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Cassava farmers ready for promising season

Sok Chan / Khmer Times Share:
Cassava is an important Cambodian export. KT/Mai Vireak

With harvest season kicking off this month, cassava farmers across the country are upbeat. According to local cassava associations, the price of the commodity is significantly higher than in previous years due to heightened demand in foreign markets.

Long Heang, president of Battambang’s Ratanak Mondul Cassava Association, said they will start cultivating the crop this month and will continue until January or February.

He added that farmers were happy with the price the crop had reached this year, particularly after a dramatic dip in the value of the commodity at the end of 2016 that lasted until the start of the year.

Fresh cassava is selling for about 220 riel per kilogram, an increase of more than 50 percent compared with last year.

However, Mr Heang lamented a simultaneous reduction in the plantation area allocated to cassava within his association, which dropped from 24,000 hectares last year to about 16,000 hectares.

“The decrease in the price of cassava last year led many farmers to cultivate other crops, which explains why cassava plantations have shrunk.

“This year the price is stable and higher with all farmers coming together to decide on a common price before selling our produce to Thai buyers. All prices must be negotiated before selling,” Mr Heang said. 

Cassava plays a key role in plans to diversify agricultural output. Supplied

Chea Chhunny, president of Kravanh Cassava Association in Pursat province, said only 20 percent of his plantation was being cultivated.

His association has 96 farmers working more than 10,000 hectares of farmland.

Mr Chhunny said dry cassava was selling for 570 riel per kilogram, while last year it went for just 300.

“The price has increased remarkably this year with more demand from local companies, Vietnam and China,” Mr Chhunny said.

“I will work with farmers to increase the plantation area to 20,000 hectares by 2019.”

Mr Chhunny said he was looking for local or foreign investment that would help him build a silo in his area to store produce, as well as educate famers about the ins and outs of the market, including price, demand and how to expand to reach new buyers. 

Cassava plantations in the kingdom have increased from 30,000 hectares in 2005 to 684,070 in 2016, with total production amounting to 14.8 million tonnes last year, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture.

The provinces in which the crop is grown are Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Pailin, Kratie, Kampong Thom, Tboung Khmom and Oddar Meanchey.

Speaking at a cassava investment forum early this month in Siem Reap, Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon said cassava production played a central role in the government’s plans to diversify agricultural output.

He added that his ministry would help establish contract farming schemes in key provinces to ensure supply of cassava, lure investors into the sector and guarantee a good price for the commodity.

“We have to set up the policy and an in-depth action plan on cassava production in Cambodia based on cooperation with concerned stakeholders,” he said.

Mr Sakhon said exports of Cambodian cassava had expanded beyond the four traditional markets – China, France, Vietnam and Thailand – to reach other countries such as Canada, England, Finland, India and Italy.

“We have big cassava plantations, a lot of farmers working with the crop and have recently attracted some big investments into the sector,” he said.

According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Cambodia exported 2.3 million metric tonnes of cassava chips – about 5.5 million tonnes of tubers – during the first nine months of the year.

Cassava chip exports in 2016 amounted to 2.9 million metric tonnes, which mostly went to China, Thailand and Vietnam.

Recently, Amru Rice, Cambodia’s leading rice miller and exporter, signed a deal with Thai Starch Company to supply 8,000 tonnes of fresh organic tapioca – a starch extracted from the cassava root – with the first shipment scheduled for early 2019. He said they will increase exports to 40,000 tonnes by 2020.

Song Saran, CEO of Amru Rice, said they would cooperate with more than 1,500 smallholder farmers in Kampong Thom and Oddar Meanchey during a three-year project to grow fresh organic cassava.

They would also purchase non-organic cassava from farmers to stabilise the market price.

“We will make contracts with all the farmers and will discuss the price with farmers in January before planting. So far we need to collect the baseline and do soil tests,” he added.

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