(Pailin) – Yon Kob’s cassava fields in Sala Krao district have usually been harvested by now, but this year the thicket of thin, knobby cassava plants is still standing. Mr. Kob has delayed his harvest in the hope that the price of the tuber would rise, but so far prices have stayed stubbornly low.
A member of Mr. Kob’s commune council, Yoeum Pheoun said the price of dry cassava has dropped from 631 riel last year to 527 riel this year. The price drop, combined with a smaller harvest caused by last year’s drought, has caused difficulties for many farmers in northwest Cambodia where cassava is the main agricultural export.
Mr. Pheoun attributed the low prices to falling demand abroad. Cassava is usually processed into flour or ethanol, but Cambodia has few processing facilities, so most raw cassava is shipped to Thailand or Vietnam for processing, after which much of it is sold to Chinese buyers. With the slowdown of the Chinese economy and cheap oil prices driving down the demand for ethanol, prices have slumped.
Small farmers in Cambodia have been hit especially hard by the price drop. Many farmers take out microfinance loans to pay laborers and rent equipment. “If it’s a small farm they have to hire everything – hire a tractor, hire workers, rent equipment,” said Mr. Kob.
With this year’s crop bringing them less money, many farmers are struggling to pay back their loans, said Mr. Pheoun. “Because the price is low, some villagers have cried because they lose their profits after they plant cassava,” he said. “They have to take microfinance loans to plant the cassava, and … to plant again, they have to get a loan again, so they go deeper in debt.”
Last year’s drought has added to farmers’ woes, cutting some cassava fields’ yield in half. Mr. Kob said that each hectare of his cassava fields usually yields 30 tons, but this year the yield is down to only 15 tons per hectare. He pulled up a cassava plant, shaking his head. “Usually it is heavier,” he said.
Pailin deputy governor Eang Vuth said the provincial government is advising farmers to delay planting until the rainy season starts in June. “If people plant now, it’s hot, there’s no rainfall or anything, so if they wait it will be better,” he said.
Cassava makes up the bulk of Pailin province’s agricultural exports, followed by longan fruit and corn. Mr. Kob said that despite concerns about falling prices, he and many other farmers plan to continue growing cassava this year.
“I don’t have a choice [but to grow cassava],” he said. “No one has shown us another crop to grow. So, cheap or expensive, we have to plant it.”
A truck loaded with cassava. Supplied
Men cut cassava roots to be dried at a farm in Pailin. Reuters