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Government to Push Fish Farming

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Fish has traditionally been a staple for Cambodians, along with rice. AFP

The government has set an annual target of producing 1.2 million tons of fish in farms within the next three years to support high local demand and to reduce the flood of imports from neighboring countries, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
 
Fish has traditionally been a staple for Cambodians, along with rice, and while the demand for fish has been high, supplies on the local market have been low, secretary of state Nao Thouk told reporters yesterday.
 
The market now depends on imported fish from neighboring countries, Mr. Thouk said, and that is costing ordinary people too much.
 
“We plan by 2019 to produce up to 1.2 million tons of fish, while the amount of fish caught in the natural environment is stable at about 500,000 tons per year,” Mr. Thouk said.
 
The demand for fish per person has increased from an estimated 52.5 kilograms per year to 63 kilograms, Mr. Thouk said. The current production of 700,000 tons per year will not be enough to supply the increase in consumption in the coming years, he said.
 
Cambodia can produce about 700,000 tons of fish per year, with 140,000 tons coming from the aquaculture sector, Mr. Thouk said.
 
In May the government legalized the farming of snakehead fish after a decade-long ban because this type of fish feeds on small fish caught from rivers and streams.
 
Cambodia exported about 20 tons of fish last year worth about $40 million, Mr. Thouk said, but those exports were fish caught in the wild and not farmed.
 
Mr. Thouk added that problems in the sector needed to be addressed if fish farming is to be intensified to increase exports. He said the agriculture ministry was working on bringing the price of electricity down for farmers and exempting import taxes on fish feed.
 
“If we farm fish and the prices are too high, cheap fish from neighboring countries will be imported and that would hurt local fish farmers,” Mr. Thouk said.
 
The flood of imported fish in the market has also raised concerns over food safety, with many claiming that imported fish are of poor quality and treated with antibiotics that can affect people’s health.
 
Chan Sophal, director of the Center of Policy Study, said the cost of fish feed was one of the main challenges for the aquaculture sector in Cambodia. He called for more technical and financial aid from the government.
 
“Imported fish feed is one of the big factors which pushes the cost of farming fish,” Mr. Sophal said. “Unless the price of feed comes down, fish farmers cannot sell their products at a low price.”
 
Mr. Sophal said the lack of fish fingerlings, or baby fish, the lack of technical training for fish farmers and the limited financial support for the sector are the main problems that need to be resolved.
 
Investing in fish feed manufacturing is difficult because Cambodia is a small market with few commercial fish farmers, he said.
 
Sin Kang, a coordinator in the export diversification and expansion program of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), shared the same sentiment.
 
“We don’t have fish feed manufacturers, so that will increase the costs for fish farmers who cannot compete with cheap imported fish,” Mr. Kang said.
 
According to Mr. Thouk, the government is trying to attract investors to manufacture animal feed, especially fish feed, to keep farming costs down, while Cambodia has the materials for animal feed manufacturing, which include corn, rice and cassava.

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