Villagers in Kampong Khlaing commune in Siem Reap province’s Sotr Nikum district have halted Kamlearnh fish paste production due to lagging demand, according to the industry’s representative body.
Proum Hong, president of Kampong Khlaing Fish Paste Producers Association (KKFPPA), said the inflated price of the product, which is made from local Kamlearnh fish and retails for 20,000 riel ($5) per kilogram compared with 6,000 riel for other fish paste products, led to the market slump.
“Some producers have paused Kamplearnh fish paste production altogether due to the lack of capital and small demand in the market,” Hong said last week.
“Producers need money to buy Kamplearnh fish from fishermen to then make the fish paste. From there, the paste needs to be stored for at least six to 12 months before producers can make a profit by selling it at market,” she added.
“Most of the producers do not have the capital to produce and stock Kamplearnh fish paste for the storage time and when they do eventually sell it, no one wants to buy it because of its high price.”
In addition to dwindling market demand, Hong said Kampong Khleang fish paste producers also face competition from other, non-KKFPPA member producers who instead use chemicals to speed up the paste’s ageing time.
“Other producers do not produce in a traditional way like we do. They put in chemicals to shorten the time in producing fish paste.”
“They [other producers] can sell their product in a shorter time period and at cheaper price,” she said, adding that authentic Kamplearnh fish paste makers usually have the recipe handed down from generation to generation.
Lach Chorn, a Kampong Khlaing villager, has been making Kamplearnh fish paste for more than two decades.
“The demand for our fish paste is very small. Only those who really like it and know the taste will actually buy it,” he told the Post.
Chorn said he has halted his fish paste production and is awaiting a surge in demand before he considers restarting.
Kim Ly, deputy director of the Siem Reap department of commerce said he was aware of the challenges facing the fish paste producers.
“We have been trying to find funds from donors to support producers who are listed with the association so they can keep producing, but the lack of capital is still a challenge now,” Ly said.
Siem Reap produces about 600 to 700 tonnes of Kamplearnh fish paste annually. Kamplearnh fish paste season runs from December to March.
The Cambodian government in February added Siem Reap province fish paste to the World Trade Organization’s Geographical Indication (GI) status waiting list along with 21 other Cambodia-specific products. The WTO’s GI status upgrade certifies the quality of a product and officially links it to its origin, protects it under international law and creates brand recognition on the global stage.
“We will educate Cambodian people as a whole to respect those people . . . Those who were wrongly considered as foreigners.”