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Farmers transport their freshly harvested cassava along a road in Banteay Meanchey province last year.
Farmers transport their freshly harvested cassava along a road in Banteay Meanchey province last year. Heng Chivoan

Bleak prospects for cassava

Amid reports that Vietnam’s early harvest of cassava is facing downward price pressure, Cambodian farmers could be in for a rough season as local prices are largely dependent on those of the Kingdom’s more developed neighbour, a ministry official said yesterday.

Khan Samban, director of the industrial crops department at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that while it was still too early for most Cambodian farmers to harvest their cassava crops, falling prices in neighbouring Vietnam would automatically dampen local prospects.

“Farmers should be concerned about the price,” he said. “Our main export market for cassava is to Vietnam. So if their cassava market is dropping, it will directly impact our selling price.”

According to Vietnamese media, cassava starch prices have fallen to as low as $270 per tonne, compared to last year’s average selling price of $350 per tonne.

While overshadowed by rice, cassava is Cambodia’s largest export crop by weight, accounting for 68 percent of total agricultural export tonnage last year.

According to Samban, Cambodia’s dry season cassava harvest typically runs from January through April. He said if farmers do not have a profitable harvest this year many of them would likely drop the cash crop altogether.

Chhay Thy, a cassava farmer in Ratanakkiri province, said that after last year’s dismal harvest season he already decided to turn his focus toward growing cashews. He warned that cassava farmers should brace themselves for another bad year.

“I gave up cassava farming because it was hopeless and I did not make any profit,” he said. “I don’t expect that the cassava prices will increase this year since we do not have our own market and we depend fully on Vietnamese buyers.”

Sum Heang, head of the Pailin Cassava Association, said that it was too early to predict how prices in Vietnam would affect Cambodia, but overall the local cassava industry has been facing tough times.

She noted that while her association’s members were more influenced by prices in Thailand than in Vietnam given their proximity to the border – Thai market prices have also been in a trough.

“Our experience with the cassava harvest from last year showed that most farmers lost money and around 40 percent of cassava producers have already given up on farming,” she said, adding that last year’s average selling price of 500 riel per kilo was below the 700-riel breakeven point.

Heang added that she replaced 200 hectares of cassava with mango trees after losing $70,000 on the crop last year.

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