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Farmers flock to cassava

Battambang Province
CASSAVA farming is quickly expanding in Battambang province as profit margins on the crop continue to rise, according to industry experts and local farmers.

Prices for the plant, which is edible and is used in ethanol production, have risen considerably, fetching more  than other cash crops such as cotton that are being grown in the province, Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture president Yang Saing Koma said yesterday.

“Many people are now investing in cassava, due to the high prices. They also expect to gain more profit from cass-ava, as yields are more frequent,” Yang Saing Koma said.

Cotton farming was also an important cash crop in Batt-ambang, but had been in decline for five years because of environmental degradation and lower prices relative to cassava, Rotanak Mondol district farmer Chim Choeb said.

“We started farming cotton in 2006, but the soil is no longer good enough for the crop and we can make more money farming cassava,” he said.

Although more and more farmers are planting it, prices have increased considerably over the past year as more foreign buyers show interest in Cambodian cassava.

“In 2010, the price was 200 to 300 riel a kilogramme for cut and dried cassava, but it is  reaching 700 to 800 riel a kilogramme, due to increasing demand,” Chim Choeb said.

The ease of growing cassava relative to labour-intensive crops such as cotton has also likely influenced the increase in the annual crop, according to Banteay Meancheay province-based cassava broker Malai Trading Company director Som Yen.

“It’s easier to grow than other crops, and prices are high, pushing farmers to increase their cultivation,” he said.

The company expects to export 30,000 tonnes of cassava to Thailand, at a cost of 400 riel a kilogramme, compared to last year’s price of 100 to 200 riel a kilogramme, Som Yen said, adding that the demand from Thailand and China was driven by ethanol production.

Cambodia’s exports of cass-ava by volume increased by 74   per cent in the first five months of this year compared with the same period of 2010, reaching 212,000 tonnes so far in 2011, according to statistics from the Ministry of Commerce’s Camcontrol Division.

Revenue also grew, reaching US$10.3 million during that period, up from $4.4 million in the first five months of 2010.

Farmers selling the crop without first processing it are  commanding between 200 and 300 riel a kilogramme, whereas the figure reached only 100 riel last year, according to Rat Borey, a cassava farmer in Sdoau Commune.

“If the price remains stable, we will continue to farm cassava, possibly expanding our 10 hectare plot to 40 or 50 hrctsares next year,” he said.

Battambang farmers say they are seeing increasing demand by foreigners to grow and export the crop.

Rat Borey said interest came largely from Korean, Chinese and Thai businessmen who send cassava abroad.

“It has increased year after year, and investors are now looking for large plots of land [for contracts], around 5,000 hectares,” he said.

Cassava is planted in March or April and harvested from December to February in Cambodia.

The Kingdom produced about 1.3 per cent of the world’s cassava in 2009, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Nigeria was the largest producer of cassava during that year, with Thailand the second largest, it said.

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