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Farmers worry over Vietnam border closure

Chhut Bunthoeun / Khmer Times Share:
A deserted border crossing between Vietnam and Cambodia that has been closed due to COVID-19. Supplied

Cambodian farmers have expressed serious concerns after Vietnam decided to abruptly close all border crossings with Cambodia because Vietnamese merchants are their main source of buyers for many crops, particularly for cassava and cashews.

The Vietnamese government on Wednesday locked down its borders with the Kingdom and imposed a month-long entry ban for any foreign traveller – except accredited diplomats – as the country adopts measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.

On average, around 200 traders travel from Cambodia to Vietnam daily to exchange products from both countries, according to Mam Yoy, deputy immigration police chief at Bavet International Border Checkpoint. He added that local border gates were closed first before the international checkpoints because they had no health officials stationed there.

“Both Vietnamese and Cambodian businessmen are unhappy with the closure as it puts incredible strains on their livelihood,” he said.

Heng Try, president of Kampong Thom’s Srok Sondan Cassava Association, told Khmer Times that about 60 percent of cassava harvested in his district is sold to Vietnamese merchants.

“Many farmers here, not just those producing cassava and cashew nuts, rely heavily on Vietnamese buyers. We have no hope if the border continues to be locked down because we will have no one to sell our harvest too,” Heng said.

Prices have already dropped from 380 riels to around 200 riels per kilogramme for fresh cassava tuber in the last few days and buying orders have now drastically reduced. The harvest season finished last month but some farmers have extended their harvest as prices are currently too low to cover costs.

San Navy, 35, a farmer in Kratei province’s Snuol district, told Khmer Times that cashew nuts and cassava in his area are sold to middlemen traders who on-sell them to Vietnam. San, who plants both crops on three hectares of land, said these traders have stopped buying cashew nuts in his area since Tuesday, yet cassava can still be sold.

Another farmer in Tboug Khum’s Roka Po Pram Commune, Ek Hym, said he is concerned how the border closure will impact his livelihood because traders buy cashew nuts direct from his farm. However, according to Hym, traders are still purchasing the crop from him yet he fears this may change as the border closure takes full effect.

Cambodia’s Agriculture Ministry has stated that the Kingdom exported 227,350 tonnes of fresh cassava tubers and 785,370 tonnes of cassava starch to Vietnam and Thailand during the first two months of the year. During this period, the ministry also recorded a total of 329,948 tonnes of fresh cassava tubers exported through informal channels to Vietnam.

Trade volume between Cambodia and Vietnam, according to governmental figures, reached $5 billion last year and was expected to exceed this amount in 2020. However, Chan Sophal, Centre for Policy Studies director, said the closures will see a negative impact on the Kingdom’s economy as Vietnam is a major consumer of local agricultural products.

“As Vietnam has now closed its borders with Cambodia, goods from Cambodia that are set to be exported to Vietnam will get stuck and the price will also go down,” he said.

In contrast, Chan said goods that are imported from Vietnam, such as vegetables, fish and meat will increase
in price. Meanwhile, he suggested that Cambodia should invest more in food production to address both short and long-term issues.

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