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Cassava farmers advised to delay harvest

Banteay Meanchey Governor suggests delay to allow demand to pick up following Thai block on imports along border

THE governor of Banteay Meanchey province told the Post Monday that he has been advising cassava farmers to delay harvesting the crop on account of low domestic demand for it.

Ung Oeun said he has been encouraging farmers to hold off on the harvest because he believes Thailand will eventually open up its market to Cambodian cassava farmers, thereby allowing them to charge higher prices.  

The sugar-rich root - which is used in ethanol fuel, food products and bioplastics - was in high demand last year. But farmers said last month that prices had crashed to 90 riels per kilogram from 300 riels per kilogram in February 2008.

Officials have blamed this in part on the fact that Thai buyers are favouring local products.

"The price of cassava is down because the Thai government only allows its businessmen to buy from Thai farmers," Cheam Chan Saphon, director of the Battambang agriculture department, told the Post last month.

Cambodian Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said Sunday that he had discussed the issue of market access with Thai Commerce Minister Pornthiva Nakasai during the weekend's Asean summit in Cha-am, Thailand.

I have to wait and see when Thai authorities will open the gates to allow cassava into the Thai market.

Cham Prasidh also blamed Thai protectionism for the price decline.  

He said the Kingdom's border provinces produce "around 100,000 tonnes of cassava" per year.

Te Haing is among the Banteay Meanchey farmers who have put off harvesting the crop. He owns a 1,000-hectare farm in Svay Chek district, and this year he spent US$400,000 on cassava trees and workers' salaries, among other expenses. Last year his farm earned him $200,000 in profit, but this year he said he doubts that he will be able to keep paying his 20 full-time employees.

"I am in a difficult situation when it comes to paying my workers' salaries because we are not allowed to transport cassava into Thailand, so its price is very cheap," he said. "I have to wait and see when Thai authorities will open the gates to allow cassava into the Thai market. If they don't open up the market and the price remains the same, I will decide to leave the crop in the ground until next year."

Keo Narin, who runs a 70-hectare cassava farm in Svay Chek district, said he was "very worried" about the current price of cassava because he had spent more than $550 per acre readying his farm for harvest.

"If I decide to sell [the cassava] now, I would basically lose that money," he said.

He said he planned to take the governor's advice and leave the crop in the ground in the hope that the price will rise. 

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