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A farmer throws harvested cassava root onto a pile in  Battambang province in 2011
A farmer throws harvested cassava root onto a pile in Battambang province in 2011. Heng Chivoan

Expectations high for cassava

Provincial authorities are hoping for a bumper crop for cassava this harvest season, with both cultivation and prices up this year.

In Cambodia’s northwestern provinces, where cassava is most commonly grown, officials are betting on increased demand for the root vegetable from China this harvest season, which runs from December to April. Flood damage too in some areas has been less severe this year, giving officials hope for the harvest.

In Cambodia’s largest cassava producing province of Battambang, officials said cultivation had doubled since last year.

“Cassava cultivation for this new season has increased from 60,000 to 120,000 hectares as farmers have switched from planting corn to cassava, due to low price of corn last year,” said Chhim Vichera, director of Agriculture Department of Battambang province.

Despite the increase of supply, Vichera said he was confident prices would remain stable as there is more interest from the Chinese market.

“We also see more local traders for cassava, and we have become less dependent on neighbouring countries for our product because we have China as a buyer,” said Vichera.

The average yield for cassava is about 25 to 30 tonnes per hectare.

Chhil Chhen, deputy director of Pailin’s provincial Department of Agriculture said cassava cultivation made up 80 per cent of the total 37,000 hectares of cultivation area for agricultural products in Pailin.

“It is a good year for cassava farmers as there is no flooding, so no damage to their harvest,” he said. “The price for the beginning of the harvest is a little higher than last year too. I am optimistic that the price will remain positive as demand from local processing factory has increased,” Chhen added.

According to Chhen, fresh cassava sells for about 290 riel ($0.07) per kilogram while dried cassava is sold for around 670 riel.

Meanwhile, Ouch Savorn, deputy director of Bantey Meanchey’s provincial Department of Agriculture, also noted a presence of more local traders in the province. This increase in competition, he said, would hopefully sustain prices as cultivation had increased by more than 60,000 hectares.

“The government has also encouraged farmers to diversify their plantation,” Savorn added, in order to spread the risk of price fluctuations in one specific product.

Meas Leun, a farmer in Pailin province, said prices for dry cassava were up by about 30 per cent this year.

“As far as I know, there has been higher demand from Vietnam and Thailand as cassava production in their countries has decreased due to flooding. Local traders also increased this year creating price competition in the market,” he said.

However, independent economist Srey Chanthy, cautioned yesterday that while cassava prices were strong at the beginning of the season, he expected them to drop when they reached their peak supply in January and February.

Although China had promised to buy more of the Cambodian produce, trade volume was not endless, Chanthy went on to say.

“Farmers should manage to release their harvest according to the demand, to have better control over price,” he said.

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