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Bananas find export appeal

Motorists carry bananas for sale along National Road 1 in Kandal province earlier this year.
Motorists carry bananas for sale along National Road 1 in Kandal province earlier this year. Heng Chivoan

Bananas find export appeal

Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), which last month became the first company to officially export bananas from Cambodia, has secured more orders for the fruit and will ship another 100 tonnes of bananas from its plantations in Ratanakkiri province today, a company representative said.

The order will be transported overland to port facilities in Vietnam and then loaded onto a container ship bound for its buyer in China, according to Thach Quanh Tha, director of administration for HAGL.

“This is our second time exporting through Vietnam,” he said yesterday.

“We plan to ship 100 tonnes of bananas stored in five containers to China with final destinations potentially reaching Japan and European Union markets.”

HAGL is a Vietnamese conglomerate that operates in property, mining, commercial agriculture and hydropower. The company owns a total of 1,000 hectares of banana plantations in northeastern Cambodia through three of its subsidiaries, Hoang Anh Andong Meas, Hoang Anh Romphat and Hoang Anh Daun Penh Agrico.

Thach said banana cultivation was part of the agro giant’s efforts to diversify its Cambodian operations beyond rubber and palm oil. He said the company has invested in planting 14 different types of fruit for export and plans to deliver the first international shipment of dragonfruit in September.

“We have already planted oil palm trees, but we used the rest of the land for fruit plantations as it is good for growing and this gives us profits earlier than a palm oil plantation,” he said.

The company delivered its first 100-tonne shipment of bananas to China late last month. Thach said bananas grow year-round and he expects to export similar-sized shipments on a weekly basis.

HAGL’s rubber and oil palm plantations sprawl over thousands of hectares of economic land concessions in northeastern Cambodia. The company has faced repeated allegations of land grabbing from indigenous communities and accusations of decimating ancient forests.

Sreng Cheaheng, deputy director of Ratanakkiri’s provincial agriculture office, said HAGL recently shifted its focus towards fruit production as global commodity prices for palm oil have faltered.

“The company is now focusing on the fruit cultivation since it gives them a better market,” he said.

Hean Vanhan, undersecretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, confirmed that HAGL was the first company to officially export Cambodian bananas to international markets. However, he said the shipment was routed through Vietnam, and hinted that it might have been mislabeled as originating in that country.

He said the government was seeking direct access to China, but faced restrictions due to Beijing’s sanitary and phytosanitary requirements for food hygiene and safety.

“We are negotiating with the Chinese government to export [bananas] directly to them,” Vanhan said. “But we still need to find a way to get past the SPS barriers that we face for export.”

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