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A woman sorts through a pile of cashew nuts at a processing centre in Kampong Thom province
A woman sorts threw a pile of cashew nuts at a processing centre in Kampong Thom province on Friday. The new centre aims to make business easier for farmers who have traditionally relied upon sending their raw harvest to Vietnam and India. Hong Menea

Profits peeled at new centre

A pilot cashew-peeling factory in Kampong Thom province aims to make business easier for farmers who have traditionally relied upon sending their raw harvest elsewhere for processing.

With $130,000 from the Asia Development Bank, the building went up in May on 3,600 square metres in Kampong Svay district. Nearly 400 members of the Prasat Sambor Cashew
Association operate it.

Um Uon, president of the association, said that a lack of production capabilities has forced local farmers to sell their raw goods at a low price to traders, who then export the unpeeled cashews to Vietnam.

“Now the traders cannot do the price fluctuation as they did before,” Uon said. “We don’t have to worry about the market anymore.”

Farmers were previously selling the cashews to traders at $1.5 per kilo. Now, after the nuts are peeled at the facility they can fetch up to $12 per kilo from local buyers.

Chan Ry, a member of the association, sells her cashews to the peeling venture, and also earns extra money by working there.

“In the past, I have much free time, but now I am busier,” Ry said.

But the new venture can’t accommodate everyone, and the main drawback is its limited size, according to Seng Ann, the head of tourism in Kampong Thom.

Not all cashew nut farmers in the province can sell crops to the new enterprise. Instead, only farmers in nine villages of two districts in Kampong Thom are taking part.

Ann called the cashew peeling facility a first step, and said its existence would encourage farmers to boost production. “When the production gets bigger, we will buy more fresh cashews to peel and process,” he said.

“So, we will expand to help more farmers.”

According to statistics from the provincial agriculture department in Kampong Thom province, cashews were planted on 23,400 hectares in 2013, generating about 16,380 tonnes of nuts. Cambodia’s cashews are usually shipped to Vietnam or India for processing, where they are mixed with cashews from other countries, according to a 2010 report about prospects for the sector from the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank.

Cambodia releases to the market an estimated 60,000 tonnes of in-shell cashew nuts, making it the 10th largest producer in the world.

It outpaces the Philippines (5,000 tonnes) and Sri Lanka (5,500 tonnes), which both have shelling industries.

James Fitzpatrick, the author of the IFC report, wrote that based on the number of hectares planted, Cambodian cashew nut production could be as high as 85,000 tonnes, large enough to support a processing industry.

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