Khmer Times reporter Chhut Bunthoeun sat down with Hun Lak, Longmate Agriculture director, to discuss banana investment prospects in Cambodia following his company’s recently-launched packaging facility in Kampot province, which will aid the export of 120 tonnes of bananas to the Chinese market.
KT: Could you briefly tell us about your company’s background?
Mr Hun Lak: Longmate Agriculture was established in late 2017 and it is a joint venture investment involving a group of successful banana plantation companies in China, Hong Kong and Cambodia. This group collaboration has a combined 20 years of experience with regard to banana plantation. Stake ownership is divided in the joint venture business. The Cambodian side is responsible for business operations, whereas our foreign partners are in charge over technicalities in the supply chain. To put it simply, they oversee the sowing of seeds, organic fertilization, the plantation, keeping plantation beds clean and harvesting managements.
KT: How many hectares is your banana plantation? How many tonnes of banana yields are you expecting to be harvested and exported to the Chinese market this year?
Mr Hun Lak: Our investment, which was approved by the Council for the Development of Cambodia last year, sits on 1,000 hectares of land located in Chhuk district, Kampot province. The capital investment is about 32 million dollars. We have planted yellow bananas on over 400 hectares of land and so far our plantation has run for 15 months. This year, we expect to send 22,000 tonnes of fresh bananas to the Chinese market, and expand to 33,000 tonnes a year by 2020. About 120 tonnes of fresh bananas, equivalent to six containers, have been packed at our packaging house facility in Kampot province and was loaded onto the ship on May 11 ready to be sent to China. It would take about 10 days to get to the destination, namely: Dalain, Shanghai and Shenzhen cities in China. Our banana shipment to the market will pass Sihanoukville Autonomous Port and Phnom Penh Autonomous Port. If the Sihanoukville port is busy, we will carry through the Phnom Penh port instead.
KT: What are your expectations of the banana shipment to the Chinese market?
Mr Hun Lak: Well, we tested a banana shipment to the Chinese market during the first quarter of this year, about 100 containers, to figure out the challenges we might face in regard to market issue and transportation. As a result, it brought us a fruitful achievement. Today, our bananas are officially accredited as a Cambodian-made product ready to be exported to China directly. Our bananas are recognized for their high quality and adhering to international standard, as our team is highly specialized in the field. The banana seeds we use, which is known as Musa Supientum or Cavendish, are from China and Australia, and its taste is widely recognized around the globe. So, we hope that our business will be successful, thanks to the fact that banana is a product with great potential in the Chinese market.
KT: Having said that, bananas are in high demand in the Chinese market, amounting to 4 million tonnes a year. With that in mind, how far would you expand your production chain to meet market demands?
Mr Hun Lak: As a matter of fact, investment in bananas is new in Cambodia. Therefore, in this first stage we might not be able to expand too much despite the high demands. We are still focusing on transportation and market supply. We have set out a five-year plan that we will follow step by step to cover different stages of expansion. China receives a large amount in banana supplies, of course. The country does not import from Cambodia alone; it imports from many countries around the globe, including Asean nations, as well as African and Latin American countries. Most importantly, we believe our quality can compete with well-known and globally-recognized brands from Ecuador and the Philippines.
KT: Will you look to export to other countries besides China and will you look to invest in other agricultural products?
Mr Hun Lak: As we are still in our first stages, and our harvest is still limited, we have not yet considered exporting to other markets. Our yields do not yet meet the demand in the Chinese market. We will, however, expand our plantation. From August, our plantation will increase its harvest volume by double the amount. We will consider our market expansion later. We have not yet considered other crops to invest in, as banana is currently in great demand.