vanhan pointed out.
Mr. Vanhan said cassava exports to China would fetch higher prices but poor logistics in Cambodia were a detriment to the kingdom seeking better markets further away.
“The cost of our logistics is still high compared to neighboring countries,” he said. “The cassava is cheap, but the transport costs are exorbitant.”
In 2015, Cambodia exported over 7.46 million tons of dried cassava chips to China, at a value of $1.56 billion, in addition to $550 million in sales of cassava starch
According to Mr. Vanhan, there are only two cassava processing plants – in Tboung Khmum and Battambang provinces.
“They process only a small amount of cassava and the rest are sold out to neighboring countries by farmers themselves,” he said.
Hun Lyhoeun, the director of Drycorpkh Cambodia, a cassava trading company in Battambang province, said the price depended on the amount of cassava exports to neighboring countries and was low in part because Cambodia lacked factories for processing the tuberous root.
“The price is always on the lips of traders from Thailand and Vietnam. We don’t have processing factories here, so farmers are forced to sell at low prices,” he said.
Mr. Lyhoeun said recently that the government should intervene to stabilize prices during periods of market fluctuations to protect the earnings of farmers.
Song Sarum, a cassava farmer in Battambang province’s Ratanak Mondul district, said though his harvest increased at the end of last year, the prices offered by traders were dismal.
“I was happy to see that my cassava crop did so well. But when I tried to sell my harvested cassava tubers, I almost cried,” he told Khmer Times.
“I didn’t want to sell to the traders who came from Thailand. But I had no choice. If I didn’t sell, I wouldn’t have any income.”
Dry cassava is priced from 554 to 565 riel (about $0.15) per kilogram and fresh cassava is priced from 170 to 205 riel (about $0.05). Last season it was about 508 riel for the dry version and 136 riel for the fresh one, said Mr. Sarum.
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