The land here is close to the sea and the soil is mixed with sand, so it can produce very good salt.
Salt is seeping out of Am Moun’s warehouse onto the mud path beside his salt field. Some hastily placed tarpaulin protects it from the overnight rain.
“The main problem is that we cannot sell right now,” the farmer says. “When we cannot sell salt everything is stuck because we don’t have money.”
Am Moun, 47, heads one of 80 families that farm sea salt in fields close to the village of Boeng Tapream, a few kilometres from the town of Kampot. He has five hectares of land from which he can produce up to 350 tonnes of salt.
Work is seasonal. During the rainy season the fields flood with water and the salt farmers turn to growing rice.
He has been farming salt for 20 years now, so he knows a thing or two about why the village is so good for producing salt.
“The land here is close to the sea and the soil is mixed with sand so it can produce very good salt,” he says. “Also we can dig a canal so we can get salt water from the sea.”
All salt is sold through the community. The current price is 10,600 riel per 50 kilogramme sack. Am Moun takes about half the money, with the rest going to the community. The problem now is that the community cannot find a buyer for his salt.
“When salt fetches a high price the community finds a market for us,” he says. “But when the market is hard, the community tells us to find a market for ourselves.”
According to Am Moun, the situation has been bad since 2010 when salt was imported from China due to a shortage of Kampot salt.
“They have not yet sold all the Chinese salt,” he says. “Also I have noticed Vietnamese salt enter the Cambodian market. It is difficult for us to compete.”
In October last year, Am Moun borrowed US$1,500 from ACLEDA Bank to hire workers and repair his machinery. He currently employs eight farm workers.
“I lacked capital so I borrowed to have enough capital,” he says.
Initially Am Moun is reticent about giving his name to us. He claims it is “shameful” to borrow money from a bank in his village.
“Khmer people in rural areas think that people who go to the bank [to borrow money] are very bad men or very poor men,” he says. “I know some rich men who use the bank’s money to create more business, but I still feel the same.” He has not informed anyone in the community about his loans.
Eventually he assents for us to use his name in the English version of this article, as it is unlikely to be read by his fellow neighbours. Still, we cannot show his photograph.
As for paying back the loan, Am Moun has no concerns.
“I have no worry because it is a very small amount of money,” he says. Half the initial loan has already been repaid, and this is the third time he has borrowed money from the bank, his initial loan being in 2008.
According to Soeng Phorn, manager of ACLEDA’s Kampong Bay branch, farmers like Am Moun are the clients the branch should be reaching out for.
“For Kampot in the future we have potential related to rice, pepper, sugar cane and durian export,” he says. “That’s a very good market.”
However, right now Am Moun has more pressing concerns than meeting his debt.
“If the situation stays the same as today, we will have more and more difficulties,” he says. “If the community can find a market for us the producer can survive, if they cannot we will die.”
Interpreter: Rann Reuy