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Rubber bouncing up

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A boy walks through a rubber plantation in Kampong Cham province in March. Photo by: Sovan Philong

CAMBODIA’S rubber industry has expanded rapidly in recent years, but a variety of challenges restrict further advancement of the increasingly lucrative crop, according to experts.

Low-tech materials, quality, maintenance, harvesting and climate change were among the main concerns raised by Director General of Rubber Department Ly Phalla, at a workshop held Friday aiming to improve yields.

“These issues require close cooperation from concerned stakeholders within the industry and rubber producing countries who conduct research,” he said.

Ly Phalla also highlighted the importance of genetic diversification of rubber plants to improve yields and reduce risk.

The sector has seen rapid improvements and become part of the Kingdom’s economic backbone. Plantations have increased in size from 66,000 hectares in 1968, to 181,500 hectares last year, he said.

Prices for rubber have increased this year, according to producers.

Mak Kim Hong, Director General of Chub Rubber Plantation in Kampong Cham province, said his rubber fetched an average of US$5,450 in the first quarter of 2011, compared to about $2,000 last year.

Technical assistance provided by the ministry and development partners has helped to improve methods and yields among local farmers, according to Hor So Vattanak, owner of a 35 hectare rubber plantation in Memot district of Kampong Cham province.

“Our plantations have greatly improved and we are seeing better yields and although climate change had a slight impact, we are not too concerned,” he said.

However, due to the current lack of funding, it is difficult to process rubber for export to neighbouring countries such as Vietnam, he said.

“We normally sell our unprocessed rubber to local buyers based on market prices, but we don’t have the resources to set up a processing plant.”

Cambodia’s total rubber exports grew 65.8 percent to 11,821 tonnes in first quarter of 2011 compared year-on-year, while the total value increased from US$18,026,307 in the first quarter 2010 to $54,959,190 in the same period this year, according to data obtained from the Ministry of Commerce in April.

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