Kim Sreng, 30, collecting bundles of reeds destined to be exported to Vietnam. The longer the reeds, the more expensive they are.
Photo by: Hector Bermejo
KIM Sreng is in quality control. Sitting on the floor at the rear of a restaurant in the village of Anlong, the part-time mat maker has a huge pile of grass reeds in front of her.
Weeding out the broken and blackened ones, she places the chosen ones into small bundles ready for tying.
“I am selecting the best quality reeds which we will export to Vietnam,” she says.
Her employer, Chin Khom, explains that his Vietnamese buyers require only the best quality reeds to create mats, which are then exported to South Korea. Cambodians can use discoloured reeds as the mats are then dyed, unlike those destined for Korea.
Although she has weaved mats since she was 15 or 16 years old, for Kim Sreng, now 30, sorting the wheat from the chaff is a relatively recent departure for her.
“I have only done this work for three years,” she says. “I used to weave for the owner [Chin Khom’s wife], but when she started to buy reeds I did this work.”
Working eight hours each day, Kim Sreng earns only 7,000 riel, so she supplements her income by weaving mats for other employers as well as doing farm work.
“I do not have a day off,” she laughs. Today is Sunday.
Chin Khom, 41, has been in the reed mat making business for 20 years, although recently he decided to focus on new business pastures.
“I used my capital to open a petrol station and restaurant when the national road 8 was just completed,” he says. “But I will not reduce [his reed-selling business] I will come back again.”
Whereas in the past he used to buy 20 to 30 tonnes of reeds per month, now he only buys about 10 tonnes.
“When I have more capital I will set up a warehouse to do big business,” he says. “It is easy to do. People come to my restaurant with big trucks of reeds.”
Chin Khom also produces his own mats, which he exports to Thailand and provinces throughout Cambodia.
The price of his mats depends upon the length of the reeds used. The longer they are, the more expensive.
“Some are 5 metres long, others are 2 metres,” he explains.
This year the price for his reeds is higher than previous years.
“Last year it was about 4,000 riel per kilogram for the highest quality reeds, now it is 5,500 riel,” he says.
The higher price reflects the classic supply and demand paradigm.
“The price for the reeds was low last year so many farmers turned to growing lotus,” he says. “But this year the demand from Vietnam is higher and we don’t have enough reeds, so the price goes up.”
INTERPRETER: RANN REUY