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Animal welfare good for biz

With some 37.6 million large and small livestock being cared for by Cambodian farmers and more reportedly on the way from Australia, the need for proper hygiene in the livestock trade has never been so pivotal to the agricultural industry’s success. Marc Deschamps, CEO at Jebsen & Jessen, a Singapore-based firm specialising in manufacturing, engineering and more recently agricultural livestock health and training in Southeast Asia, talks with the Post’s Eddie Morton about the importance of technology and programs to improve the industry.

What are the key challenges for Cambodia’s animal production industry?
Firstly, there is a regulatory gap to fill. The industry itself needs to develop regulations and registration processes, both in the upstream (animal raising products) and downstream (live animal traders, slaughterhouses, meat dealers and market sellers) market segments of the industry.

Marc Deschamps, CEO of Singapore-based firm Jebsen & Jessen
Marc Deschamps, CEO of Singapore-based firm Jebsen & Jessen. Photo Supplied

Secondly, the Cambodian animal raising industry can be described as backyard-farming, which means that farms are small, between 10 and 100 heads for swine for example. While not an infrastructure shortcoming per se, a fragmented market is by de facto harder for support infrastructures to reach. Larger players typically reach higher production performance and quality standards thus increasing meat availability, meat quality and meat traceability.

Finally, the peripheral industries of animal raising such as feed ingredients and additives distribution, and animal health care products distribution are still young. Few regional and locally experienced players are currently operating in the Kingdom. As the industry matures we can expect efficiency and quality improvements through the proper usage of quality products.

What value can healthy livestock bring to your average Cambodian farmer?
On the animal health side, a good prevention program can greatly reduce the need for disease treatment, which is always more expensive. Disease occurrences lead to expensive and unproductive production losses – mortality, slow growth.

On the animal nutrition side, all farmers work on improving a parameter of great importance in the industry called FCR or Feed Conversion Ratio. This parameter measures the amount of feed you need to provide to your livestock in order for it to put on a kilogram of weight. It is of paramount importance because it basically determines your profits as feeding costs are typically around 60 to 70 per cent of your total costs. A sick animal will not absorb provided nutrients as well as a healthy animal and thus it will grow slower, resulting in the farmer losing money from feed bought but not properly utilised.

Would you say that poor quality standards are hampering country’s street food trade?
Measured by international standards, the full supply chain from animal farming to the consumer’s plate in a restaurant or street stall needs to be under control to ensure food security. It is not an issue limited to street food.

Certified farms providing healthy animals to certified slaughter houses who in turn supply certified meat to certified food stalls and restaurants are required. Each step of the chain is of equal importance.

You still have very few compliant and certified meat suppliers in the Kingdom currently. Floor slaughtering is still very common in small farms, fresh meat on open display at meat stalls in wet markets with flies covering the area are also a very common sight and very likely still the main meat supply source.

Such hygienic standards are very poor and pose a risk to consumer health. These circumstances also deter potential investors. The laws on food security are in place but their application and enforcement are still lacking. Most restaurants catering to international clients and enforcing their own certification standards need to comply with very strict rules and regulations. More often than not they are forced to import their meat from Thailand or Vietnam because these countries provide the necessary certification on food security standards. Importing meat is both detrimental to the Cambodian consumer as prices are higher but it also damages the local meat industry as a whole. If local farmers wish to participate and benefit from this business, they need to raise their own standards to the necessary levels.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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