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Palm sugar hits a sweet spot

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
An employee sits among cooling palm sugar at a warehouse in Kampong Speu province in 2011. Hector Bermejo

Palm sugar hits a sweet spot

Exports of Kampong Speu palm sugar with geographical indication status increased sharply this year thanks to growing demand from South Korea and France, according to a representative of the Kampong Speu Palm Sugar Promotion Association’s (KSPSPA).

According to KSPSPA president Sam Saroeun, exports of Kampong Speu palm sugar reached 75 tonnes this year, an increase of 50 per cent compared to the same period last year, .

“The rising figure is driven by demand in Korea and France.

We received more orders from local exporters who are exporting to France, while for the Korean market alone, the orders came in at around 35 tonnes,” Saroeun said, with the rest of the exports going mainly to the European Union, Japan and the United States.

The association is also planning to sign a deal with a Korean buyer this October, which will boost both sugar palm production and exports.

“Through a local exporter, Korean buyers are looking for a supply of 30 tonnes of sugar palm per month from us.

If the deal happens, we will have to expand the production area to supply the growing demand,” Saroeun said.

Georaphical indication (GI) status is granted by the World Trade Organization to show buyers that a product comes from a specific geographical location, guaranteeing its quality.

Kampong Speu palm sugar was granted GI status back in 2010.

Two of the three districts in Kampong Speu which have been granted GI status currently produce GI-marked sugar palm for export.

With 142 member families, KSPSPA’s total production stands at about 300 to 400 tonnes per year.

Rising international attention to GI-status products has led to an increase in demand, said Ministry of Commerce spokesperson Ken Ratha.

“Products with GI status are priority products for promotion.

The [commerce] minister always hands out and promotes these products, including Kampong Speu palm sugar, Kampot pepper, and rice to international guests and tells them to import more from Cambodia, while the products have also appeared in international exhibitions,” he said.

Because GI goods tend to be more expensive and oriented towards export markets, profit margins are higher.

To help farmers obtain higher margins, the Ministry of Commerce is planning to have 22 more products granted GI status in the future.

Farmlink Cambodia, an exporter of GI-status Cambodian products, exported 3 tonnes of sugar palm to France last year and expects to export 5 tonnes this year.

“We started exporting Palm Sugar three years ago to France.

The sales are stable in France, but we have seen an increase in global sales from a new market – Germany,” wrote Christophe Lesieur, co-owner and managing director of Farmlink Cambodia, in an email yesterday.

He added, however, that a lack of marketing, meant to increase brand awareness of the sugar, was still low in the French market.

“The distributors invest very slowly because it is still a niche market,” he said.

“They need to educate the consumers about the quality and the taste of this sugar, and it takes time.”

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